A few days ago, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize.
That’s not unusual. I’m a reporter. I make and receive so many calls over the course of a week that this could have been literally anyone. The number was local, a 952. That usually means someone has finally decided to answer my very important questions about goose poop or something.
I answered. “Hello?” the person on the other line responded. “You called me?”
Again, probably true. I call a lot of people. And sometimes we do this fun standoff where me and a caller will say “hello” forever until I’m forced to ask them who they are and why they’re calling.
I did ask. The caller refused to tell me and asked me to tell them who I was. And why I’d been calling them. Over and over.
I assured them I hadn’t, that it must have been a wrong number or a mistake on my end. We hung up. Later that day, I got a text from the same person with a simple demand: “Stop calling me and selling me car stuff. Do. Not. Call. Me.”
I texted back that I was the reporter they talked to earlier. I don’t sell car stuff. I didn’t call them. My caller log says as much. Were they sure it was the right number?
They texted back later: “I’m sure.” I told them I’d do some research and figure out what was going on. Benjamin Wogsland, who is in charge of government affairs at the Attorney General’s office, was not at all surprised to hear about what happened. It’s a kind of scam called “spoofing.” Some telemarketer – perhaps from another state, perhaps from another country – was using my number as a kind of fake mustache to call other people in my area. The goal is to trick the person they’re calling into giving them money or personal information.
Sometimes, he says, they’ll call you using your own number, hoping it’ll make you curious enough to pick up.
This kind of scam has been running steadily for a few years now. It is technically a crime, he says, under the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. However, there’s not much the spoofees can do about it. Hang up on them. Report it to your phone company, and the FTC while you’re at it. But in my situation, the best thing to do would just be to explain to the caller that it was all a mix-up, and I wasn’t actually involved at all.
Which is what I did. I texted rather than further upset them with another phone call. I explained that it was a scam, that some stranger happened to get ahold of my number in order to mask their identity, that they should probably just block the number altogether.
They didn’t respond for a while, but when they did, the message was very short:
I blocked them. I’m not proud.
I also called the FTC. The hold music was a mix of jazzy vibraphone and a repeated message that the FTC does not act on the behalf of individuals, but that providing information on identity theft cases would be helpful to law enforcement. Somehow.
Eventually, a rep named Jeremy opened a report on my case and recommended I sign up for the “do not call” registry, which wards off telemarketers. (888-382-1222.)
If I get a call like the one I received again, he said, just have them call the FTC. Give them the case number, if I want to. Maybe that would count as “trying harder.”
Speaking of trying, during my conversation with Wogsland, I’d asked how successful all this reporting had been in busting spoofers. He said he didn’t know offhand. He’d have to check in on that.