The dictionary defines a spoof as a hilarious imitation of something, or a trick played on someone as a joke. Turn that word into a verb and you’re left with an imitation relying on exaggeration, or a hoax or trick, all of which end in laughter.
Unfortunately in the last five or six years technology has allowed the term spoofing to take on new meaning. It’s still someone pretending, but it’s much more sinister than a prank you’d play on your friends and nowhere near a laughing matter.
So. What is it, really?
The FCC says spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. Fraudsters and scammers often use spoofing to trick someone into accepting a call from a trusted friend or business. Then, they get the target to give up sensitive information like names, social security numbers, account numbers and anything else they can use to commit fraud.
So, how do you know if you’re being spoofed? Well, if the caller ID looks right it can be very hard to tell when it’s a scam, but I usually err on the side of caution and avoid giving out any identifying information if I haven’t initiated the call to start. Someone calls me out of the blue and asks me to verify my bank account information? You better believe I’m hanging up the call! Someone calls and asks for my mother’s maiden name? Also hanging up!
In the end, it’s way better to appear a little rude if you do hang up on a known entity than it is to have to change all of your accounts and alert the credit bureaus that your information may be at risk. Get a call from someone posing to be from your bank or credit card company? Hang up and call them back at a number you recognize, or dial it yourself.
You should try to avoid hanging up and calling back the number that just called you. Instead, pick up your bank statement or call the customer service line that’s listed in your bank app. Better yet, pick up the heavy phone book in your junk drawer and call the number listed there! Safe is always better than sorry when it comes to scams.
Finally, try to avoid answering any questions they ask you. It’s better to hang up than to answer even simple “yes” and “no” questions.
Check out the additional information available on the FCC’s website at https://www.fcc.gov/spoofing. And, if you’ve still got a landline (does anybody have one these days?), consider getting an old rotary phone for at least one phone jack in your house. If you’re over a certain age you’ll remember how satisfying it is to slam that receiver down into the phone cradle; and, if you’re too young to remember, go get yourself an old phone and try it out next time you’re angry! It’s incredibly satisfying even if the caller on the other end is hearing a simple “click”. Nothing better than slamming that phone down on a scammer, unless of course you’re prone to tense phone calls with your significant other…either way, grab a phone you can hang up with gusto!