Have You Gotten a Call From the “FBI”?
We spoke to a local agent who had some interesting information, then took it upon ourselves to test the theory.
It’s early in the morning and you’re getting your first sip of coffee for the day. You sit down to answer a few emails and cruise around on social media.
Your phone rings…
It’s an unfamiliar number but begins with the 803 area code, so you answer it thinking it could be someone important calling you back from a recent inquiry you made. The voice on the other end sounds like an outsourced customer service representative.
Just as you’re about to hit the ‘end call’ button, you hear him say “FBI” and your ears perk up, your stomach flips – coffee and all.
The voice on the other end tells you that you’ve had a recent complaint against your name and this is the FBI calling to discuss it with you. Since it’s early, you aren’t quite awake, you stay on the line, speeding through your memory and trying to think of your most recent tax filing just a few months ago. You realize this must be a scam when you Google the number. They are calling from Charleston and you live in Rock Hill. Wouldn’t the FBI be calling from a place like Columbia, or perhaps the call would be from within Rock Hill itself?
The FBI, our government agency known for it’s “intelligence-driven and threat-focused national security” has been getting “spoofed.”
What does spoofing mean exactly?
“The practice of causing the telephone network to indicate to the receiver of a call that the originator of the call is a station other than the true originating station.”
When called for information on this kind of call, the gentleman on the other end of the line at Rock Hill’s Lakeshore Parkway satellite office informed the Rock Hill Reader that, basically, it’s some hacker “with a lot of time on their hands,” making it look like they are calling from a number they really aren’t.
When asked if we could get a name and a quote, I was informed that I could “write whatever,” but the agent we called said they don’t give out their names because they don’t want to “give fuel to the fire.”
He had some typical advice about not giving money to these callers and disregarding the calls altogether, that the FBI is aware of the spoofing and scams. He paused, almost alarmed, and asked,
“You didn’t give them any money, did you?”
No. Of course not. And hopefully, our readers don’t either.
When asked for more details, the agent stated that “If we call you, if I call you right now, the number will show up as ‘Restricted’ or as ‘U.S. Government’.”
This is very important information that most people aren’t aware of. So, if you get a call from someone claiming they are the FBI, know that it won’t be the actual phone number.
What’s more, is that the agent said that the FBI, CIA, and other entities will actually show up at your door, not call your phone.
But the question is, how are people spoofing the FBI? We already know why they are doing it: to get poor saps to give them money with false threats. We’re talking anything from MoneyGrams to gift cards. The agent we talked to said that “any high schooler can do it.” So we accepted the challenge.
So, in the name of science, we accepted the challenge.
Is Spoofing Legal?
After some investigating, we discovered that according to consumercompaints.fcc.gov and their explanation of the Truth in Calling Act, it’s not exactly illegal to spoof. Here’s what they say about the legal aspect of spoofing (note, nothing about pranks is mentioned):
“In some cases, spoofing can be permitted by courts for people who have legitimate reasons to hide their information, such as law enforcement agencies working on cases, victims of domestic abuse or doctors who wish to discuss private medical matters.”
So We Tried It:
A quick Google search revealed there are numerous spoofing apps available for Android that are completely free. Some charge while some allow 2 calls per day. It was good enough for us. We chose Fake Caller ID by Symba Ventures LLC located in Portland, Oregon.
To make a spoof call, the user simply downloads the app, inputs their number ,chooses a pin, and inputs the number to be spoofed.
The app was tested on a contact’s phone number. We typed their number and chose the same number to show up on their call screen. Easy as that, and yes, it works. It’s worth noting, though, that when the person doesn’t answer, the caller is taken to voicemail. Not
It’s worth noting, though, that when the contact didn’t answer, we were taken to voicemail. Not in order to leave a message, but to log in using the contacts credentials (their pin). We didn’t go any further than this in order to safeguard our contact’s information.
The lesson here? That, while we here at the Rock Hill Reader aren’t high school students, anyone can spoof a phone number with the click of a button and the download of an app.
When is Spoofing Illegal?
Good question. The FCC explains that “FCC rules prohibit any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate Caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.”
So, while spoofing isn’t illegal, and you can use it for whatever reason you find valid that doesn’t involve threats, liable, or demanding money, the fake FBI calls are since the callers are asking for money. The FCC website goes on to say that “Anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation.”