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January 9, 2020

What is Neighbour Spoofing and How Do You Protect Yourself Against It?

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“This is your captain speaking. You’ve won a cruise!” If you’ve ever answered a phone call only to hear this message, or a telemarketer, robot, or simply dead air, then congratulations on your spam call. Chances are, the person behind that call also used “spoofing” which is a form of deliberately falsifying caller ID information in order to increase the chances that the call will be answered. One of the most common spoof methods is known as neighbour spoofing. But what is it and how does it work?

  • What is it?
  • How does it work?
  • Why is it used?
  • How do you protect yourself?

What is it?

You’re probably familiar with the concept of phone numbers. They assign an ID to every phone in order for people to identify who’s calling them, and are location specific, as displayed by an area code. Phone numbers that you use frequently, like those of your friends, family, and coworkers, can be saved in your phone to make calling them faster and to identify when they’re calling you.

Neighbour spoofing occurs when a person (scammer, telemarketer, etc.) uses technology to display a false local phone number as their caller ID, even if they live halfway around the world. By showing a call as originating from a local source, many people are more likely to answer the phone. In some cases, this type of spoof may even hijack the phone number of someone you know (or hijack your own number), and display it as their caller ID. If you ever get a phone call from “Mom” but are instead greeted with a robot voice on the other end, then you know the call is using neighbour spoofing.

How Does it Work?

This type of call spoof is so successful because the people behind the calls know that someone is more likely to pick up the phone if the caller ID looks like it’s from a reliable and local source (especially if the con-caller uses the number of a local business or an acquaintance). All a person needs to do is go online to collect phone numbers that people may fill out in unprotected online submission forms.

In most cases, the tech needed for neighbour spoofing is easy to acquire and use so almost anyone can take part in this activity if they so choose. Most countries have also not outlawed this variety of call spoofing because it does have legitimate uses, although malicious use is typically banned. Unfortunately, because con-callers can disguise their locations and rotate phone numbers, those who do use spoof calls for malicious purposes may be difficult to catch.

Why is Neighbour Spoofing Used?

First and foremost, a con-caller is most likely to use this type of a spoof call because it increases the chance that phone calls will actually be answered. In terms of why they need that call to be answered, there are a variety of reasons. Sometimes a con-caller wants to record your voice, especially in response to “yes” and “no” questions that can be used as extortion down the line. In some cases, they use spoofing to pose as a government or law enforcement official in order to coerce personal information out of you. Sometimes, telemarketing agencies want you to pick up in order to make their pitch to you. Some of the current scams going around that use spoofing include:

  • Credit Theft: Many callers will pose as banks or other financial institutions and try to lure you into providing them with credit card numbers, account numbers and more. They do this by pretending to be warning you of a fraud alert, offering you lowered interest rates and debt forgiveness, and more.
  • Charitable Asks: Sometimes, especially around the holidays, a scammer may call asking for you to make a financial donation towards a charity.
  • Computer Access: In some cases, callers pretend to be from a reputable computer company and claim that they need access to your computer to “fix a problem” that they detected. If you grant them access, then they may be able to steal any information you have saved on that computer.

How Do You Protect Yourself?

Neighbour spoofing can be incredibly difficult to detect and very easy to fall for. Thankfully, there are a few ways to protect yourself if you think someone may be spoofing you.

Put Your Number on a Do-Not-Call List

In the case of telemarketers and other businesses using spoofing to call you, putting your name on a national registry of phone numbers that do not want to be called should stop those annoying cold-calls from happening. Any organization that goes against the list can be reported for a violation. This tactic likely won’t work for scammers calling illegally.

Block Numbers

If you receive multiple calls from the same number, some phones and carriers have tools that allow you to block that number.

Don’t Answer the Phone

In general, you can choose to not answer the phone when it rings unless you know who is calling or are expecting a call. If the person trying to reach you has legitimate cause to do so, they can leave a voicemail, text you, or reach you in some other way.

Contact Them

If you answer a phone call and the person on the other end wants information or money from you, the best practice to follow is to hang up, check a reliable source for the phone number of the company allegedly trying to call you, and to contact them to follow up. For example, if you receive a call alleging to be from your credit card company reporting suspicious account activity, hang up and call the 1-800 number on your actual credit card instead. The people you call should be able to confirm whether you were contacted legitimately or as part of a scam.

Don’t Answer Questions

If you pick up the phone and the person on the other end begins to ask you questions, don’t answer them (especially if they can be answered with a yes or no).

Don’t Hit Any Buttons

If you receive a phone call asking you to hit buttons on your device to access different call options, hang up instead. Indicating that you are an active listener may label you as a target for future calls.

If Someone Spoofs Your Number

In some cases, you may hear from an acquaintance that they received a phone call from your number but it was not you on the other end of the line. That likely indicates that your own phone number has been hijacked for spoofing purposes. If this happens to you, remain calm. There is little you can do about it except to warn others that phone calls coming from your number may not be legit. You can do this by reaching out to them or updating your voicemail message. Because most con-callers cycle through phone numbers quickly, it’s unlikely that your phone number will be used for long (often, by the time you hear about it, your number has already been cycled through).

Help protect your phone number from spoofing by using a VPN when you browse the web. This will keep your private information, well, private.

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