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Column: Take steps to protect yourself from spoofing

Rob Kay

Nowadays most of us are leery of taking phone calls from numbers that we don’t recognize. Even though calls have local numbers, chances are the person on the other end of the line sounds like they are at a call center on another continent. They might even claim to be “tech support” from Microsoft or perhaps the IRS. Never mind that you own an Apple computer and your taxes are all paid up. They are here to help you.

Welcome to the wonderful world of spoofing.

I felt compelled to write this story after a friend told me about a call he received while on “call waiting.” He didn’t take it, and no message was left on the voicemail. However, he was curious. He called the number, and the individual who answered it was from a local law enforcement agency! Had the officer called him? The answer was a polite “no.” The officer most certainly had not called him.

When spoofers are hijacking law enforcement phones, I thought it was time to speak to my friend Attila Seress, founder of Cylanda, a Honolulu-based cybersecurity company, and learn a bit more about this issue. Attila has been a guest, discussing security issues, on television, radio and podcasts.

Question: What exactly is spoofing?

Attila Seress

Answer: When calls are transmitted over VoIP, the provider often relies on the caller to provide the caller ID number that they’re going to display to the callee. This means that if I knew your best friend’s cellphone number and were to call you from a VoIP phone line with that number programmed in, when your cellphone rings I could impersonate your friend. Scammers use this technology to automate their schemes, using predictive dialers to call many numbers simultaneously, spoofing a caller ID for the IRS, police or just a number in the same area code as yours to trick you into picking up and falling for any countless number of scams.

Q: How do I recognize that I’m getting spoofed?

A: Unfortunately, it’s difficult to be sure of who is on the other end of the line based on caller ID alone.

Q: What can I do to protect myself?

A: Record a greeting on your voicemail that indicates if they need to reach you, to text you or call your place of business. Most everyone can text, often even from their workplace, so this is a viable option to answering calls from numbers you might not recognize.

Use an app like NoMoRobo that uses community- sourced lists to flag calls as potential spam and automatically reject them. Your cellphone company might also have a similar call protection service available for a small monthly fee that can greatly cut down on trash calls.

If you feel like taking the scammers on a ride, for over 10 years a collection of audio clips endearingly called “Lenny” has been used by tech-savvy folks to flip the script and use the bait to waste scammers’ time. While it sometimes results in simply angering the thief on the end of the line, results can be satisfying — you can find it here.

Q: Is it merely a nuisance or something I should be concerned about?

A: These scammers target the nontechnical and seniors. It is something to be concerned about, as people fall victim to scammers every day.

Q: What can we do to stop this?

A: Many come to us after falling for the same scam — multiple times! Education is in order.


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