Your phone number plays a prominent role in identifying you to some banks and other financial institutions. A simple phone call to your credit card issuer can provide you with your available credit, payment information or the ability to make a balance transfer. The first identifying information for the bank is often your phone number —calling from the number that you registered when you set up your account.
But with a little electronic trickery, thieves can pretend to call from your phone and transfer a tidy sum of money from your credit card to themselves. Or, if they have your debit card number — empty your bank account.
The scam is called Caller ID Spoofing. It allows the thief to have your number appear when calling the credit card company or bank.
Caller ID Spoofing can also be used on you to obtain your sensitive information. Imagine this scenario: Your cell phone or landline rings. A check of the display shows that your bank is calling. A professional sounding person on the other end, with a bit of alarm in their voice, tells you that the bank has detected some possibly fraudulent activity on your account. She just needs to verify a few things before she can discuss it with you. You’re agitated. Before you realize it, that helpful person has obtained your account number, Social Security number, date of birth, etc. She promises to take care of things for you. But instead of helping you, she helps herself to your money.
The problem is so widespread that Congress passed the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 to protect consumers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to implement the Act in June 2010. The major features:
- Violators face a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the rules.
- Law enforcement agencies and situations where courts have authorized caller ID manipulation are exempted.
So how do you protect yourself? The FCC recommends these precautions:
- Don’t give out personal information in response to an incoming call. Identity thieves are clever – they often pose as representatives of banks, credit card companies, creditors, or government agencies to get people to reveal their account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords and other identifying information.
- If you get an inquiry from a company or government agency seeking personal information, don’t provide it. Instead, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to find out if the entity that supposedly called you actually needs the requested information from you.
- Let the FCC know about ID spoofers by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC or by filing a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints. Remember, the fine is $10,000 for each violation. Make them pay for trying to con you.