Scams We Hate: Robocalls and Spoofing

In 2021, there were 92,371 older victims of fraud resulting in $1.7 billion in losses. This is a staggering amount. Financial crimes against older adults can be devastating, often leaving victims with no way to recoup their losses.

One of the most common ways scammers connect with victims is over the telephone. Robocalling and caller ID spoofing are two schemes that go hand in hand.

Robocalls take advantage of sophisticated, automated phone technology to dial large numbers of households from anywhere in the world. While there are legal uses for this technology, robocalls can also be used to carry out a variety of scams on trusting older adults who answer the phone. Some robocalls may claim that a warranty is expiring on the victim's car or electronic device, and payment is needed to renew it.

One common robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call. When the older person says “yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up. The criminal then has a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items like stolen credit cards.

Scammers have a way to make it appear as if the call is from a reputed organization. This is known as caller ID spoofing. The scammer deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. Spoofing is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally, but also can be used legitimately, for example, to display the toll-free number for a business.

Robocallers also use a tactic called neighbor spoofing, which displays a phone number similar to your own on your caller ID, which increases the likelihood that you will answer the call. To help combat neighbor spoofing, the FCC is requiring the phone industry to adopt a robust caller ID authentication system.

Your phone number—or that of an elderly loved one—can also be spoofed. If you get calls from people saying your number is showing up on their caller ID, it's likely that your number has been spoofed. If this happens to you and people call let you know, explain that your telephone number is being spoofed and that you did not make any calls. You can also place a message on your voicemail letting callers know that your number is being spoofed. Since scammers switch numbers frequently, the spoofing likely won’t last long.

If you get a call and the telephone number is blocked or labeled as a "potential scam" on your caller ID, it is possible the number has been spoofed. Several phone companies and app developers offer call-blocking and labeling services that detect whether a call is likely to be fraudulent based on call patterns, consumer complaints or other means.

Scams are specially designed to catch us off guard, and they can happen to anyone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you think you’re a victim. Keep handy the phone numbers of resources that can help, including the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services. To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government sponsored national resource line, at: 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website. You can also report scams online to the FTC. Sharing your experience can help prevent it from happening to others.