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Lawmakers Aim to Crack Down on Caller ID Spoofing

Congress appears poised to enact a law that would make it a crime for someone to fake their phone's caller ID information if that information belongs to an actual person who did not provide prior consent.

The "Preventing Harassment Through Outbound Number Enforcement" bill, or PHONE Act, also would make it a crime to spoof your phone's Caller ID data with the intent to commit fraud. The bill sailed through the House of Representatives earlier this year, and on Wednesday was passed by voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. From here, it will head to a vote on the Senate floor, and -- if approved -- on to the president's desk.

Violators of the bill would be subject to a penalty of up to five years in prison and fines of $250,000.

Caller ID spoofing can enable an array of crimes, from harassment to stalking to financial fraud. A number of wireless phone companies still allow customers to access their voice mail messages directly without first entering a password, as long the number in the incoming Caller ID field is the same one assigned to their handset. Using commercial Caller ID spoofing services, it is relatively simple to listen to these customers' voice mail messages, change their outbound greeting, or forward their calls to another number.

A long running jury-duty identity theft scam using Caller ID spoofing goes like this: People receive calls notifying them that they have missed jury duty. The recipient of the call is told that they can avoid prosecution and have the matter cleared up if they provide their Social Security number and other personal information. In many reported cases, the perpetrators of this scam spoofed their Caller ID to make it appear that the call came from the local courthouse.

And then there's this example, from testimony before a House committee that considered the PHONE bill: "SWAT teams have been called upon to surround empty buildings or other inhabited places, such as in New Brunswick, New Jersey, after police received a call from a woman who said she was being held hostage in an apartment. She was not in the apartment. The woman had intentionally used a false Caller I.D. number."

Not to worry, though: Faking your Caller ID will still be legal if you just want to toy with your friends (or enemies), or if you suspect someone is avoiding your calls. That is, provided you don't use a phone number that belongs to someone else.

By Brian Krebs  |  April 26, 2007; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  From the Bunker  
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