The unfortunate reality about spam calls — a common practice among criminals and unsavoury marketers — is that it still works, given how so many people still fall victim these days.
After all, when you see an incoming phone call from a number you don’t know, but has the same area code as you, it’s understandable why you would drop your guard and pick up the phone.
Spam callers can make it seem like they’re calling from your hometown’s area code with a tactic called caller ID “spoofing.” Indeed, the word “spoof” means both to imitate something, as well as to trick someone.
The most popular way that miscreants spoof their caller ID is with voice-over-IP (VoIP) services. Some of these VoIP services let spam callers choose what number they want their victims to see on their phone’s caller ID.
All the spammer needs to do is pick an area code, find every number with that area code in a directory — like a phone book — use the VoIP service to set their own caller ID with the same area code, and call every number in the list.
Meticulous spammers can even change their caller ID so they have the same area code and the same three to six numbers after your area code as your own phone number — so that their number looks especially local, as if a neighbour or nearby business was calling. So if your phone number was 111-222-3333 — a spammer can set their caller ID to show up as 111-222-3334.
The best way to handle an unknown caller, even if the number looks similar to your own phone number, is simply to let the call go unanswered, and let the caller leave a voicemail. If there’s no voicemail, either the call was spam, or the message wasn’t that important to begin with. If the caller does leave a voicemail, you can decide for yourself whether the call was legitimate or not — but if the voicemail asks for personal information like credit card numbers or social security numbers, it’s almost certainly a scam.
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