Scammers can mask caller ID

PARKERSBURG – Officials warn residents that modern scammers can hack into caller identification systems and mask their calls to make it appear someone else is calling.

On June 24, Michael E. Turrill, 61, of 252 Mill Branch Road, Belpre, reported to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office he had been the victim of a Green Dot money pack scam by persons claiming to be Internal Revenue Service agents, reports said.

Turrill was told to pay $6,800 in back taxes immediately, reports said. When Turrill paid the amount, the scammers told him that his payment had not been made quickly enough, and charged him a punishment fee of an additional $4,500, which Turrill did not have access, reports said.

At that time, a scammer caused the caller ID to appear as though he were calling from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, reports said. When Turrill answered, a scammer pretending to be a Washington County deputy threatened him, saying if Turrill did not pay the money immediately, he would be arrested.

This is one example of the caller ID fraud known as spoofing, according to information on the Federal Communications Commission website. Callers can make themselves appear to be from federal agencies, local banks, utility companies, creditors, and law enforcement agencies, the website said.

It is a federal crime to alter the number appearing on a caller ID by any means, according to the FCC website. Violators will be fined up to $10,000 for each violation, the website said.

Only law enforcement agencies with court-authorized access may legally cause a caller ID to appear as if it is originating from somewhere else, the website said.

Through spoofing, callers can use programs from ordinary computers to make a caller ID look like it is coming from anywhere in the world, even the Pentagon, according to Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

“No one from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office will ever call someone to threaten them about paying any kind of debt, even an IRS debt,” Mincks said.

If anyone in Washington County receives such a call, they should call Mincks directly at 740-516-3990 and report it immediately, Mincks said.

According to Dan Page, communications manager with Frontier Communications, spoofing is a serious problem.

“People wishing to misrepresent themselves can easily get their hands on a spoofing program,” Page said.

If someone calls and threatens someone over the phone, the person being threatened should simply hang up the phone, Page said.

Residents should turn to an old copy of a bill, the phone book, or government listings to determine the number to call back, said the FCC website. They should call back the number they find listed on one of these official sources and confirm if the conversation was legitimate, the website said.

No one should ever give out personal information during an incoming call, regardless of who the caller ID says is calling, the FCC website said. Personal information includes account numbers, social security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords, debit or credit card information, and other items used to identify someone, the website said.

If someone suspects they have been the victim of an ID spoof, they should call 888-CALL-FCC to report the situation, or fill out a complaint at fcc.gov/complaints