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The local number with no name

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'Phone spoofing' takes local numbers by storm

By Dylan Robertson

Contributing Writer

At any given moment, on any given day: say that you are settling in for the long work day ahead and either your cell phone or home phone rings. “A local number? Should I answer?” More so than ever, residents of the area have been asking themselves this very question, and most likely it isn’t who you think it is.

On the off-chance that you decide to answer this unknown, but local number, you’re more than likely to receive an automated tone describing a “reward redemption center” that is currently offering you a once-in-a-lifetime getaway to some exotic locale. All you have to do is pay the taxes and it’s off to Shangri-La.

On the other hand, it could be some vague-vigilante creditor service, looking to collect on a debt that you very much had no idea about. Don’t worry though; they will have, “an offer you can’t refuse” to pay back such a lingering debt.

The practice that has been around in the local area for roughly five years now is called, “phone-spoofing”. This allows the person or entity on their end of the telephone line, most likely in another country, to insert a local number to wherever they target to get their foot in the door for either that once in a lifetime trip, or that delinquent bill.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is,” said Williston Deputy Police Chief Clay Connolly.

Connolly recommends to not give out any personal information via the telephone, and that these calls usually originate out of Jamaica or the Middle East.

“They are so prolific, and they are out there every day. They like to prey on greed,” said Connolly.

“I’m hard-pressed to believe that our phone companies don’t have better control or better intel about the telephone numbers that [scammers] are giving out, and are allowing people to use. They have been going on these 528 and 558 numbers which everyone recognizes as a local exchange, and that gives them their nose inside the tent a little bit more,” said Connolly.

“The best thing I can say is that do not answer those, or when they start with the robocalls, simply hang-up,” said Connolly.

When asked about whether local authorities can put an end to it, Connolly said it becomes a jurisdictional issue, with a bulk of the calls coming from overseas, that intervention is necessary by the federal government (e.g. Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission) and or the telephone companies.

However, some of these “spoof-callers” use active telephone numbers from paying customers, and unfortunately the numbers having been stolen come from unlikely victims.

Barbara Lawrence, an almost 60-year resident of Williston, was shocked when she received a call from her daughter’s home phone line, as her daughter had died back in October 2016.

“One day I had answered my phone, and it was Gwen, my daughter’s [home] number, and I was very chilled about it, knowing that she had passed away, I had answered the phone and had asked, “Who is it?”, and all I got was a prerecorded message about extending my credit line, I kept asking, “How did you get this number?”,and I never got a response back, so I hung up,” Barbara said.

“Thankfully I have not received any more calls from my daughter’s number, but ever since I’ve continued to receive calls from different local numbers, saying either I’ve won this, or I owe that,” said Barbara.

Companies in the United States are subjected to the “Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009”, which fines companies for falsifying or blocking outgoing caller identification. The law wards off deceitful practices on American soil, but has presented a grey area when the calls originate from overseas scammers.

Connolly has advice for anyone who is presented with this problem in the future: “Just have fun with it.”

“If they start talking [when connected with a scammer] just ask, “Who’s this? And where are you from? What’s your last name again? Why do you want my Social Security number? I’m only asking this so that when I take this to the State Attorney’s office, they can prosecute you for making an unlawful call in the state of Florida,” Connolly said.

Connolly also wants to remind residents to always keep your wits, never give out personal information,and to hang-up on potential scammers.