Good News for Consumer Ally Reader: Caller ID Spoofing Now Illegal

Telemarketer with headsetA Consumer Ally reader recently contacted us for help after she and her daughter received
repeated calls from someone using a fake caller ID.

My daughter, who works in a church rectory, has been a victim of this fake caller ID prank, as have I at home. My question is, Is there anything we can do? [They] have done this repeatedly...It is quite upsetting and annoying. I would appreciate any help in this matter. -- Catherine

Thanks to a law passed in the dying days of last year's "lame duck" Congress, help is on the way for Catherine and millions of other consumers pestered, scammed and harmed by these anonymous calls.

On Dec. 22, President Obama signed into law the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, which makes it a federal crime to "transmit misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value." Those found guilty of breaking the law are subject to fines of $10,000 per incident and jail sentences of up to one year. Serial offenders may be liable for penalties up to $1 million.

The law is designed to stop scam artists known as "spoofers," who use various methods to send fake caller ID names and numbers in order to trick consumers into surrendering personal information. Spoofers, for example, can easily make it appear as if they're calling from a credit card company or bank to dupe consumers into revealing Social Security or account numbers.

"If spoofers are able to get your information and do the cyber equivalent of ransacking your house, it can literally take years to correct the damage," bill co-sponsor Rep. Elliot Engel, D-N.Y, warns in a statement. "Even worse, such technology can be used by stalkers and potentially violent criminals as well. The legislation is long overdue and I am very pleased to see it finally reach the final step towards passage."

The bill was originally introduced as the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2006 in April that year by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex. Though the bill was the brainchild of co-sponsor Engel, he asked Barton to introduce it after the Republicans took control of Congress, Engel spokesman Jeremy Tomasulo told Consumer Ally.

Though the House passed the bill several times since 2006, the Senate failed to take action until February 2010, when it passed a nearly identical version sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson D-Fla. The House passed the Senate version on Dec. 15, and sent the bill to the president's desk for his signature.

During a statement on the House floor the day the bill passed, Engel described his incredulity when he first learned of spoofing.

"I originally read a newspaper article on a plane, talking about what was going on with spoofing," Engel said on the House floor. "And I remember thinking, this is ridiculous, how could this be legal? How could we just turn a bind eye to it? And then I realized we needed to have legislation."

Engel also underscored the seriousness of the issue by citing a 2009 case when New York City police busted a massive identity theft ring that stole more than $15 million from 6,000 victims using caller ID spoofing. He also mentioned an incident involving a New York woman who called a pregnant romantic rival and spoofed the caller ID of her pharmacist to trick her into taking an abortion drug.

Although caller ID spoofing has been legal in most instances up until now, the Federal Trade Commission has regulations on the books prohibiting spoofing by telemarketers. The FTC has sued 10 telemarketing spoofers since 2005, and is currently seeking public comment to strengthen caller ID provisions of its Telemarketing Sales Rule.

"Occasionally we bring enforcement actions that have systematically engaged in this action," FTC staff attorney Michael Tankersley told Consumer Ally. He encouraged consumers to contact the FTC to complain about telemarketers using spoofing tactics.

Since the new law authorizes "the chief legal officer of the state" to enforce the new prohibitions against spoofing, consumers on the receiving end of non-telemarketing spoofing calls should contact their state attorney general, Tomasulo said.
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