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Security & privacy

Robocalls changing for the worse, so don’t get scammed

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Do you still answer phone calls from unknown numbers? Like me, you probably ignore them all. Why? Well, it’s most likely just another robocall or a telemarketing call.

But what if the caller ID appears to be from a familiar number or company? Or worse, what if it looks like it’s coming from your own number? Out of curiosity, there’s a good chance you might pick up.

But watch out — that’s what these scammers are counting on. And in the future, it will only get worse. Not only can they spoof numbers that are familiar to you, but they’ll also start faking voices, too!

What is caller ID spoofing?

Caller ID and phone number spoofing is a growing plague that’s not only annoying, but it is also equally dangerous.

With this scheme, criminals are using VOIP (voice-over-IP) and phone spoofing software to impersonate a phone number’s caller ID.

This means they could make any call show up on your phone as if it is coming from a familiar person from your contact list, company or organization and even yourself.

In fact, these Caller ID phone phishing scams (also known as vishing) are getting so sophisticated and professionally handled that they’re fooling even the most tech-savvy people around. Click here to read one of the most interesting phone spoofing phishing attempts.

But security experts are warning that a new level of deception is on the horizon. You won’t just receive scam calls from phone numbers that you’re familiar with, the person on the other end of the line will sound like someone you know, too.

Voice spoofing is real

Imagine this — you get a call from a “friend’s” number and in a familiar voice, they’re saying they are in trouble and you’ll have to bail them out. The problem? It’s all a sham. Your friend’s number was spoofed and the voice on the other end was faked.

Soon, this will be the robocall reality we’ll all be facing. Voice manipulation software is real and it’s only a matter of time before crooks get their hands on it.

With voice editing software like Adobe’s Project Voco (the “Photoshop of speech”) and virtual assistants like Google Duplex that sound eerily human, speech manipulation can certainly be used for scams, extortion and manipulation.

Fortunately, creating a robocall version of you and your friends won’t be a trivial task. It will take tons of voice samples and computer model training, not to mention advanced voice manipulation software, before any personalized call and voice spoofing can be launched. It will take a lot of work but it is definitely possible.

How to fight back against robocalls

This is actually the easiest solution to eliminating robocalls. If you receive a call from an unknown number or one that doesn’t show up on caller ID, don’t answer. If it’s an important call, the person will leave a message and you can get back to them.

More importantly, if you receive a call that’s coming from your own phone number, don’t ever pick it up. It’s 100% a robocall.

All four of the major carriers have specific tools to identify, filter and block suspected nuisance numbers from calling or texting your phone. Most require you to shell out an extra monthly fee to activate the caller ID service, but network-level blocking is free of charge across all the carriers.

To fight other types of robocalls, you can download and install call-blocking apps such as NomoRobo, True Caller or Hiya on your smartphone. Tap or click here for more information about these types of apps.


Soon, carriers will launch a new universal system that aims to identify and block robocalls on the network level. It’s called Stir/Shaken and it will try to verify the legitimacy of the number through a digital signature. No verification, the system will assume it’s a robocall. Hopefully, Stir/Shaken will be available by all the major carriers by the end of the year.

Free podcast: FCC gets tough on robocalls

Consumers are answering about five billion robocalls a month. Under pressure from the FCC, mobile carriers are now doing something about it. Why are the FCC and carriers taking so long to tackle robocalls?

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