'Spoof' phone call apps let scammers target innocent callers

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by Matt Standal

khou.com

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 7:05 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 7:05 AM

BOISE -- All it takes is a smartphone and a trip to your favorite app store. Online scammers are using software built by sites like www.Spoofcard.com to steal other people's phone numbers and cause big trouble.

Jerrod Nielsen and his family recently fell prey to the scam.

Nielsen is one of KTVB's producers who came forward with a problem connected to what's known as a phone spoofing application built for mobile phones.

We asked police about the scam, and they say the technology utilizes voice over internet protocol (VOIP) and has been on the rise for the past several years.

WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED?

"I was at work, so I missed a phone call from a strange number, and I guess at the same time the number called my wife and called my step son at home," Nielsen said.

Nielsen's wife Carmella was furious, and set out to find whoever was making the repeated phone calls.

"I get home and my son is complaining about this same number and a voice harassing him and using obscenities at him, and I kind of went in mommmy mode and was ready to go off on this guy," said Carmella.

The couple used a reverse directory to look up the number, posted on Facebook asking friends what to do, then called the apparent scammer back, ready to report him to police.

But the person who answered had no idea what was going on.

Turns out, the apparent caller was a Boise businessman who was completely oblivious that his number had been used by the scammer.

SO HOW DOES IT WORK?

Officers with the Boise Police Department say this particular scam has been on the increase over the past two years.

"The scammer can make it look like they're calling from any given number," cautioned department spokeswoman Lynn Hightower. "It appears legitimate."

Hightower say scammers often use VOIP technology to pose as other people, banks, and credit card or financial companies.

"Then these folks are pressured and coerced into giving the scammer money via credit card or prepaid debit card, folks are frightened and intimidated,and we have had people fall victim to it in part because the phone number the scammer is calling from appears legitimate," Hightower said.

Thankfully, that's not what happened to Jerrod and Carmella.

The couple's teenage son eventually confessed to using a smartphone app to pull the prank. But the experience has left them cautious and ready to share the story, with others.

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