Are Scammers Spoofing Your Phone Number?
That’s the question one Reddit user was pondering when she started receiving frantic and distressed messages from strangers asking why she kept calling them. Confused, she checked her call history — but there was nothing. She soon discovered that her phone number had been spoofed and was being used to scam an untold number of victims [*].
Caller ID spoofing allows fraudsters to use the telephone numbers of innocent people in order to avoid block lists, as well as target and trick victims into sharing personal information or money.
In 2022 alone, Americans lost $39.4 billion to phone scams [*].
While some victims of phone number spoofing are able to fix the problem by changing their phone numbers, security experts agree that a spoofed phone number could be a warning sign of larger security risks.
In this guide, you’ll get a better understanding of what phone spoofing is, how it happens, and what to do if your phone number is targeted.
What Is Phone Spoofing? Should I Be Worried About It?
Phone spoofing occurs when fraudsters manipulate caller ID information to make it appear that they’re calling from somewhere else — usually a local number or area code (known as “neighbor spoofing”) — or from government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration (SSA), or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
If you answer the incoming call, the scammers try to persuade or threaten you into either giving up sensitive personal information or sending them money.
What makes spoofing so frustrating is that fraudsters don’t need access to your phone to use your number. Instead, spoofers use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to falsify the information that shows up on your caller ID.
If you’re one of the unlucky victims whose number is chosen by phone spoofing scammers, it can lead to damaging and scary consequences, such as:
- An overwhelming amount of angry phone calls and messages from targets or victims.
- A massive phone bill if scammers use a SIM swapping scam to take over your phone number.
- Identity theft if scammers target you with your own spoofed number.
- Being forced to change your phone number if the spoofers won’t stop.
- Your friends and family become victims if spoofers impersonate you and target your closest contacts.
- Having your phone number blocked by legitimate callers that are trying to get in touch with you.
The good news is that scammers tend to switch spoofed numbers often. If you’re getting angry calls and texts now, there’s a good chance they will stop soon — once the scammer moves to another victim’s number.
Still, having your phone number spoofed is never a good sign and can often be a symptom of a larger and more dangerous issue.
How Did My Phone Number Get Spoofed?
If scammers start spoofing your phone number, it’s most likely not a completely random accident. Instead, it could mean that your phone number has been compromised in one of several ways, such as:
- Data brokers sold your phone number to scammers. Data brokers scour the internet for publicly available information that they sell to telemarketing companies. Data brokers may have found your phone number in public records or on social media profiles, websites, and directories.
- Your phone number was leaked in a data breach. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recently reported that a total of 422 million people were victimized by data breaches in 2022 [*]. If you’re the victim of a data breach, it may mean your phone number was leaked onto the Dark Web.
- You answered a scam call in the past. If you engage with a scam call at any time, your number will be flagged as a prime target for future scams.
- Your number is being sold in scammer groups. Fraudsters on the Dark Web buy and sell illegally obtained information, such as login credentials, financial information, and other sensitive personal details.
- You added your number to a public social media profile (or similar online account). Many social media sites ask for your phone number when you create a new account. But this can easily be found by scammers.
- You accidentally gave consent for a service or business to sell your phone number and personal data. This level of permission is often hidden in the fine print of websites. If a business sells your data to telemarketers or market researchers without your knowledge, it could end up in the possession of a scammer.
How To Stop Someone From Spoofing Your Phone Number
- Contact your mobile carrier
- Change the call security settings on your phone
- Create a new voicemail message to explain the situation
- Check for signs of a SIM swap scam
- Install a spam call blocking or spoofing protection app
- File a complaint with the FCC and the FTC
- Change your phone number
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection
Unfortunately, phone spoofing itself isn’t illegal and even has some practical applications — for example, doctors may “spoof” their personal cell phone numbers when calling patients in order to maintain privacy.
Spoofing is only against the law when used for harassment or fraudulent activity, as stipulated in the Truth of Caller ID Act of 2009 [*].
If you’re having problems with call spoofing and think your number was compromised, here are a few steps you should take:
1. Contact your mobile carrier
If you suspect your phone number is being used in spoofing scams, you should contact your phone service provider as soon as possible.
Carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have online reporting systems for submitting complaints. Unfortunately, most fraud support pages focus on helping those who have been the target of spoofed calls — not people whose phone numbers have been spoofed. Still, it’s worthwhile to submit a detailed report, especially if the incident results in SIM swapping or a high service bill.
2. Change the call security settings on your phone
Both iOS and Android devices have security settings and functionality that can protect you from receiving and unknowingly making scam calls from your phone. If your phone number or SIM have been compromised, these settings can stop scammers from using your phone number.
For example, to restrict outgoing calls to just your contacts on iPhone:
- Open your “Settings” and then tap “Screen Time.”
- Select “Communication Limits” and then “During Screen Time.”
- Choose “Contacts Only” to limit outgoing calls and texts to only people in your contacts lists.
You can also block or silence unknown incoming calls on both Android and iOS devices under your phone settings.
💡 Related: How To Identify a Scammer on the Phone →
3. Create a new voicemail message to explain the situation
If your phone number has been spoofed, you’ll likely get a lot of angry callback messages. Strangers often call back unknown numbers in order to stop the spam calls.
While a helpful voicemail won’t stop the calls, it can help to explain the situation to victims and reduce the chances that they’ll keep calling you. In your new message, explain that a scammer has taken your number hostage. Apologize for the inconvenience and suggest that the caller block your number.
While you’re at it, take this moment to update your voicemail password. If you leave your voicemail unsecured and hackers gain access to your phone number, they can listen to your voicemail messages and find potentially sensitive information.
4. Check for signs of a SIM swap scam
If fraudsters hijack your number for spoofing purposes, they might go further by initiating a SIM swap scam.
SIM swapping occurs when a scammer uses social engineering to trick your phone carrier into connecting your phone number to a SIM card owned by the scammer. This allows fraudsters to take control over your phone number.
SIM swaps help scammers get past secure login settings that require two-factor authentication (2FA). For example, if they have access to the username and password for your bank account, a SIM swap with your phone number means that your bank’s 2FA verification code will be sent to the scammer’s phone (instead of yours).
Problems that seem like basic phone malfunctions could indicate a SIM swap. Look out for issues with receiving and sending text messages and calls, loss of access to your online account with your phone carrier, service change notifications from your carrier, or any other unusual activity.
5. Install a spam call blocking or spoofing protection app
Ask your mobile carrier if they offer any security services that cover spam calls and calls from spoofed numbers. AT&T’s ActiveArmor program and Call Protect App, and T-Mobile’s Scam Shield app are examples of scam protection services offered by phone network providers.
You can also use a third-party call blocking app to help block robocalls, text spam, scam calls, and more. Popular options include:
- Nomorobo blocks robocalls, and also screens possible scammers.
- Truecaller blocks spam calls and can reveal spoofed numbers.
- YouMail blocks spam calls and has features for business owners.
💡 Related: How To Stop Spam Texts on Android and iPhone →
6. File a complaint with the FCC and the FTC
Unwanted calls, including illegal spoofing calls and robocalls, are the number one consumer complaint received by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [*].
Complaints help bring awareness to the issue and can provide important documentation in case you need to recover assets lost due to identity theft. Filing a complaint may also help protect potential victims in the future.
To file a complaint, visit ConsumerComplaints.fcc.gov and select the type of report that best describes your situation.
You should also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov if you’ve been a victim of fraud. You may need to provide an FTC report as proof later if you seek to recover assets due to identity theft.
7. Change your phone number
Changing your phone number is a hassle. In most cases, you’ll want to wait a few days before switching your phone number so that you can see if the scammer moves on to a new number. But if you’re still seeing signs of spoofing weeks later, you might need to change your number.
Plus, if scammers know your phone number, you’ll always be more vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.
💡 Related: Why Am I Getting So Many Spam Calls? (How To Stop Them) →
8. Consider signing up for identity theft protection
Scammers can do a lot of damage with a little information, and your phone number is just one possible entry point.
Identity theft protection covers so much more and can help stop scammers and cybercriminals from accessing your sensitive information, bank accounts, and personal data.
With Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection solution, you get:
- Identity monitoring and alerts. Aura keeps tabs on your most sensitive information — such as your Social Security number (SSN), bank accounts, and more — and alerts you in near real-time to any signs of fraud.
- Automatic data broker removal. Aura will reach out to hundreds of data brokers on your behalf to remove your personal information and help reduce spam calls and texts.
- 24/7 credit monitoring with all three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to warn you if scammers are using your identity to open new accounts or take out loans in your name. Aura’s fraud alerts are some of the most reliable and fastest in the industry — up to 250x quicker than other services.
- Dark Web monitoring to scan the deepest reaches of the web for your leaked personal information.
- Antivirus software, Safe Browsing tools, virtual private network (VPN), and more. Aura’s digital security tools are included with every plan, and safeguard your devices and data from hackers and malware.
- A secure password manager that generates and stores unique passwords to help you secure your online accounts.
Are You Receiving Too Many Spam Calls? Do This!
- Register your number with the national Do Not Call Registry. It’s free and only takes a few minutes. By law, most companies can’t call you if you’re on the list. Unfortunately, however, scammers will still contact you.
- Report unwanted calls by filing complaints with the FTC, FCC, and at DoNotCall.gov.
- Manually block incoming spam calls on your mobile phone. Block spam calls and numbers that use fake caller IDs in order to stop them from repeatedly targeting you.
- For spam SMS texts, notify your service provider. The quickest way to do this is by forwarding the message to 7726 (SPAM).
- Never engage with a spam call or voicemail in any way. This will only encourage the spammers to keep calling you and can potentially put you at risk of identity theft.
How To Protect Your Personal Information From Scammers
You might think scammers obtain all personal information illegally. While that’s sometimes the case with documents like birth certificates and Social Security numbers, other important information is in plain sight — and you might have even posted it on the internet yourself.
Protect yourself from scammers by reducing the amount of your information available online. Remove sensitive data from your online profiles and social media accounts — or at a minimum, change the security settings so that your data is only visible to your approved contacts. Even basic information like your hometown or birth date can be valuable information to an identity thief.
Some other helpful steps involve submitting information removal requests to websites that might be storing data about you:
- Google search your name and see what information shows up. If you discover sensitive information, submit a removal request through Google. Or, you can visit the site’s “contact us” page and request that your data be removed.
- Look up data broker websites that might have profiles about you. If you have the time, you can use a resource like PrivacyRights.org and submit individual removal requests to each people-finder website. Every Aura plan includes automatic data broker removal and monitoring to make sure your information isn’t re-added to these lists.
- Check whether any of your information is circulating on the Dark Web. Unfortunately, you can’t remove data from the Dark Web. But if your personal security is compromised, you can protect yourself before you’re compromised further. Use Aura’s free Dark Web Scanner to stay on top of it.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Let Scammers Take Control Over Your Phone Number
A spoofed phone number is concerning. But with the right recovery steps, there’s a good chance that you can resolve the issue. And don’t stop there. A compromised phone number is a warning sign that your identity might be quietly under attack.
If you want to shield more than just your phone number, Aura’s top-rated digital security solution can safeguard your personal information and online activity across all your devices, remove your information from data broker lists, and monitor the Dark Web for leaked data.
And if the worst should happen, every adult member on your Aura plan is covered for up to $1 million in insurance for eligible losses due to identity theft.