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Call spoofing: How scammers are using your phone number for fake calls

Luke Hopewell
Senior Specialist Writer - Telstra

Luke Hopewell is an editor, tech expert and Senior Specialist Writer at Telstra Exchange.

Luke Hopewell
Senior Specialist Writer - Telstra

Luke Hopewell is an editor, tech expert and Senior Specialist Writer at Telstra Exchange.

Fake calls are on the rise - and perpetrators are using old tricks in new ways. One popular tactic is “call spoofing”, where real phone numbers – sometimes even yours – are being used to scam others. Here’s how it works and how to stay safe.

Man using his phone outside

What is call spoofing?

Call spoofing is where a phone scammer will falsify the number it’s calling from to trick a prospective victim into picking up by making a call look more legitimate. It’s a global problem and rates of call spoofing have increased over the last few years.

Scammers are using robocalling technology to originate calls with legitimate Australian numbers included as the caller ID. It’s a popular tactic because people are more likely to pick up the phone if the number calling looks legitimate – rather than one that’s private, blocked or from overseas.

Criminals may also call you from spoofed numbers that are like yours. For example, if your number is 0400 000 000, they may call you from 0400 000 001. It’s a social engineering tactic designed to increase the chances you’ll pick up the phone by using your "number neighbours” against you.

Some people have even reported calls by what looks like their own number. If you’ve experienced this, the scammer has spoofed your number and by coincidence happens to have called you as a potential victim, so it looks like you’re calling yourself.

What happens if you pick up a spoofed call?

Once the target picks up the phone, an automated message will play, often demanding money and threatening fake consequences if the victim doesn’t pay. Phone scammers can impersonate government departments like Services Australia, Border Force, Amazon, eBay, Telstra or NBN Co.

Some call spoofing attacks can even connect you to a real person whose job it is to extract cash from you under false pretences. Whether personalised or automated, the scammers often apply time pressure and the threat of sanctions or penalties if you fail to pay while on the call.

They may also be after other identifying information to use in other fraudulent activities, so it’s important you don’t give out any of your personal information while on a call and if you suspect it is a scam call, hang up immediately.

Call spoofing may use real people’s phone numbers to execute an attack. This can lead to difficult conversations when the victim calls or texts the number back and reaches a legitimate number whose owner has no idea their number is being used in a scam ring.

Here is how you can spot scam calls when they come in.

How can I tell if my number is being used for call spoofing?

If your number has been spoofed by a scammer, you’ll often find out right away. If a victim were to redial the number they were scammed from, they would reach the rightful owner.

If that owner is you, a barrage of unexpected abuse might come your way. Someone might even just call you out of the blue to ask why you tried to scam them or demand to know why you’re harassing them.

How can I stop my number being spoofed?

There’s no silver bullet to stop call spoofing, but there are ways you can mitigate the calls coming into your device.

Both Apple iOS and Android devices have built-in systems that protect against scam calls from spoofed numbers.

For iOS devices, you can use a setting in the Phone app called Silence Unknown Callers. This effectively ignores phone numbers that aren’t in your contacts list or recent calls log. Instead, it sends them to your message bank service.

Here’s how to turn it on the Silence Unknown Callers function:

  • ensure your iOS device is running iOS 13 or later,
  • go to Settings,
  • tap Phone,
  • scroll down and tap Silence Unknown Callers, and
  • flick the switch to On.

For Android devices, you can use a similar setting called Spam and Call Screen. This warns you about callers that may be potential spam callers.

Here’s how to turn it on in the Spam and Call Screen function:

  • ensure your Android device is running Android 6.0 or later,
  • open the Phone app,
  • tap More Options > Settings > Spam and Call Screen, and
  • turn the setting on or off.

Google also recommends turning on a setting in the same app (for Android devices) called Filter Suspected Spam Calls. This prevents scam callers ringing your device, instead dropping the call into your call history silently.

There are also third-party apps you can use to help block incoming scam and unknown calls, but there’s no real way to block your number from being used by scammers to perpetrate scams.

For that, you can simply set a voicemail message that says you’re aware your number may have been used in this way, so that unknown callers can hear it when they attempt to dial you back.

Worried about potential online attacks?

Telstra Business Cyber Security Services can help to protect your business.

Find out moreWorried about potential online attacks?
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