Caller ID Spoofing Gets Personal

Last night while eating dinner I received a text from out of the blue.

Sorry, I can’t talk right now.

I recognized the automated message, but I hadn’t contacted this person. I did not have them in my contacts or in my recent calls. After a bit of thought I came to the most likely hypothesis. A telemarketer had spoofed my number using their caller ID.

When caller ID first came out, the telephone company controlled it. All calls occurred over what we call the Plain Old Telephone System. It would take some real hacker know how to alter caller ID data. Then we invented VO/IP and everything changed.

VO/IP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. It covers the class of technologies which allow voice and video communication over the internet. Software such as Asterisk and Freeswitch allow anyone to freely configure a software based telephone system which would have required custom hardware and software in the past. I wrote the Philly Touch Tours phone line in Freeswitch.

Unfortunately, telemarketers can use these same tools to easily make anonymous international calls. Instead of their telephone company sending the caller ID data, their software switch sends it. Anyone can easily make their number read as anything. Any reputable VO/IP service provider would ban them, but these people do not care about reputation.

I can’t confirm that this happened in my case, but the facts fit. A random person received a call from someone with the same area code and exchange. This makes it appear like a local call. The recipient sent an automated text message, which as the true owner of the number I received. This left both of us feeling very confused. I explained it to them and they thanked me for the info, so I decided to write this article.

It pains me to see the plain old telephone system abused in this fashion. I remember when I would pick up the telephone and feel delighted to hear another human’s voice. Now I just expect to get scammed. We should not have to get rid of our land lines or nervously respond to unknown numbers on our cell phones, and Jolly Roger Telephone agrees. They make bots to waste telemarketers’ time, breaking their business model. Check out this great example!