By Kevin Kelley
Westlake police have received two recent reports of scam artists calling residents claiming to be police officers. What’s worse is that the phony callers can trick their would-be victim’s Caller ID display into indicating that the call is coming from the police department.
The ability to display false Caller ID information on a person’s phone is known as “spoofing.” Spoofing is prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission if done to with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. Each instance of such spoofing is subject to a $10,000 fine.
In the first reported spoofing, a female who identified herself as a Westlake police officer named “Mimi” called a woman Feb. 19 claiming to be looking for the woman’s son. The son does not live at the residence that was called, police said. “Mimi” said she would come in person to the residence in 45 minutes but did not, police said.
Then on Feb. 21, a Westlake man received phone calls and voice mail messages from a purported Westlake police officer who identified himself as “David Lane.” The caller reportedly said the man was required to pay money or else an arrest warrant would be issued for him. The same caller, later identifying himself as “Michael Brown,” said that the Department of Justice had filed charges of check fraud against the resident. A voice mail message received by the same resident directed him to contact “Officer John Harris” at a number with a 717 area code.
In all of the described instances, the residents’ Caller ID display indicated the calls came from 440-871-3311 – the main number of the Westlake Police Department.
Westlake police Capt. Guy Turner said there is currently no technological means for the department to prevent such spoofing. Westlake police want the public to be aware that the department’s phone number has been used in such spoofs, Turner said.
Turner reminds residents that no police or law enforcement agency would ever call to demand money or other valuables.
The FCC website warns that identity thieves may use spoofing in attempts to obtain personal information, such as a bank account number, social security number or date of birth. Scammers utilize spoofing because it can appear as though they are calling from your bank, credit card company or government agency.
The FCC recommends the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of spoofing and identity theft:
- Don’t give out personal information in response to an incoming call. Identity thieves are clever – they often pose as representatives of banks, credit card companies, creditors, or government agencies to get people to reveal their account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords and other identifying information.
- If you get an inquiry from a company or government agency seeking personal information, don’t provide it. Instead, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to find out if the entity that supposedly called you actually needs the requested information from you.
- Let the FCC know about ID spoofers by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC or filing a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints.