Truth, Lies and Caller ID
Do you rely on caller ID for identification? If so, you're taking a big risk
November 01, 2006 — CSO —
This week, I, Sarah Scalet, just a hardworking, honest journalist born and raised in the heartland, pretexted for the first time.
I placed a call from my office phone to my colleague Scott Berinato, manipulating the caller ID in such a way that the call appeared to be coming from Scott's cell phone. I also disguised my voice. And, just because I could, I recorded the call as well.
When Scott answered, I made up a lame story about how I was calling from his cell phone company to inquire about problems with his service. Scott demanded to know, in an increasingly stern voice, exactly who I was and what I wanted. And when I tried to fess up and tell him that it was actually me, Sarah, he hung up.
You might think that all this required incredible technical savvy on my part. Maybe I did some elaborate hack of a VoIP system, or built a fancy-schmancy gadget with parts from Radio Shack. Alas, no. In fact, all I did was call a toll-free phone number and punch in a few codes. First I entered the PIN, which was on a free calling card I got on the trade show floor at ISC East in New York. (The card was specifically designed to allow spoofing; it's all built in. It operates just like a calling card and costs 17c per minute.) Next I entered the number I wanted to call and the number I wanted to spoof. Then I punched a button to disguise my voice as a man, and another to record the call. All told, it was easier and took less time than it would have to get a customer service rep from my credit card company on the line.
And it worked. Who knew it was so easy to spoof a call?
Apparently, a lot more people than I suspected. As it turns out, there have already been isolated problems reported with caller ID spoofing, ranging from mildly amusing to truly alarming. In September, a Memphis newspaper reported that a retiree had received two calls from a neighbor or neighbors who disguised their voice and phone number to complain about his mowing the lawn early in the morning. In May 2005, a Newark newspaper reported on a hoax call to 911 that resulted in a swat team surrounding the apartment house from where the call seemed to originate. (The call-spoofing service I used now blocks calls made to 911.)