Sunday, June 16, 2024

Residents are warned by police to beware scammers calling with “spoofed” phone numbers. (Photo: DodgertonSkillhause via MorgueFile)

Cambridge police are warning residents about calls from scammers impersonating officers, even down to the Machiavellian tactic of “spoofing” the department’s phone number so targets believe the call is genuine.

“This happened earlier this month in which an elderly Cambridge resident was contacted by a male suspect claiming he was an officer – they even provided a false badge number,” department spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said in an email. “The resident was smart enough to recognize it was a scam after the suspect asked her to take out money and buy gift cards.”

A cluster of similar scam phone calls occurred in October. The police department issued a press release Oct. 15 saying it had received “numerous reports” of fake calls the day before in which victims’ caller ID displayed the business phone number of the police department. Police made a similar warning in February 2021.

In the October incidents, callers falsely claimed to be “federal law enforcement officers,” police said. One caller claimed that the victim’s Social Security number would be suspended and asked for personal information to avoid it. Another caller asked for a Social Security number, bank information and date of birth, purportedly because of a criminal investigation.

Fraudulent calls spoofing a local police department phone number have occurred all over the country, from Honolulu to Springfield. Recently in the town of Harvard, when a suspicious resident told a scammer she was going to call the local police department, the scammer said he would call the department himself and the target got a fraudulent call from the department’s phone number while she was still on the first fake call. Scammers have also spoofed phone numbers of the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates fraudulent calls.

Warnick said perpetrators of fake phone calls often request money and that calls should “immediately be recognized as fraud” if the caller asks for payment “in the form of any type of gift card or prepaid card.” If people become suspicious of a call that seems to come from a local police department they can hang up and call the department directly, he said.

Technological advances, especially with Internet phone service, have made it easier for a caller to have a recipient’s caller ID list a fake phone number. The federal Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits “transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”

Experts point out that not all spoofing is illegal. For example, a doctor using his or her personal phone to call a patient could have a patient’s caller ID display the doctor’s office number.