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Family phone number spoofed, leading to upset callers

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16 2013 5:33 p.m. MST

For more than two weeks, Debbie Christensen received calls from people asking her to stop calling them. She later learned that her number had been "spoofed." That's when a telemarketer or fraudster routes calls through a person's number, hiding their own actual identity. In Highland, Friday Feb. 15, 2013, she said while people were upset, they became sympathetic when they found out what was really happening.

Marc Weaver, Deseret News

HIGHLAND — For 17 days the phone kept ringing at Debbie Christensen’s house.

The callers were upset and wanted her to stop calling them. The problem was she wasn’t the one making the calls. Her phone number and ID were stolen and used for telemarketing purposes.

Christensen has been dealing with the problem for two weeks and was finally able to make the calls stop by getting a new unpublished number.

The calls started coming in on Jan. 29 around 8:30 a.m.

“The phone starts ringing and a lady says, ‘You just called my number,’ and I said, ‘No, no one’s called anything,’” Christensen said.

The caller went on to confirm Christensen’s name and number. After the caller hung up, Christensen received another call, and then yet another call, and her phone continued to ring for 30 minutes. The pattern continued daily and she would get six or eight calls in a row between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. and then again between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “I felt like a call center. I wanted to explain to people I’m not calling, and then I was missing all these calls.” She would tell the callers that she had to hang up because she had another person on the line, and she needed to explain what was going on to them, she said with a laugh.

But the situation wasn’t funny at all. It was very upsetting to her.

“You don’t want your name associated with some kind of scam,” she said, getting emotional. “That’s exactly what was happening.”

The callers — who were mostly from Davis County, although there were a few calls from Salt Lake and Utah counties — told her they were getting high pressure sales pitches for different items from natural gas stocks to a chimney sweep.

Some of them told her they had been called dozens of times. Several people had talked to the ID thieves and said, ‘Stop calling us,’ but they continued to get calls.

“They were calling me and telling me what was going on at their end,” she said, shaking her head. “I just don’t know.”

She was told some of the callers had accents, some sounded elderly, and some sounded young. It sounded like the calls were coming from some kind of call center because there was a lot of background noise.

The first day it happened, she said she thought somehow the phone line had been crossed with someone else’s number. But after two or three days, she figured her number had somehow been stolen.

The practice is called spoofing. It’s when a caller deliberately falsifies the telephone number and/or name relayed as to the caller ID information to hide the identity of the actual person or persons making the call.

Once she told the callers what was happening, they were very sympathetic.

“People were so understanding,” she said. “(They would say), ‘Oh, that’s too bad. I’m so sorry, and I’m sorry that I bothered you.’ I just wanted to try and explain why they were getting these calls.”

She contacted her phone carrier, Comcast, and spoke with several people. Most of them had never heard of the problem. Christensen called the Utah Attorney General’s Office, and then the Secret Service.

“They figured it was outside the country, and it was not within their jurisdiction,” she said.

She estimates she spent more than 20 hours trying to get the ringing to stop. She eventually got an unpublished phone number, but now she has another concern.

“I just hope we don’t get disgruntled people looking us up and coming to get what they were promised because we have nothing to do with it,” she said.

The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 prohibits caller ID spoofing for the purpose of defrauding or otherwise causing harm. If someone suspects they have been a victim of spoofing, they can contact the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-CALL-FCC or filing a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com, vvo-duc@ksl.com

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