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The Good, Bad and Ugly about Spoofcard, a software system that makes not only caller id obsolete, but also makes all your phone calls suspect to pranks and identity theft. Untraceable, a movie starring Diane Lane, shows exactly how far this system may go in adding the commission of crimes and protecting criminals from prosecution from identity theft — and in the movie’s case, from murder. It may not be all bad, read more to see why and make your own judgment call.
Untraceable, a movie being released by Sony Pictures, January 25th, 2008 stars Diane Lane as a Federal Bureau of Investigation Cyber Crimes Division Investigator and single parent. Lane and her team of investigators attempt to catch a serial killer who posts his killings on an untraceable website. The more people who access the website, the faster the victim dies. The brilliant bad guy, hacker and apparently computer genius targets Lane as the investigation progresses and teases both her and the FBI with false leads through a series of communications, including telephone calls. These telephone calls appear to originate from a specific address, and the team closes in – to find a normal family home and no killer or victims other than the unsuspecting family who have federal agents bust down their door, guns drawn and screaming to hit the floor.
How does our killer get away with hiding his phone calls and location? With SpoofCard, the latest “gadget” or software system available. SpoofCard allows a caller to disguise the telephone number they’re calling from, identifying information, and even their voice and gender. Callers may even record a message, to access at a later time, from any phone, to be connected to and played to the receiver.
How does SpoofCard’s (and most any other caller ID spoof’s) system work? First you create an account, much like that used for long distance calling cards. You purchase minutes much like a calling card or prepaid cell phone service. Prices range from $10.00 for 60 minutes to $80.00 for 480 minutes. Purchases may only be made with a credit card.
Next, you receive a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to access your SpoofCard account. Using a telephone number provided by Spoofcard, you dial into their service, indicate the number you wish to call; the number and name you wish to appear on the receiving caller ID; and then are offered the options of changing your voice, changing the voice gender and recording a message or making the call direct. You may also record your calls as they occur.
Advocates of SpoofCard claim that there are valid, fun, personal and professional reasons for utilizing this sort of service. First, it is supposed to be a fun form of entertainment. Harmless pranks, like the Domestic Diva who pranked her husband at work calling about a pornographic video that needed returned to the video store and was overdue. The movie did not exist, but she and many others on her message board were amused by her husband’s reaction to the phone call.
Secondly, you can create your own unique number to be identified by. For example it takes distinctive ring tones one step further. Your nickname may appear on the caller ID as well as your favorite number, identifying you, as the caller, in a unique way.
Thirdly, businesses such as doctor’s offices may find it useful when they are on call. Instead of calling patients back and having their cell or home phone number appear on the caller ID and possibly be used in the future, and bypassing the call service, doctors may program the system to have their office name and telephone number appear on the caller ID, even when returning patients’ emergency or after hours calls.
What’s the bad part of Spoofcard? People who may not want to speak to you, say after a bad relationship break-up, can be tricked into answering their phone calls when a different name or number appears. Pranks may be carried too far, such as the prank identified in the interview with Paul Zahn (see below). This was a great big spoof joke, that caused fear in a household and hours of investigation by a police department whose time could have been better spent on legitimate crimes.
Also, millions of consumers pay extra for the Caller ID as part of their phone service, but now they can not even trust that. If they are paying for caller ID as a level of protection, they might not be getting what that they are paying for.
Ugly uses for services like Spoofcard are numerous. In 2006, Spoofcard terminated over 50 customer accounts after discovering that they were being used to access voicemail boxes that were not their own. This is done by calling the home or cell number of a person and fooling the caller ID into thinking the call is coming from the same home or cell phone. In cases where people do not put a password on their voicemail box, the phone service is “tricked” into going directly into voicemail, allowing people to listen in on others messages. This is not so bad right? You may be able to find out about affairs or other indiscretions, but the ugliness doesn’t stop there.
Identity theft may easily occur utilizing this system. You receive a telephone call from a supposed government agency, law enforcement official or credit lender. You answer. You are asked questions, with an introduction such as, “We believe your account has been accessed, it may be a fraud, could you confirm the following?”
Believing this to be a legitimate call and based on the caller ID, many individuals would follow the instructions and provide their personal and financial information.
Stalking may also occur. Each year thousands of people are victims of stalkers. With Spoofcard, or a similar Caller ID Spoof service, they can disguise their voice and telephone number, making it difficult (if not impossible) to be tracked, except possibly by a government agency.
Is this legal? Yes, it is. After Congressional hearings on the matter, it was determined that Spoofcard does serve a valid business interest, and to some (like doctors or lawyers who may be called at all hours) provided them with a certain level of privacy. Estranged or divorced parents may use it to contact their children when the other party is interfering with communication. However, many stipulations are in effect; such as that the service is illegal only if used to deceive or attempt fraud or theft as a result of the call. In some cases, depending on the state, the recorded calls may or may not be admissible in court.
If you are interested in using Spoofcard for your own personal entertainment or for business reasons, it may be purchased directly through their website. Spoofcard instructs purchasers that it is for entertainment and privacy purposes only and that any uses that result in a subpoena by law enforcement officials will be honored.
The main page of Spoofcard provides the ability to purchase, receive technical support, participate in the forum as well as get frequently asked questions answered. However, after several hours searching the internet and visiting approximately 30 blogs on the issue, there are far too many who are posting that they use this service for questionable purposes. But with anonymous postings, avatars, or log in names, it is very difficult to correctly identify these people. They seem almost proud of it and discuss how very easy it is to get information using this service. Maybe they do it, or maybe they only say the do it to draw attention to themselves or the service. Who knows? But what we do know is this is just the latest in a new wave of technological services that needs to be closely monitored in order to protect individuals from a variety of crimes, including identity theft.
Here’s the YouTube video about SpoofCard, where Pauls Zahn talks about the dangers of using and being abused by SpoofCard’s “hide your phone number” and spoof your Caller ID service.
Just in case you haven’t caught it yet, faking your number on CallerID is called “Caller ID spoofing”. It’s quite the clever catch phrase that sounds good when it’s reported in Congress and on the news…
I’m glad Paula Zahn did this report, but listen to the highly sensational journalism at the end of the video.
“Congress realizes that a lot of American families live in the same kind of “terror” as you do…”
“I guess you consider yourselves “pretty darn” lucky”
Pretty darn lucky? They were the victim of a prank phone call, not of a hostage situation.
And, they never said they live in “terror”. There’s no reason to use such a loaded word except to get ratings.
That’s not journalism. What she’s doing here is creating news, and marketing the story to us, rather than just reporting it for us.
(I wouldn’t even be surprised if some of the Caller ID spoofing companies mentioned in the video had something to do with this story making it on the news. It’s quite the free advertising segment if you ask me.)
But I digress.
Here are a few other companies operating in this space.
CidSpoof.com (Corporate solutions for Caller Id Spoofing)
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Give it a shot for yourself (a trial call is free) to see how it works before making up your mind. (I called a friend and set the caller ID as if it were calling from her mother. It really freaked her out, which left an impression on me too.)
What do you think about SpoofCard and Caller ID Spoofing in general?