If you are wondering if your phone number can be used by scammers, well we have bad news.

Having your phone number used by scammers is never good for businesses. People receive scan calls from your number and then when they call back it goes to your phone. If you are wondering why this happens and what you can do about it, we have some good news and some bad news.

It’s About Caller ID.

Caller ID was a great tool that consumer groups fell in love with because you could see who was calling. If you didn’t recognized the number, then you just didn’t answer. Cellular companies lobbied to get approval to use the data in a digital protocol called SS7. SS7 stood for signaling series seven. Included in the call information was CID and CNAM. This was your number and the name of the party paying the bill.

Big companies didn’t like caller id because it had an unwanted side effect. When the president called out to an angry customer or opposing counsel from his private line, the other side got the number. It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “I’ve got your number”.

Corporate America asked for a small change to the SS7 rules as the systems were upgraded again in early 2000. They wanted the ability to have all internal lines display as a single call back number. This way when the President of Aloha Airlines called back to say he was sorry for losing your dog, you saw Aloha Airlines and the main number on your phone.

Consumer groups didn’t oppose this idea, and boom the rules changed. Like all change, there were unintended consequences.

Welcome VoIP

As the world started gobbling up phone numbers and cellular phones became common place, the network started to crash. The solution was VoIP. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. It allowed for 256 times more calls to happen on the same piece of wire. Instead of digging up every street in America and rewiring every telephone pole, they just switched the boxes that managed the calls.

We adapted to VoIP very early. In order to make VoIP work then you needed a box in your office to convert your analog voice to digital in a way the internet could handle it. We got four lines for the price of one and did not need to add any wires to our offices. Since we had four locations at the time it was a big money saver.

As VoIP moved mainstream the boxes moved out of the office to the NID on the side of the building or your home. Today I use Frontier FiOS at home and ATT fiber at the office. Both are pure digital and we can plug in standard phones or IP phones. We are 100% IP and home and work now. It is much easier.

Transportability Arrives.

Quickly two problems became apparent. With VoIP, a company with offices around the globe like Home Depot, needed more control and flexibility over their phone lines and numbers. At the same time phone numbers were running out. The solution was to allow multiple lines to use the same number. This was where the scamming camel’s nose got into the tent.

In order to make this work, the responsibility of sending the CID and CNAM, aka caller id and caller name, moved to the caller. The telephone and telecom companies no longer were responsible for telling you who was calling you. Since there are services like Privacy Star, scammers figured out that they couldn’t use their own numbers to call out. Everyone was figuring out to not answer “Scam Likely” calls. Privacy Star on my iPhone auto blocks them for a few bucks a year.

Sadly transportability rules are how your phone number can be used by scammers. If you have an iPhone look at the My Phone Number setting. You can manually type in any number. You carrier may block false transmission of information but many don’t and that’s how scammers use your number.

How Scammers Collect Numbers.

Scammers use automatic dialers or “robo dialers” to call random numbers. When someone answers the robo dialer saves the number and puts it on a list of potential numbers to use. You can buy a list of these numbers on the web for under $100. Once someone buys the list of verified numbers, that person starts to call the numbers, and hang up. They hope you will call them back so not only do they get your caller id phone number verified, now they have your name.

With that information they simply enter it into the proper fields in their VoIP software or hacked cell phone. You might have heard about “jail breaking” an iPhone. Once the factory security is removed from many smart phones, a scammer just needs to enter your name and number and start making calls. Yes Virginia it is that easy.

If your SEO company is doing a good job and you have a good online reputation, that also makes you a bigger target for scammers. People will answer calls from companies they trust. If you were wondering how your phone number can be used by scammers, now you know.

Why They Do It

Scammers do it because the scams make money. Today there are hundreds of ways to take money over the internet or phone. By the time the banks figure out it is a scam, the money and scammer have moved on. As a society, we don’t question enough and trust too much. As Ronald Reagan used to say “Trust but verify”. Maybe we are just too lazy to verify?

Tips for Prevention.

  1. If you don’t know who is calling, send them to voicemail. Don’t answer. Sadly this isn’t an option for many businesses.
  2. If you get a call and the caller hangs up, don’t call them back.
  3. If you get calls saying someone called them from your number, be polite and explain it may have been a scammer.

The bad news is, with current rules, you can’t stop it. Recently a client’s number was being used by a cell phone in India to make calls to the US. I don’t know if it was our competitor trying to increase the number of calls on the phone number they were using for advertising or if it was a random scammer. Either way it has been a hassle for our client. Maybe phone numbers need a blue check mark like Instagram?