210 area code hit hard by 'neighbor spoofing'

Familiar-looking numbers latest trick by robocallers

That phone call that appears to be from your neighbor but turns out to be a sales pitch or worse, a scam, is the latest ruse by robocallers.

It’s called neighbor spoofing and the calls seem to be surging, particularly in the 210 area code.

American consumers get an average 2.5 billion robocalls every month, according to the Federal Communications Commision.

“I hate them,” said Matthew Campbell. “I get them every day, probably about twice an hour.”

Now a growing number of those robocalls look familiar. The caller ID shows your area code, and even the first three digits of your phone number. Campbell has seen it.

“It makes me think somebody I actually know is calling me,” he said. “Turns out, it’s not. It’s somebody trying to sell me something.”

With what’s dubbed “neighbor spoofing,” tricksters manipulate the caller ID to make the call appear to be from a local exchange, increasing the likelihood that the person will answer.

“As soon as you pick up one of those spoofed calls, your number is put on a sucker list,” said Miguel Segura, with the Better Business Bureau. “And then they are going to sell it on the black market and say, ‘I have all these people in the 210 area that are picking up the line.’"

It seems 210 is a hot target. According to data gathered by tech firm Hiya,  210 is the fourth most spoofed area code in the U.S.

So what can you do to at least reduce the calls?

Download a call-blocking app such as Hiya, Robokiller, Truecaller, Nomorobo and more.  There are hundreds available. Many offer a free trial.

See what tools your cell provider offers. AT&T offers Call Protect.

Or do what Wilson Korona, who says he gets at least seven robocalls a day, does.

“I don’t even bother to answer my calls,” he said. “I wait for people to leave a message and then I call back.”

The Better Business Bureau and FCC say just don’t answer calls from unknown numbers if you want to say good-bye to spoofers.

You can also sign up for the National Do Not Call registry, but it only affects unwanted calls from legitimate telemarketers.

Unwanted robocalls can be reported to the FCC or FTC. Those agencies say they are cracking down and working with the phone industry to come up with new technology and a solution.

Here are a few BBB tips to help identify and handle “neighbor spoofing” phone calls:

  • Avoid answering calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize, even if they appear to be local. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message. 
  • If your own phone number is used in a caller ID spoof call, you may receive calls and messages from people asking why you called them in the first place. This can lead to a lot of confusion between the two parties, but knowing your own number can be used by scammers may help explain the situation. 
  • Be aware that phone numbers of local businesses, including doctor’s offices and/or insurance agents, may appear to be calling you. If you’re not certain whether the call is legitimate or a spoof, hang up and dial the known phone number for the contact to verify the communication, especially if personal and/or financial information is being requested.
  • There are call blocking apps that may help decrease the amount of spam calls, including those using a spoof caller ID. Your phone carrier may also provide a similar service or offer advice.
  • Make sure your phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry. Though it is unlikely to prevent most phone scam calls, it will help to reduce calls received from legitimate telemarketers, which can be helpful in screening fraudulent calls. 
  • For more information on nuisance calls, contact the Federal Trade Commission.

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