Some asking whether law should forbid 'caller ID spoofing'
SEATTLE -- The number on your caller ID might not be who you think it is.
It's called "caller ID spoofing," and while it's perfectly legal at the moment, a number of high-profile cases have some asking if the law should be changed.
Most use the spoofing technique for a few laughs, but police say can also be very dangerous.
When police received a 911 call from someone saying he was holding two people at gunpoint and threatening to kill them, police took the call very seriously. It turns out the call was from a teenager in another state, and he was lying about the whole thing. He used caller ID spoofing to pretend the call was coming from another home.
That's an example of why critics of spoofing say it's getting out of hand.
"As a consumer, you can't stop it," said Paul Judge. "The best you can do is realize that's it's possible."
Using spoofing, callers can make it appear they're calling from the White House.
Meir Cohen is the founder of Spoofcard, one of the several for-profit caller ID spoofing services currently available.
"It may be deceiving to put in someone else's number, but it's not a crime," Cohen said.
Spoofcard promotes itself as a fun and legal way to pull a phone prank on someone, but Shannon Casad would disagree.
Someone picked Casad's phone number to spoof. The scammer began calling people everywhere, and Casad's number was showing up in the caller ID. She said her phone ringing off the hook with angry call-backs.
"They said, 'Who are you and why are you calling me?'" Casad said. "Over three days, I had close to 100 calls from all over the U.S. and I obviously don't know any of these phone numbers."
There have been multiple attempts to ban caller ID spoofing, and in 2010 Congress compromised and President Obama signed a law that says spoofing is legal because there are legitimate uses for it.
"We have a lot of battered women that are using it to protect their phone numbers. We have a lot of law enforcement that use it to catch the bad guys," Cohen said.
Cohen does admit there a few rotten apples who misuse the technology, like Paris Hilton. Hilton had her Spoofcard accound canceled after being accused of using it to hack into voicemails. That's also how the English tabloid News of the World got into big trouble.
Many say hacking voicemail is all too easy with a Spoofcard.
Cell phones often bypass access codes and go directly to voicemail when you call your cell phone number using that same number. With that in mind, someone can set up a spoof card using you cell phone number and get direct access to your voicemail without having to know your access code.
Federal law prohibits telemarketers, collection agencies and anyone using caller ID spoofing to defraud, but the reality is that very few spoofing criminals are caught.
"There's no way to police it on an individual basis," Cohen said.
Florida and Mississippi have tried to ban the practice entirely, but Cohen fought back in court and won. He has a warning to other states thinking about doing the same.
"We are confident that we have set a precedent in Florida and Mississippi for any other states that would think about trying to do the same thing," he said.
Cohen said his company hands over a user's call history to authorities if it gets a court order to do so. Anyone who feels they've been spoofed should register a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.