'I'm calling about your vehicle warranty...'

Scammers sometimes use “spoofing‘ technology to appear as though they’re coming from a local number. When the person answers, the call is a recording that tries to sell automobile insurance, timeshares and other products.

CADILLAC — “Hi there, this is Shasta calling in regards to your Volkswagen warranty. The warranty is up for renewal. I’d like to congratulate you on your $1,000 instant rebate and free maintenance and oil change package for being a loyal customer. Call me back at 888-206-XXXX to redeem now. Once again that number was 888-206-XXXX. Thank you so much. Have a great day.‘

Sound familiar? We’ve all received this call or ones like it, sometimes from numbers that appear to be coming from local sources.

The above transcript was provided by the Federal Communications Commission as an example of a scam call that may also be coming from a “spoofed‘ number.

“You should be cautious even if a number appears authentic,‘ the FCC warned. “Criminals may engage in caller ID ‘spoofing’ — deliberately falsifying the information transmitted to your Caller ID display to disguise their identity.‘

Retired Cadillac optometrist Randall Myers said he’s been receiving a lot more of these types of calls lately on his landline, sometimes as many as 8-10 a week.

He said the calls typically have to do with offers to reduce interest rates, obtain low-interest credit cards and for extended vehicle warranties.

When Myers called the FCC to file a complaint, he said he was told to contact the local number that was being spoofed, and to have that person file the complaint.

Many people have learned to live with the constant barrage of robocalls and solicitations seemingly coming from their neighbors ... or even themselves, as was the case for Cadillac News reporter Rick Charmoli on Tuesday.

But what may be merely an annoyance to some people has actually victimized others, to the tune of $350 million across the U.S. in 2018, according to the Michigan Attorney General’s office.

Shortly after Michigan Department of Attorney General Dana Nessel took office, she announced an initiative to address the growing number of robocall complaints submitted to her office.

“Since our formal announcement of the robocall initiative, we’ve received more than 1,700 complaints,‘ said Ryan Jarvi, press secretary for the Attorney General. “What we are seeing so far is that many Michigan residents are wise to the efforts of those behind the robocalls and very few are reporting any type of financial exchange. Each day complaints received are reviewed and entered into our database for further evaluation and action. We are currently analyzing the data contained in these complaints and determining the impact on Michigan residents.‘

Will Wiquist, deputy press secretary for the FCC, said far and away the largest complaint category they have is for robocalls, which includes calls coming from spoofed numbers.

In 2018, the FCC concluded an investigation that uncovered an elaborate “neighbor spoofing‘ operation. The scheme was to route people from the initial robocall — which seemed to be coming from a local number — to a call center in Mexico, where someone would try to sell the victim a timeshare.

This investigation led to a $120 million fine, although Wiquist said these types of crimes generally are incredibly hard to pin down.

“The networks are really complicated,‘ Wiquist said. “And a lot of the calls are coming from overseas.‘

To be clear about the legalities of spoofing, Wiquist said it’s illegal to call anyone from a masked number with the intent to defraud, obtain money from, or harm that person.

That isn’t to say, however, there aren’t legitimate uses for spoofing, such as a school calling parents to inform them about weather closures, or a domestic violence victim masking their number to avoid giving away their whereabouts, Wiquist said.

Wiquist said the FCC is pushing phone carriers to provide authentication technology to their clients, which will allow them to better identify which numbers to answer and which to ignore.

As a rule of thumb, Wiquist said if you don’t recognize a number, let it go to voicemail. If you do answer, never give personal information over the phone. If someone claims to be from a legitimate organization, it might be a good idea to hang up and call that organization back yourself to determine if they did indeed try to contact you. If you answer the phone and the caller — or a recording — asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets. Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes‘ or “No.‘

Anyone who threatens, harasses or tries to scare you over the phone is more than likely a scammer, especially if they demand payment in the form of gift cards, Wiquist said.

As for Myers being told he couldn’t file a complaint because the spoof call wasn’t coming from his number, Wiquist said that shouldn’t have been the case: anyone can file a complaint if they receive a call from a spoofed number.

To file a complaint with the FCC, go to consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.

Michigan consumers looking to submit a complaint to the Attorney General’s office regarding robocalls or spoofing may do so online at secure.ag.state.mi.us/complaints/donotcall.aspx and in writing. If they have questions about the complaint process, they may also contact the Consumer Protection Intake Unit by calling 1-877-765-8388 or 517-335-7599.

The Attorney General will be making an announcement soon about Phase 2 of the robocall initiative, Jarvi said. This announcement will include data drawn from the overwhelming response of Michigan residents, upcoming events, as well as next steps.

Cadillac News