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Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
4:51 PM EDT, June 10, 2013
Take my phone number, says Richard Young of Columbia. Please.
Now that he's a spoofing victim, he wants everyone to know that even though his phone number might show up on your caller ID, it's not him. Scam artists have co-opted his number to call local residents in an attempt to to collect sensitive personal information.
"I didn't even know what spoofing was until recently," he says.
Young wants to hand out his number. It won't happen here, though. Young should want fewer people to know his number, not more. Always protect your personal information.
In spoofing's early days, scam artists would merely use a phony number. Now they're using actual numbers of local businesses and residents to better fool their targets.
"This is a new but not surprising evolution of spoofing," says Howard Schwartz of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. "We have to regard our telephones as a door through which criminals try to push themselves."
Young says he found out that at least 90 spoofing calls were made in his name. Then some of the targeted victims called him.
"Twenty people called me," says Young, "and wanted to know what the hell I was doing. I explained to them, 'I've been spoofed.'"
Young now says, after two weeks of spoofing, he's about to change the phone number he's had for 50 years.
Elaine Massa of Hebron went through the same thing late last year after scammers pirated her number.
She says she received at least 30 calls in three days from local residents wanting to know why she called and what she wanted.
"Some were irate," she says, "asking us to stop calling them."
Massa says she called the telephone company, the FCC, the state Department of Consumer Protection and the local police.
"They all told me there is nothing they can do," she says. "I had no one to file a complaint against since I did not know who was making the calls."
Spoofing has been illegal since the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, signed into law in late 2010. Federal Communications Commission rules permit penalties of $10,000 for each violation. The scammers, however, rarely use one number long enough to get caught.
"We're no longer having the problem,'' says Mass. "It seems that the people who use the phone number will only use if for a week or so and then move on to the next number."
The state attorney general's office has received 114 complaints involving spoofing or vishing (voice phishing) in the past two years.
"Unfortunately," says Susan Kinsman, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office. "Our office sees more and more instances of 'spoofing' over time and the scam artists are sophisticated in their attempts to avoid detection. The consumer's best protection is to guard their information. Most legitimate companies don't ask for information over the phone that they already have."
A few safeguards from the BBB, FCC and the state attorney general's office:
>> If you don't recognize the number or the voice on a message, don't return the call.
"If a call or letter purports to be from a company the consumer did business with," says Kinsman, " the consumer should independently verify the source of the request and the reason for it rather than simply give out their personal or financial information over the phone."
>> Never press 1 or any other option during a recorded call offering an option to remove your name from the marketing-call list. "Call screening is more important than ever," says Schwartz, "and if you respond in any way, shape or form, you are leaving yourself open for even more calls."
>> If you haven't already signed up for the federal National Do Not Call Registry, do so at http://www.donotcall.gov. It won't stop robocalls, but you can file a complaint at the registry's home page (for a spoofing complaint, call 1-888-225-5322 or visit http://www.fcc.gov.complaints).
>> Cellphone numbers do not require registration with Do Not Call. Telemarketing calls of any type are against the law.
For privacy protection, consider blocking your Caller ID from showing:
>> Check with your telephone service provider, including mobile service. Cox Communications, for instance, requires a call to customer service to set it up. Once this per-line feature is set up, no one will see your name or number. To temporarily disable the service, press asterisk-82.
You can activate per-call blocking with some phone services by dialing asterisk-67 before making a call.
Calls to 911, 800 and 900 numbers can't be blocked.
Blocking Caller ID would not have stopped the scammers who used Massa's number, which left her feeling helpless and, in a small way, thankful.
"What is the person who has that number supposed to do?" she says. "I do not know how many people were called. When they were called, my husband's name appeared on the Caller ID. Who knows how many people have a very negative opinion of him without even knowing him. Good thing he's not in politics."
Medicaid Dental Scam
When the state attorney general's office announced a $9.9 million settlement last week with Gary Anusavice of North Kingstown, R.I., in a Medicaid billing scam it left claims unresolved against other defendants. This case isn't over.
Anusavice owned three Southern Connecticut dental clinics in the scam that cost the state's Medicaid program $21 million, but also had a ownership or other financial interest in several other practices allegedly involved in the scheme. One of those practices, Alpha Dental in Cromwell, and Dr. David Wu, who practices there, were named in the state's original complaint but were not part of last week's settlement.
"The case is pending," says Kinsman.
The Bottom Line last August detailed how several low-income patients of a Hartford dental practice were told by telephone that its Franklin Avenue office had moved to Cromwell and were offered shuttle service to an appointment at the "new" office. The Franklin Avenue office that belonged to an unaffiliated practice operated by Dr. Savvas Mintatos, in fact, had not moved. His patients, instead, were being shuttled unwittingly to Alpha Dental. (Read the column at bit.ly/11nDnDY.)
Anusavice pleaded guilty in federal court in Bridgeport to charges related to the scam the same day the state's settlement was formalized in Hartford Superior Court and faces up to 15 years in prison at sentencing scheduled for Aug. 23.
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant