How to Trace a Spoofed Phone Number

It can be very hard to uncover a spoofed phone number's origin

A spoofed phone call is one that says that it’s coming from one specific phone number, person, or company when it pops up on your phone’s screen but is in fact being made by a completely different phone number. It can be hard to tell if a phone number is spoofed or not and tracing a spoofed phone number’s true digits can be almost impossible.

Spoofing is relatively easy to do by individuals and companies which means that you can’t always trust what the caller ID says when the phone call is received. Often a reverse caller ID check will simply redial the number displayed by the spoofing, not the actual number behind the call.

An elderly woman talking on the phone and looking up phone numbers in the phone book.
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How to Tell If a Phone Number Is Spoofed

While there’s no completely accurate way to detect a spoofed number, there are several techniques which can help you get a fairly good idea about what’s going on and may help you catch a spoofer or scammer in their tracks.

  1. Google the phone number. Doing a basic web search for the number that called you and cross-referencing it to who the caller says they are can be a quick way to detect a scammer. While this won’t help if they claim to be from a company and are spoofing the company’s number, it can catch people who are spoofing local numbers while claiming to be someone else. This scam strategy is referred to as neighbor spoofing.

  2. Call the number that’s calling you. While you have the person on the line, call the number on another phone. If the line’s engaged, then this may be proof that they are in fact calling from the number they say they are.

  3. Call the company and confirm. If the caller claims to be from a company or organization, look up the official contact number for them and give them a call to confirm the existence of the person who called you and their claims.

    Do not use your phone’s automatic redial feature when doing this. Make sure that you’ve found the official contact number for the company and dial it manually.

  4. Use a who called me app. There are a variety of apps for iPhone and Android smartphones, such as TrueCaller, that can alert you to calls from numbers that are frequently used by phone scammers. Since those behind phone scams often use spoofing when making calls, this can be an effective, but not fool-proof, way of seeing when a spoofed call is coming in.

How to Uncover a Spoofed Number

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to uncover a spoofed number as the technology makes it too easy for people to do without leaving a trail. It may be possible to track down a spoofer by convincing a phone carrier and law enforcement to begin an investigation but this can be incredibly time consuming and still isn’t guaranteed to get the result you require.

If you happen to be talking to someone who’s using phone spoofing for legitimate business reasons, you are completely in your rights to ask them if the number showing in the caller ID is in fact the number they’re calling from. Most professionals would be completely fine with disclosing the fact that they’re calling from a different number even if they may not want to disclose what number that is for their own personal security reasons. Some may actually prefer to give you their real number if they need to stay in touch with you.

What to Do When You Get a Spoofed Phone Call

Because it can be almost impossible to discover who’s behind a spoofed call there are several precautions you need to take when getting one.

If you've already fallen victim to a phone scam or an internet scam, there are several things you will need to do in each situation.

  1. Avoid sharing personal or financial information. Spoofing is frequently used by phone scammers who try to steal your data. Legit companies will very rarely ask for bank account or credit card numbers or your Social Security number.

  2. Don’t send money to spoof callers. In general, you shouldn’t send money to anyone that calls you on the phone. If someone says you owe money, hang up and dial the company’s official contact number to confirm.

  3. Block repeat callers. If a number continues to call you, block it.

    Even if the spoofed phone number is robocalling you, you can still block robocalls.

  4. Don’t reply to texts. Replying to suspicious texts, even if they prompt you to reply with a word or number to opt out of future texts, can result in getting even more scam calls and messages. Simply delete the message and block the spoofed number.

  5. Report the number. If you suspect that the phone number is being spoofed for illegal or suspicious reasons, you can report it to the FTC and other organizations for investigation.

Are Spoofed Phone Calls Illegal?

Getting a spoofed phone call isn’t always bad or illegal as many professionals and businesses use spoofing technology on a very regular basis for a variety of legit reasons. For example, a company employee may spoof their personal number to display the company’s public contact number when calling a customer. This allows them to maintain some level of personal privacy and can also alert the customer as to who’s calling them if they have caller ID enabled or the company’s number in their contact list or address book.

Using phone spoofing in this way is completely legal even though it is technically misleading. Phone spoofing is only illegal in the United States if the caller aims to commit fraud, obtain something of value, or harm an individual. If you’re being the target of a phone scam or harassment via a spoofed number, then the technology is very much being used illegally.