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Collectors, prankers beware, the change in laws puts certain practices in jeopardy

Caller ID spoofing has been a popular practice for many years in the U.S.  Many have a form of caller identification and use it to screen their calls.  Much like email spoofing, caller ID spoofing causes the message to look like it originated from someone other than the real sender.

Many businesses offer spoofing service either online or via the phone.  Among the legitimate uses of spoofing are to allow businesses IDs to appear when owners are making calls from outside phones (such as a home phone) and to allow businesses to replace the calling number with the appropriate callback number.  Private investigators and collections agencies often use spoof as well, in a more questionable manner.

Spoofing has also been used by criminals to steal money from victims by tricking them into revealing personal information.  Last year a ring of crooks stole $15M USD using phone spoofing according to Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY).

After much debate, the House has passed the bill Truth in Caller ID Act of 2010" [PDF], H.R. 1258, an amendment to the Communications Bill of 1934.  The bill effectively bans caller spoofing in the U.S.  The Senate already passed a similar bill in February, so President Obama should soon sign the Act into law.

The bill makes it illegal "to cause any caller ID service to transmit misleading or inaccurate caller ID information, with the intent to defraud and deceive."

It applies to both land lines and voice-over-IP networks (VoIP) and any other "real time voice communications service, regardless of the technology or network utilized."

Under the bill, you can still block your own outgoing caller ID information.  But trying to modify it may result in criminal and civil penalties, assuming it can be proven that you intended to "defraud and deceive".  Businesses may be exempt, assuming they're using spoofing for legitimate purposes as outlined above and not suspect practices like stealth telemarketing.

Civil prosecution generally carries a lower burden of proof, so businesses such as repossession firms may be hit with civil fine but escape criminal prosecution.

Law enforcement officials in the U.S. are exempt from the ban.

CTIA, an international trade group, released a statement praising the move.  It writes, "CTIA and the wireless industry support making caller identification spoofing illegal as the applications of such an activity are usually for malicious purposes. We appreciate the House passing this important consumer protection measure."





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