Neighborhood spoofing scam hits central Ohio

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NORTH COLUMBUS - Telemarketer scams may be striking local telephones. Consumer experts say a tactic, sometimes called "neighborhood spoofing," is increasing and could soon grow exponentially.

In the neighborhood spoofing scam technique, spam callers encourage more people to answer the phone by disguising their number as a local phone number with a familiar area code. It may appear to the person receiving the call that it is coming from a local caller.

"It is just unthinkable and I'm worried someone will lose a lot of money," said North Columbus Resident Brenda. She is not revealing her last name for fear of what information the scammers who already have her first name and phone number could do.

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Brenda received a call from a number that appeared to be based in Westerville. She said she thought it could be one of her friends or a local business she frequents from the next-door neighborhood so she picked up. She quickly found it wasn't what she thought.

"Real, real, super fast he says to me, 'what credit card do you want to put this on?' and I wasn't even caught up to the conversation when he said that."

The caller was not local at all and wanted her to hand over her credit card information.

"It might seem like a little thing for others, but it's important. We need to look out for each other," said Brenda. She said she worries the neighborhood spoofing technique will cause others to trust too quickly and lose money. The Central Ohio Better Business Bureau confirmed it has seen local reports of the scam tactic.

"When receiving a call, do not trust Caller ID. Your phone's screen may display a familiar number, but it could be a scammer. Avoid answering calls from phone numbers you don't recognize, even if they appear to be local. Allow these calls to go to voicemail so you can monitor them," said Kip Morse, President and CEO of BBB of Central Ohio.

Oftentimes in the neighborhood spoofing scam, not only the area code matches the victim's, but the next 3 numbers will also appear to be from a familiar prefix.

The FCC says that according to 2016 estimates, Americans received about 2.4 billion unwanted, automated calls every month.

First Orion, a company that provides phone carriers and their customers caller ID and call blocking technology, is saying in its 2018 report things could get much worse. As the company has provided call protection to tens of millions of mobile subscribers, it analyzed more than 50 billion calls over the past 18 months. Now, First Orion predicts that nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be fraudulent in 2019 if there are no new protections. It projects an explosion of incoming spam calls, marking a massive leap from 3.7 percent of total calls in 2017 to more than 29 percent this year, to a projected 45 percent by early 2019.

Brenda believes protections start with warning her loved ones and neighbors about the scam.

"Because I literally thought it was someone calling me from Westerville," Brenda said. "A big ole scam. I never thought it would happen to me, and it did."