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An increasing number of Coloradans are becoming familiar with a term that most of us thought was related to Halloween pranks: “spoofing.” While the term might sound harmless, since last summer, the effects are not: including increased alarm over use of phone numbers and added costs for mobile phone owners with limited plans. The practice supersedes the telephone network that transmits it, indicating to the receiver of a call that the originator of the call is a different number from where it originates.

When it happened to this journalist dozens of times while I was out of the country, and four times within four minutes this past weekend, it was time to investigate. “It’s called spoofing,” said Monica, who took my complaint at the AT&T Colorado Call Center. “And no, being on the (federal) no-call list doesn’t help this. By law, phone networks aren’t allowed to block them – but I can walk you through how to block these yourself.”

In simple terms, caller ID spoofing allows someone to display a phone number different from the actual number from which the call was placed. Caller ID spoofing, allows the sending and receiving of outgoing or incoming phone calls or texts to appear to be from any phone number you (or anyone else) chooses. Thus you might be holding your mobile phone when it rings, showing your own phone number (with a “one” in front of it) calling your phone. The same technique is used to grab your phone number to call your friends and neighbors.

Sounds improbable, but therein lies the rub; telemarketers, robocallers, debt collectors, and those intent on fraud schemes are increasingly using it to mask their numbers while getting you and your friends to answer the phone. Communications companies such as AT&T and other mobile and landline providers have been trying to get Congress to pass legislation allowing them to block this use as a service to their customers; so far with no results.

“The important thing for mobile phone users and others with landlines to know is that AT&T never calls you or asks you for information like that,” said Monica.

To manually block consumer’s own phone numbers from ringing their own phones, AT&T says that consumers can go to the “settings” area of their phones, then into “phone,” and scroll down to “Call Blocking and Identification” and type in the number or numbers you want blocked, which will effectively thwarting the scammers.

The company says it also has a free app for mobile phones, called AT&T Call Protect. “Just search for AT&T Call Protect on your mobile phones and download the app,” said Monica. “It works on iPhones, Samsung and LG phones and it will get rid of the constant calls.”