Victim of phone fraud? Rep. Grace Meng’s legislation on spoofing passes House

Bill aims to stop scammers from ripping people off through caller ID scheme.

By The American Bazaar Staff

Congresswoman Grace  Meng with Miss America Nina Davuluri this past December during a bone marrow drive at The Shops at Sky View Center in Flushing, Queens.
Congresswoman Grace  Meng with Miss America Nina Davuluri this past December during a bone marrow drive at The Shops at Sky View Center in Flushing, Queens.

NEW YORK: Bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) to quash a widespread telephone scheme that has targeted and defrauded millions of Americans – including the South Asian community – passed the House of Representatives Wednesday night. The measure now heads to the Senate.

The Anti-Spoofing Act (H.R. 3670) aims to combat “spoofing,” a practice in which bogus names and phone numbers are displayed on recipients’ caller IDs in order to trick them into answering the phone or replying to text messages, according to a press release.

The practice is widely used by con artists and unscrupulous telemarketers who use technology to disguise their numbers and identities to make their calls appear legitimate. Devious telemarketers employ the practice to dishonestly sell their merchandise, and fraudsters use it to obtain personal or financial information by misrepresenting themselves as, among other things, government agencies, hospitals, banks, pharmacies and credit card companies.

“Attention scammers and deceitful telemarketers: We are one step closer to stopping you from using caller ID spoofing to rip-off unwitting, vulnerable consumers such as the elderly, immigrants and veterans,” said Meng, in a statement. “I thank my colleagues in the House for joining me in trying to end this shameful and malicious practice, and I now call on the Senate to quickly follow suit.”

This past tax season, con artists used caller ID spoofing to dupe tens of thousands of Americans, into thinking that they were being contacted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The phone scammers posed as IRS officials demanding immediate payment for unpaid taxes, and threatened to arrest the victims if they did not immediately pay with a debit card or wire transfer.

Often times, the fraudsters disguised their numbers to make it appear that the calls were actually originating from IRS. The scheme forced the IRS to warn the public, and similar scam alerts were issued by other affected government agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In addition, scammers have impersonated law enforcement by using the phone numbers of police departments – including the NYPD – to swindle consumers.

In 2009 Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law the Truth in Caller ID Act, which prohibits caller ID spoofing when it is used to defraud or harm Americans. But spoofing technology has evolved since the law was enacted, and criminals have found ways to circumvent it.

Meng’s legislation seeks to tighten and strengthen the Truth in Caller ID Act by:

* Broadening the law to prohibit spoofing by foreigners. Presently, many U.S.-based companies spoof calls to U.S. residents but originate them from outside the United States.

* Broadening the law to include new internet-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services that enable callers to make outgoing-only calls from computers and tablets to mobile and landline phones, a technology that was undeveloped in 2009 when the Truth In Caller ID Act was adopted and a practice that has contributed significantly to the spoofing problem.

* Broadening the law to include text messaging, a technology that has become much more prevalent since 2009 and a spoofing method that fraudsters use with increasing regularity.

Meng introduced the Anti-Spoofing Act this past December with Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), and she testified about the measure in July before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The Congresswoman’s legislation is supported by AARP (due to spoofing’s impact on seniors), consumer advocacy organizations, law enforcement agencies and the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and the New York Mayor’s office of Immigrant Affairs.

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