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Watchdog column: Beware of caller ID spoofers

By Jessica Priest
Jan. 31, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 30, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.


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The telephone number that pops up on your caller ID may be deceiving, officials say.

That's what one Victoria man learned when he answered a call from a "00" number earlier this week.

The person on the other end of the line said he was with the government and in Florida.

The caller told Humberto Benavides that his Medicare card would expire soon. Also, the caller needed his Medicare card number to issue him a new one.

The disabled Army veteran said he was suspicious from the get-go. Although the caller knew his name and address, the caller had a foreign accent and became defensive when asked for any clarification, Benavides said.

"I questioned them about their number, and they said, 'Well, we're the United States government, and we don't have to divulge our number,'" he said. "I guess they are used to getting what they want. They'll milk you dry. ... They'll milk that Medicare card dry."

Benavides uses his card when he visits the doctor or the hospital. The government covers the cost of a lot of the supplies he needs to treat his diabetes.

Whatever Medicare doesn't cover, his health insurance will, but not everyone is so fortunate or has the time to get their records straightened out with the Social Security Administration, Benavides said.

"I was lucky enough to catch on, but can you imagine somebody else being a little more gullible, giving them the information and thinking they have Medicare when they don't?" Benavides asked.

The Better Business Bureau issued warnings about this scam in October, when millions of uninsured Americans could shop for coverage on the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchange.

Under the new law, Americans won't need a new Medicare card, and the government will never call someone to update his or her personal information because there is no card associated with the health care reform, Tracy Bracy, the regional director of the Better Business Bureau, wrote in a news release.

She recommended people do not respond to cold calls of any kind, especially one in which the caller is asking for personal information or money.

Scammers also purchase computer software that changes how their telephone number appears on a caller ID, also known as spoofing. In the past, scammers have posed as sheriff deputies, immigration agents and representatives of utility companies on the telephone, Bracy said.

The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 prohibits caller ID spoofing for the purposes of defrauding or otherwise causing harm, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Violators may face a $10,000 fine.

Law enforcement agencies and situations in which courts have authorized caller ID manipulation to occur are exempt from the law.

Let the FCC know about caller ID spoofers by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC or filing a complaint at fcc.gov/complaints.

Representatives from the Social Security Administration could not be reached for comment Friday.

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