Call 12 for Action

'Spoofers' use Providence Fire Department number to make robocalls

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - The phone call surprised Donna Bedford.

"It came up on my phone saying 'city of Providence,'" she said. "Of course I answered the phone."

Bedford was expecting to hear important information about city parking, or maybe her kids' school. Instead, she heard a telemarketer.

"Something about lowering my credit card interest," she recalled.

Bedford says the caller used profanities when she refused to give up any personal information. She hung up. Her husband called back.

"Generally, when you call back telemarketing phone numbers, it can't go through," Bedford said. "Well, it went through. It went to the Providence Fire Department, so apparently they're stealing the phone number."

There's a name for this type of robocall. It's called spoofing, according to Martha Crippen, the director of the R.I. Attorney General’s consumer protection unit.

"Spoofing is when the caller uses software to make the phone number appear as if it's coming from one number when in fact it's not," Crippen explained.

"One of the most popular things that these scam artists like to do, it's called 'neighbor spoofing,'" she added. "They alter the number so it appears as if it's coming from your area code and usually the first three digits of your own phone number, something local that you're more apt to pick up."

Crippen says spoofing, even official phone numbers, is common.

"It happened to us last summer, where we were getting calls from all over the country. Someone was using the Attorney General's office phone number to try to scam people," Crippen said.

A spokesperson for Providence says the city was not aware of the call Bedford received or any others like it until Call 12 for Action brought it to their attention.

The city is looking into the issue, and advises anyone who receives a spoofed call that appears to come from a city line to call 311 to report it.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.


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