Spoofing is imitating or tricking someone. We see a lot of spoofs on April Fool’s Day, where companies will put out fake or funny announcements about new products.
In modern times, spoofing has taken the form of nastier activities designed to take your hard-earned money.
Email spoofing is when you get an email that appears to be from someone you know, but is actually from a hacker or other person with not-so-honorable intentions. It is actually not that hard to spoof an email address. And to detect a spoofed email, you have to look at some of the technical information behind the email itself, which most people don’t know how to do.
The biggest clue is the content of the email itself. If your friend Rachel, who you haven’t heard from in years, suddenly sends you an email that says “I love this product!” with a link to a website that sells Viagra, it’s probably a spoofed email from some hacker dude that wants you to give up your credit card number in exchange for some fake Viagra. Then, as an extra bonus, he’s going to sell your credit card number to the highest bidder. Your safest bet is to ignore the email, or at least contact Rachel directly (it’s probably time to say Hi anyway!) and ask if she really did send that email.
For a spoofed phone number, the caller pretends to be calling from a fake phone number that shows up on your caller ID. There are many legitimate reasons to spoof a phone number. For example, when you call your Uber or Lyft driver, you aren’t actually calling their real phone number. The number is spoofed to protect their privacy.
But phone spoofers also use these fake phone numbers to pretend they’re calling from your area code, or to fool you into thinking they’re calling from a legitimate place like your utility company.
It is very difficult to detect a spoofed phone call, other than with common sense. If you get a phone call to your cell phone from a number with the same first six digits as your ten-digit number, chances are it’s spoofed. Cell phone numbers are so spread out these days that the chances of a legitimate caller having the same first six digits of your number are very slim. Spoofers like to use this tactic to make you think the call is coming from someone locally, when for all you know the call could be coming from the Moon.
If you get a call from anyone who says they’re from your utility company or anyone else who asks for money, ask for the name of the company, then hang up and look up the published number for that company. Call them yourself and see if the request for payment is actually legit.
For spoofed emails and phone calls, use your noggin and decide for yourself whether the request seems real. This is your best defense against fraud through spoofing.