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HIGHLAND — For 17 days the phone kept ringing at Debbie Christensen's house. The callers were upset and wanted her to stop calling them. The problem was she wasn't the one making the calls.
Her phone number and ID were stolen and used for telemarketing purposes. She's been dealing with this for more than two weeks and was finally able to make the calls stop by getting an unpublished number.
The calls started coming in on Jan. 29 around 8:30 a.m.
"The phone starts ringing, and a lady says ‘you just called my number,' and I said, ‘No, no one's called anything,'" Christensen said.
The caller went on to confirm Christensen's name and number. After the caller hung up, Christensen received another call, and then another call. Her phone continued to ring for 30 minutes and would get six or eight calls in a row. The calls were always between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., and 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.
"It was unbelievable," she said. "I felt like a call center. I wanted to explain to people I'm not calling, and then I was missing all these calls."
She would tell the callers that she had to hang up because she had another person on the line, and she needed to explain what was going on to them. But the situation wasn't funny at all; it was very upsetting to her.
"You don't want your name associated with some kind of scam," she said. "That's exactly what was happening."
The callers, who were mostly from Davis County and some from Salt Lake and Utah counties, told her they were getting high pressure sales pitches for different items, like natural gas stocks and chimney sweeps.
Some callers told Christensen that they had been called dozens of times, several people had talked to the ID thieves and said, ‘stop calling us,' but they continued to get calls.
"They were calling me and telling me what was going on at their end," she said. "I just don't know."
She was told some of the callers had accents, some sounded elderly, and some sounded young. It sounded like the calls were coming from a call center because there was a lot of background noise.
Caller ID Spoofing is a system which allows you phone someone and to pose as another phone number. A relatively simple bit of software or a website is used to do this. The hacker is prompted to enter the phone number he wants to call, and the phone number he wants to masquerade as calling from. The system is tricked into thinking the call is coming from the owner's phone. Many cell phone providers have systems which skip the pass code when the call is initiated from the handset owned by the consumer. Hackers can then access the voicemail without entering a pass code.
The first day it happened, Christensen said she thought somehow the phone line had been crossed with someone else's number who was making these calls. After two or three days, she realized her number had been stolen.
It's called spoofing. It's when a caller deliberately falsifies the telephone number and/or name relayed to the caller ID to hide the identity of the person or persons making the call.
She said once she told the callers what was happening, they were sympathetic.
"People were so understanding," she said. "(They would said) ‘oh, that's too bad. I'm so sorry, and I'm sorry that I bothered you.' I just wanted to try and explain why they were getting these calls."
She contacted her phone carrier, Comcast, and spoke with several people. Most of them had never heard of the problem. She called the Attorney General's Office, and then the Secret Service, which does not comment on any investigations.
"They figured it was outside the country, and it was not within their jurisdiction," she said.
Christensen estimates she spent more than 20 hours trying to get the ringing to stop. She eventually got an unpublished phone number, but now she has another concern.
"I just hope we don't get disgruntled people looking us up and coming to get what they were promised because we have nothing to do with it," she said.
The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 prohibits caller ID spoofing for the purpose of defrauding or otherwise causing harm. If someone suspects they have been a victim of spoofing, they can contact the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-CALL-FCC or filing a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints.