As we become more accustomed to screening the barrage of scam calls today, it is easy to assume a call is unwanted when it is coming from an unheard-of city, hundreds of miles away. But sometimes, we receive calls from our own area code that leave us wondering… “Is my family in need of help calling from a number I don’t recognize?” Only to answer and hear the classic “Hi, this is John and I’m calling about your car’s extended warranty”.

This is a technique very often used by robocallers with bad intentions, called neighborhood spoofing. The premise is quite simple: since the call is coming from somewhere local, scammers hope we assume the call is legitimate. Victims often lower their guard when the number displayed has the same area code or even the same first six digits as their own phone number.

Neighborhood spoofing is a technique used by criminals running various types of spams and scams, including but not limited to auto warranty offers, social security scams and Medicare scams. This activity is usually illegal and unwanted. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled under the Truth-in-Caller ID Act to prohibit anyone from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value. As a result, illegal spoofing can now draw fines of up to $10,000 for each violation.

Instead of answering, it is a good idea to look up online any unknown numbers who call you. If it belongs to a local entity, it will likely be listed on their website. If the call is legitimate and important, they will also likely leave you a message, email you or use the app you may have downloaded to your smartphone. If you do answer a call from a local but unknown number, and it is not from a legitimate entity such as your doctor, local schools, vet, etc., just hang up!  Don’t try to outsmart the caller on the other end of the phone.

If you feel you’ve received an illegal robocall, remember you can file a complaint with the FCC. In addition, consumers can protect themselves by leveraging robocall detection solutions powered by TNS Call Guardian. In these trying times, vigilance is even more important than before; be smart and stay safe.

Jim Tyrrell is Senior Director of Product Marketing at TNS with specific responsibility for TNS’ Communications Market solutions.