What is spoofing?
Spoofing is a term that means masking or hiding one’s actual phone number so that another phone number (chosen by the user) shows up on the recipient’s caller ID. Abusers may use spoofing to pretend that they are someone else so that you will pick up the phone (especially if you wouldn’t pick up a call from the abuser’s number).
What are some ways an abuser could use spoofing technology?
An abuser could use spoofing to make you believe you are receiving a telephone call from a family member or from an advocate or lawyer. Another way that an abuser can use spoofing for impersonation is that s/he can call others and enter your phone number as the “caller.” The abuser may pretend to be you to cause problems with your personal or professional life or to create a false record of you calling him/her multiple times in order to report you to the police or courts for harassment. If an abuser does this, however, it can easily be proven that you did not make the phone calls since they will not appear on your phone bill in your outgoing calls. Some of these spoofing services allow the users to not only change the caller ID number but to also alter their voice so it appears to come from another gender or another person, to add background noise, and/or to record the call.
Is spoofing illegal?
Maybe. Most states do not have laws that specifically address spoofing technology. However, it can be illegal to use caller ID spoofing to defraud someone or to cause harm. It may also be illegal to use someone else’s identity to defraud or to impersonate certain public officials. See What laws protect me from impersonation? for more information on some criminal laws that could apply to spoofing.
How can I prove spoofing in court?
It can be very difficult to prove spoofing in court. It has become so easy for people to get false phone numbers and there are so many companies that provide numbers, that it can be hard for someone to be able to definitively prove spoofing. That being said, while it is difficult to prove that somebody is inappropriately using spoofed telephone numbers, there are some steps that a victim of spoofing can take to help the judge to better understand what is happening. Here are some things you may want to think about:
1. Similar times: Is there anything that you notice about the times of when the abuser calls/texts and the spoofed calls/texts arrive? If someone has received calls or text messages from the abuser in the past and the spoofed calls/texts are arriving at similar times of the day, it may be helpful to show the judge the prior calls/texts and the spoofed number calls/texts as one hint that they may be from the same person. For example, if the abuser works from 2 pm until midnight and all of the calls/texts (the spoofed calls and the known abuser calls) come in right after midnight or before 2 pm, perhaps that can be an indication that it is the same person. The smaller the timeframe or the more unique the timeframe, the better.
2. Similar information: Are there any clues that you see between calls/texts that you received from the number that you know to be from the abuser (assuming there is a number that you previously know to be from the abuser) and the calls/texts from the spoofed phone numbers? Sometimes people will send messages (either voice messages or text messages) from multiple spoofed numbers. Sometimes they will write in a similar manner, with similar words, or with similar information and this can be shown to the judge as another indication that the calls/texts could be from the same person.
3. Suspicious timing: Did the calls/texts start immediately after a certain event that can be proven in court? For example, sometimes you may have evidence of a breakup (or some other noteworthy incident) that can be proven to the judge by showing social media posts, voicemails, emails, or other proof that acknowledge the breakup or other incident. Often, the spoofed calls may start immediately afterwards. By providing testimony or other evidence in court to show that the event took place and then proof that the calls started immediately afterwards (phone records are great for this), this may help convince a judge that the abuser has made the calls/texts.
4. Other types of abuse: Is the abuser doing anything else that you can prove to the judge? Showing up at your home or work? Posting negative things about you online? (Sometimes, doing a Google search for your own name can reveal if the person is posting anything about you online.) Or perhaps the person has said something about you on Facebook or another social network? Often times, if you can prove to the judge that there are other forms of abuse going on during the same time period of the spoofed calls/texts, a judge may believe that the same person is behind both things. One thing to note, however, is that if you are thinking of trying to send the abuser a "friend request" or something similar to try to see his/her Facebook posts, this may actually hurt your case in court. An opposing lawyer may use such a "friend request" as evidence against you to say that the person would not become "friends" with someone who is harassing him/her.
5. Evidence in court: Sometimes the best way to get evidence to use against someone in court is actually to request help from the court to get it. For example, you may be able to ask the judge to sign a subpoena for the abuser's cell phone records and for your own phone records. You may have to convince the judge as to why s/he should sign the subpoena and so coming prepared with all of the information listed above may be useful in trying to convince the judge to sign the subpoena. Phone records are often the most direct way to show that spoofing has occurred. Comparing the phone call records may show that the abuser made a call at a certain time and that you received a call at that exact same time or a minute after. Sometimes, your number won't show up on the phone call logs because the abuser can call a spoofing number and then enter the number that s/he wishes to call (yours). In that case, only the online spoofing numbers would show up on the phone records of the abuser. However, if the time of the calls made and the calls received match up, this can still be persuasive to a judge. However, comparing phone records is not a perfect answer because not all spoofing calls will be on the phone records. For example, if the person makes the spoofed calls through an app, you may need to request the records from the app itself - but you may not know which app was used. If the calls were made from an app and therefore do not appear on the abuser's phone records, this may harm your case because the judge may see this as proof that the abuser did not make the calls.
For more information about getting evidence for court, please take a look at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges How to Gather Tech Evidence and 10 Steps for Presenting Evidence in Court.
What resources exist if I am a victim of spoofing?
If you are a victim of spoofing, you could contact a lawyer in your state for legal advice about what laws could apply to your situation. You could also work with an advocate in your state to plan for your safety. Additionally, the National Network to End Domestic Violence's Safety Net Project also has information and resources for victims of technology-facilitated abuse. Finally, for additional information about getting evidence for court, please take a look at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges How to Gather Tech Evidence and 10 Steps for Presenting Evidence in Court.