LODI, Calif. — It began just after noon last Thursday. The phones at Discover RV in Lodi started ringing off the hook — and not with calls from customers.
It continued into the next day. Calls slowed over the weekend, but then the work week returned and so did the calls. Phone numbers with area codes from Texas, Georgia, and other states.
“Oh, it’s insane," Discover RV finance manager Jose Guzman told ABC10 News on Tuesday evening. "The phones are just ringing non-stop, and having to grab each call and explain to every single person that, you know, they’re being scammed, do not give them any information. It’s very, very, very overwhelming.”
Discover RV owner Jason Leggitt said he believes his business’ phone number has been essentially hijacked by scammers, displayed as the call-back number when someone targeted by the scam receives a call.
People from all over the country are apparently receiving a call, and the number that shows up on their caller ID is the phone number belonging to Discover RV - but the Lodi business is not making any of those calls.
Some people are returning missed calls when they call Discover RV. Other people are halfway through a possible scam, saying they were told by someone identifying himself as an AT&T representative to call back at this number for some kind of verification or to finish signing up for a promotional deal.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calls this Caller ID Spoofing.
"Spoofing is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity, or sold illegally," the FCC says. "You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be extremely careful about responding to any request for personal identifying information."
Spoofing is illegal, Under the Truth in Caller ID Act, when the intent is to "defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value," the FCC says. "Anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation."
But scammers can be hard to pinpoint and prosecute, especially if they're operating in a foreign country.
The FCC's advice to anyone who has this happen to their phone number is, basically, to wait.
"You can...place a message on your voicemail letting callers know that your number is being spoofed," the FCC recommends. "Usually scammers switch numbers frequently. It is likely that within hours they will no longer be using your number."
For Discover RV, it was not hours; it was days.
The calls had tapered off by Tuesday night, Leggitt reported, with relief in his voice. This came after more than five days of nearly non-stop calls. No sooner did an employee hang up the phone than another call came in. Leggitt estimates his business received thousands of calls per day, although they tended to slow outside of business hours and on the weekend.
They nearly stopped altogether starting Tuesday night. The scammers appeared to be operating within the bounds of the average workday and workweek.
Employees who have spoken with misled callers over the past few days say some people are simply returning a missed call. Other callers say they are trying to finish signing up for a deal with AT&T. A Discover RV employee has to inform the caller that not only do they have the wrong number, but they are likely walking into a scam.
Guzman said a silver lining to the chaotic cacophony of calls is that he might be able to help someone avoid falling for a scam.
On Tuesday evening, he fielded a call from a woman in Atlanta and urged her not to give any information to anyone calling from that phone number.
But the constant stream of calls means regular Discover RV customers can’t get through. Guzman said the 10-year-old company is a small local business, with about 11 employees. There isn’t someone dedicated to screening thousands of calls per day, so the staff does what they can to slog through the wrong numbers in order to reach actual customers.
"Our phone’s been tied up so much…it’s just rubbing (our customers) wrong," Guzman said. "It’s not quite like us…You know, we’re a small mom-and-pop store. We try to cater to all of our customers.”
Leggitt said he reached out to AT&T, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FBI and the California Public Utilities Company. None of those entities were able to offer him a solution, he said.
According to the FCC, there may not be a simple solution.
"If you get calls from people saying your number is showing up on their caller ID, it’s likely that your number has been spoofed. We suggest first that you do not answer any calls from unknown numbers, but if you do, explain that your telephone number is being spoofed and that you did not actually make any calls," the FCC website says.
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