Securing Our Communities: Neighbor Number Scams

Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.

A neighbor number scam, also called neighbor spoofing or caller ID spoofing, is a technique that scammers use to deliberately falsify telephone caller ID information to conceal their identifying information. Masquerading as a neighbor or otherwise legitimate local caller, scammers prey on those who answer these calls in any number of ways. Becoming familiar with neighbor number scam calls can help prevent you from falling victim to financial fraud and identity theft.

Scammers employ neighbor number scams by manipulating caller ID services into displaying an incoming call’s originating telephone number that is very similar to the recipient’s own number, often using the same area code and three-digit prefix. By impersonating a “neighborhood” telephone number, scammers trick call recipients into believing that the call must have originated from a known, trusted, or local entity. This increases the likelihood that a recipient will answer the phone call and ultimately fall prey to the scammer’s attempts to elicit sensitive or personal information. With a few personal details, scammers can further probe for additional information and perpetrate fraud, theft, or any number of other malicious activities against their victims. IRS phone scams are one example of such an attempt.

The following list includes strategies and techniques to help you avoid the pitfalls of neighbor number scams and the security threats associated with them:

  • If possible, refrain from answering phone calls from unknown numbers. Answering a scam call, even if you do not engage the caller in conversation, may indicate to the scammer that your phone number is active, potentially increasing the volume of scam calls you receive in the future.

  • Allow unknown calls to go to voicemail. Check voicemail messages later, if applicable, to evaluate the legitimacy of the missed call.

  • If the caller leaves a voicemail you believe is legitimate (e.g. originating from a doctor’s office or school), try to verify the originating number by looking it up online on the organization’s website. Additionally, you can use the Internet to locate a main telephone number for the organization to confirm the authenticity of the call.

  • If you do accidentally answer a scam call, do not answer any questions or provide any personal information to the caller. Hang up immediately and block the number on your phone if possible.

  • Contact your telephone service or mobile phone provider for more information on call-blocking tools. If you decide to use a call-blocking mobile application, make sure to download it from a trusted provider and read user reviews before installing it onto your device.

Neighbor number scams have the potential to trick even the most vigilant telephone customers, but with some insight into how these scams work, you can protect yourself against these and similar threats.

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.