One of the great innovations of the 20th century was the invention of Caller ID. There was a time when Caller ID was an exotic and advanced service that literally cost you an extra $10 or $20 a month on your phone bill. Those technowizards and multimillionaires who indulged in such technological sophistication would astonish their friends and neighbors with their uncanny and unnerving ability to pick up the handset with “Hey John, what’s up?” leaving John confused, dismayed, and cowed. Of course since those early days, Caller ID went from rare and expensive, to reasonably-priced and fairly common, to cheap and ubiquitous, and now finally in the smartphone era, to free and universal. You wouldn’t give a small child a smartphone that didn’t have caller ID functionality in its apps if nowhere else.
One thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the usefulness of the Caller ID system. Looking at the phone and seeing “Bill Collector” or “Aunt Janet” can send us reaching for the “Ignore” button, while “Carol” might be answered immediately and in the deepest possible voice. We rely heavily on Caller ID every time we get a call. With such an important technology, you would think that the number showing on your phone when it rings is actually the number that’s calling you. However, sometimes that just isn’t the case.
A Call From a Fake Number
- A Call From a Fake Number
- Is Spoofing Your Phone Number Legal?
- Choosing a Type of Spoof Number
- How to Spoof Phone Number
- How to Spoof a Number
- Permanent Fake Numbers
- Disposable Fake Numbers
- Using Spoofing Services
- How to Call Using Your Alternate Number
- What About Stir Shaken?
A technology known as “call spoofing” has enabled people to fake the return number being shown by Caller ID for many years now, and the ability to “spoof” a phone number has become widespread. Spoofing, in simple terms, just means that the number shown on someone’s caller ID is not the actual number that is placing the call – i.e., your phone says that 202-456-1111 is calling you, but it isn’t really the White House on the line.
People spoof caller ID numbers for a wide variety of reasons. Some are younger children or teenagers performing the classic prank call to their neighbor or the teacher at their school they don’t like. The prank is normally harmless enough, but thanks to advancements in technology, it’s all too easy to track a phone number back to the source. Plus, with more and more people slowly learning to simply ignore calls from unfamiliar numbers, sending them to voicemail automatically, it’s made pulling off a classic prank call trickier. However, by spoofing a number that the prank’s victim will take a call from, pranksters are still able to operate.
Another common justification offered by spoofing is when calling a business or creditor. You may want to talk to someone at OmniCorp on the phone, without giving them your actual home or cell number. In 2020, it’s more important than ever to practice safety when it comes to your personal identification. While it may be difficult to change your phone number on all services or registrations to a spoofed number, you can still protect your identity by making sure that your new number spreads to as many services as possible. This way, you will receive any return calls on a number that can be easily disposed of if anything were ever to go wrong with a contact.
Is Spoofing Your Phone Number Legal?
Yes. At its core, there’s nothing illegal about the act of spoofing caller ID with a false number in the United States. Spoofing itself is like walking through an unlocked door: are you walking through a door you’re allowed to walk through, or are you trespassing? It is your intention that generally determines the legality of your act. If you think you’ve been invited in, then you’re just walking through a door. If you know you’re going in to steal everything not nailed down, you’re trespassing.
Similarly, if you are spoofing with the intention of causing harm, of defrauding, or of wrongfully obtaining something of value, then spoofing is illegal. For legitimate, non-criminal motivations, you are in the clear. So using a spoofed number to trick your friend into thinking that the President is calling him on his birthday may be more or less funny depending on your sense of humor, but is legal; using a spoofed number to trick him into thinking he’s talking to his credit card company and getting his card details, on the other hand, is a crime.
The actual act of hiding your number behind a secondary number is legal. It’s what you do with that number that can get you into trouble. If you think carefully about what you’re doing before you do it, you’ll be fine.
Choosing a Type of Spoof Number
There are basically three different ways to spoof a number. One, you can just sign up for an additional permanent number through a call forwarding website or app. Two, you can get a temporary number from sites more oriented towards “burner” numbers. Or three, you can use various apps to actually enter a false phone number that will show up on the other end of the line’s caller ID, while actually just using your own number to make the call.
How to Spoof Phone Number
Let’s say you’re looking to buy concert tickets to your favorite band. You’ve been saving up all year for this, ever since the band announced their worldwide tour was going to touchdown in your city. The morning the concert tickets go on sale, you sit down to create an account to purchase tickets with through the approved site—let’s call it TicketSell Inc. You follow the instructions to create your account, entering your mailing address so your card can be charged and the tickets sent to your house. Your billing information is saved in the account as well, to ensure that you can quickly charge your account to score front row seats. At the bottom of the page, however, the account asks you for your phone number. Hesitation fills your mind. The last time you gave out your number when creating an online account, it took you three weeks to figure out how to disable the daily offer texts you started receiving. TicketSell Inc. has a poor reputation when it comes to holding back spam emails and messages. What do you do?
While the above might just be a hypothetical scenario, we all know someone who has had problems like this. You give out your number to a corporation on the signup form, and before you know it, you’re being spammed by calls or texts with exclusive deals you want no part of. Worse yet, sometimes giving out your number through this services can cause your number to leak onto the list of numbers used by solicitors and spam callers, which can end up forwarding a whole load of unwanted calls right to your number. This is to say nothing of irresponsible corporations that can be hacked or store your personal data improperly, leading to a mess of issues when your number (along with your credit card information and address) leak onto the web.
How to Spoof a Number
You can’t personally stop the leaks from happening, but by using a spoofed number, you can make the fallout a little less catastrophic. Spoofed numbers can come in two different varieties, depending on what you’re looking for. Permanent numbers don’t change or recycle, and can be held by you for as long as you’ll need them. In fact, they’re a real number, just connected to a phone you don’t answer if they connect to a phone at all. Disposable numbers, on the other hand, are designed to be cycled through, used for a certain duration before being tossed in the trash. Whether or not that’s something you’re looking to use is up to you, and really, the type of number you’ll be using really depends on the scenario you find yourself in. Still, we’ll cover both options below, with some great suggestions for both free and paid spoof numbers. Let’s dive into the world of spoofed numbers and their services, plus the apps on iOS and Android that allow you to use them.
Permanent Fake Numbers
The advantages of using permanent fake numbers with your device are obvious. While you’ll still have to dedicate some time to managing your fake number as you would your real number, this also means that you’re secure if your false number ever leaks online. These permanent services almost always offer some amount of call blocking and restricted features. Being able to ensure your number is always in your grasp means you can place your false number on more important documents, giving it out to your dentist or doctor for appointments or placing it on job applications to protect your standard account service. Permanent number services are also typically cheaper than their temporary counterparts, as we’ll see in the next segment below.
The first service you should take a look at for a secondary spoof number is, unsurprisingly, Google Voice. Voice is, in many ways, the perfect service for someone looking for a secondary, web-based number that doesn’t cost anything for the basic features. Google offers a desktop and mobile web client, along with dedicated clients for both iOS and Android that are sleek and regularly updated following the Voice rebirth in early 2017. Voice allows you to use your assigned secondary number to forward calls to your primary number, all while making free phone calls from the assigned spoof number throughout the United States. Your assigned number is able to be customized as well, so you can select a specific area code throughout the US, or type a certain last-four digits to make it easy to remember. Your number can be contacted via phone calls and text messages alike, just like a standard cell phone. Voice also gives you access to a call log, and texts, and voicemail can be organized online through any computer. It’s a fantastic service, especially considering that it’s free, and it comes as our top recommended service for anyone looking for a permanent spoof number.
If operating under Google isn’t your thing, or you’d rather not give their service any more information on you, that’s totally cool. Though Voice is our favorite permanent secondary number service on the web today, it isn’t the only one. Like Google Voice, Talkatone is built around providing alternate numbers to call and text US-based users for free (and to call and text numbers outside the United States for small charges). As such, you gain an alternate phone number for calling and texting when you join the service, complete with a US or Canada-based area code. Talkatone even lets you change this number when you need to, a great feature that, as of writing, isn’t allowed with Google Voice. This makes it a bit less permanent that Voice while simultaneously giving you some more flexibility should your number leak out online. The downside to Talkatone, unfortunately, is the inclusion of ads within the app. That said, if you’re mostly using the account as a way to give your secondary number out to other services, you can ignore the ads within the app when it’s running in the background on your phone.
Another solid choice, Textfree has been around for nearly a decade, and you can still grab a free number through their service by signing up through their website or their mobile application. Like Google Voice, you can choose your area code and memorable number patterns when signing up for a number, which makes it easy to remember the pattern you picked. You can save your number for as long as you want, though you’ll need to use it once every 30 days to place a call. Of course, this can also be a great way to cycle your number, so if you decide you aren’t a fan of the number you picked (or you’re receiving a lot of spam through that contact), you can let your number lapse to grab a new one. Flyp can give you multiple secondary numbers with support for both calling and texting, though you’ll need to pay an expensive $7.99 per month per number (or $79.99 annually per line), which makes it a lot less appealing when Voice, Talkatone, and Textfree all offer free or free-to-start plans. Hushed, which we’ll discuss a little more below, has a $29.99 annual plan for one secondary number, and though your voice minutes and texting time are fairly limited during that time, for writing down on an application or placing on your online accounts, it’ll work fine. A great dual-tier solution comes from TextNow, which will give you a free number and let you upgrade to premium services (like call forwarding) for just $2.99/month. Finally, Sideline is another app that allows you to grab a second number. With apps on both iOS and Android, anyone can take advantage of their service. Unlike most of the apps on this list, sideline uses your normal minutes instead of using VoIP interfaces, saving you data when you’re not on WiFi. It’s a bit pricey at $9.99 per month, but it’s also one of the only secondary services that uses your actual phone number’s minutes as opposed to having to pay for a second set of talk time.
Disposable Fake Numbers
The permanent numbers are useful if you’re trying to hand your number to important contacts without giving out your personal information. But sometimes you only need a number for a single time before you want to start all over with a brand new number. The concept of disposable numbers is great; you can call a business or an individual, hang up the phone following your conversation, and toss the number away, leaving the person without a way to contact you again. This idea is often called “burner numbers,” named after the practice of purchasing prepaid phones and throwing them away to “delete” the number without a trace. Unfortunately, disposable numbers rarely come without a fee attached; unlike Voice and Talkatone, you’re going to be paying for these services.
First up, we have the aptly-named Burner. Taking its name directly from the concept described above, Burner is an app that automatically gives you a new number whenever you need one. Your number is real and can be used to call and text from within the app, and the caller ID displays your Burner info instead of your actual phone number. The app is smooth and responsive, and you get a free number for seven days upon installation. Of course, that’s potentially the catch: depending on how many numbers you need and how much you’ll be using the app, Burner can get really expensive, really fast, but if you see yourself using multiple phone numbers over short periods of time, it might be worth using Burner over something like Google Voice.
We mentioned Flyp above, but its support for multiple secondary numbers makes it easy to cycle through plans. Of course, paying the $7.99 per number per month can get pretty expensive pretty quickly, so if you plan on holding on to multiple numbers all at once, this one might price most users out of the market pretty quickly. Still, the ability to mirror local area codes while placing a call is ideal for someone looking to spoof numbers with only one account, and with some solid audio quality when placing calls, Flyp definitely ranks near the top of the list of secondary number and spoofing apps you should pay attention towards.
Hushed is another fantastic option that, in addition to the permanent numbers we outlined above, also supports the ability to dispose of numbers at any time, so long as you’re paying and supporting the plan. One of the reasons we love Hushed so much is its end-to-end encryption when talking to other users. This makes it the most secure phone number app on this list, and that may be important if you’re trying to hide your identity. All numbers are disposable, there’s no credit card needed to sign up for an account, and calls can be sent and received from anywhere. That said, starter plans begin at $1.99 per month and run all the way up to $4.99 per month for unlimited calls and texts. There is a free trial, and if privacy is your main concern, this is a perfect app to start using spoof numbers if you need one very briefly. Hushed is also one of the more affordable paid plans on this list; definitely worth keeping in mind.
This application puts an emphasis on privacy, advertising features such as “military grade encryption” and “impenetrable vaults” for your information. Most of those features only work if the person you are trying to call also has the app, but it does fulfill our purposes by providing you with phone number options from the US, UK, Canada and Mexico. One of the more interesting features is password protected call pick-up. This means that if you get a phone call on the phone number connected to the app, only someone with the password can pick up the phone call. I don’t know how useful that is to the average Joe, but it’s cool for sure. IT does also have the added benefit of being free, both to download and to use, so if you need a temporary spoof number and want to feel like a spy, consider CoverMe as an option.
Using Spoofing Services
There are a number of services online that provide spoofed calling numbers on a one-shot basis. That is, after you’ve registered at the site and paid the subscription fee, you can enter in the number you want to call and the number that you want to appear on Caller ID, and the call will go through on your smartphone or landline, or via your web browser. You can use as many different numbers as you wish, and can assign a new number for every call you make if you want. In this section of the article, I will give information on three of the major players in this market segment, Spoof Card, SpoofTel, and Spoof Call.
Note that as of late 2018, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to roll out a technology called “SHAKEN/STIR” with the cooperation of major carriers. SHAKEN/STIR will not block spoofed calls, but will provide a prompt on the Caller ID informing the recipient of spoofed calls that something is fishy about the Caller ID number they see. There has not yet been any specific word on the timing of this rollout.
To the extent that any of the players in this borderline sketchy portion of the telecommunications industry can be said to be reputable, SpoofCard is reputable. They are one of the oldest spoofing providers and have had stable and reliable service for many years. SpoofCard offers a number of features, including the ability to artificially disguise your voice and even change its gender presentation, the ability to record calls for later playback (priceless if you’re planning on pranking your friends), the addition of background noises like traffic, a nightclub, or police activity for added verisimilitude, and the ability to send calls directly to voicemail. You can also dial multiple recipients at once, or add more people on your end of the call to listen in. SpoofCard also allows you to send spoofed SMS text messages.
SpoofCard offers a 60-second free trial call service to let you establish that their software and hardware actually get the job done. I’ve made multiple calls with SpoofCard and it has worked every time. SpoofCard has a web version as well as an Android app and an iOS app. Calls are paid for on a by-the-minute basis, either as a one-off purchase or as a monthly subscription. The rate per minute ranges anywhere from $9.95 for 45 minutes (pay as you go) to $84.95 for 600 minutes (monthly subscription). SpoofCard supports calls to non-US destinations, but those calls will use more credits per minute. There are also discounts available if you nose around their website.
SpoofTel is another service providing instant spoofing service on-demand. Like SpoofCard, SpoofTel has a web-based version, along with some app versions. There is a desktop app for Windows along with an iOS app. An Android version is under development according to the SpoofTel website. Note that the iOS version requires a jailbroken phone. SpoofTel does not have the complete feature set of SpoofCard, but does have the ability to change your voice pitch and add soundboard audio to the background. SpoofTel offers SMS text message spoofing as well.
SpoofTel offers a free introductory call, and then has a very simple pricing plan after that: ten cents a minute for US calls, twenty-five cents to change your voice, and a fifty cent surcharge if you want the call to be recorded. As you can see, this is less expensive than SpoofCard, although SpoofCard provides recording and voice-changing for free.
Spoof Call does not offer app versions; all calls go via the service’s website (with the use of a microphone and speakers/headphone) or are relayed directly to your cell number. Spoof Call has some unique features, including call recording, voice changing software, group calls, and a text-to-speech converter with multiple language choices. The service offers some sound effect and background choices, but not as many as SpoofCard. SpoofCall does not offer an SMS product.
Spoof Call is based in Europe, but the credits they sell are valid for US calls (among other locations). Rates start at 6.25 Euros for 20 minutes, and go as high as 100 Euros for 750 minutes. As of May 2019, that translates to about $7 for 20 minutes and $112 for 750 minutes; this is basically competitive with the other services.
How to Call Using Your Alternate Number
Once you have the app of your choice installed and set up on your iPhone or Android device, you’re pretty much all set to go. Each app has their own way of placing a call, so you’ll want to pay attention to how that specific app works in each case. If you decided to grab a secondary number through Google Voice, placing a call on Android will use your typical phone interface on your device, with the ability for the app to ask you which number you wish to use to place that call. On the other hand, if you’re using something like Burner, you’ll be using the calling interface within Burner to place your call from your selected disposable number. Each app uses its own interface, and there can be differences between the iOS and Android versions of the app depending on which phone you’re using, so make sure to pay attention to the instructions when placing a call through your new number.
Spoofing your number has all sorts of benefits in daily life. It can protect your identity, stopping your number from getting out into the world and also allowing you to have a bit of fun. There are dozens of reasons to spoof your number, including appearing to live in the area where you’re trying to look for work in order to have your application even looked at, or masking your identity when returning a call to an unknown number. It can be pretty risky on the web these days to have your number or identity leak out, especially since your phone number is so important to the things you do online. Two-factor authentication, for example, relies heavily on your telephone number, but were it to leak and, in turn, be stolen by someone online, they could potentially access your email, social networks, and even your bank account.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with spoofing numbers, whether you’re considering the idea of making a few prank calls to your friends or using the number to joke around with your neighbors. Still, it’s important to remember that spoofing has its place within security and safety as well. Keeping that secondary number on your public accounts will allow you to receive calls while also being safer than anyone who lists their actual number online. Practicing online safety is important, and using a spoofed number is by far the safest way to do it. So the next time you need to sign up for an account through a website you can’t quite trust, whether you’re shopping online or buying concert tickets for your favorite band, you’ll want to keep your secondary spoofed number handy.
What About Stir Shaken?
Since 2015, a group of telecom engineers from the major carriers have been developing a way to stop call spoofing in its tracks. In recent years, spoofing – once a fairly rare tool used by tech-savvy pranksters and marketers – has gone mainstream. The widespread nature of call spoofing has begun to undermine public trust in the integrity of the phone system. The engineering teams are relying on two new systems to stop it: STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) standards.
The idea behind STIR and SHAKEN is to give every phone a certificate of authenticity, a digital signature, that becomes the sole source of caller ID information. Caller ID would become trustworthy once more. The basic idea is ridiculously complicated, but here is a simplified explanation: a caller places a call. That call’s data stream would contain the certificate (in digital form) that verified that the call was coming from the number it claims to be coming from. As the phone call passes through the circuitry owned by the incoming carrier (say Verizon) the carrier would check the validity of the certificate using a public/private key system. A call whose certificate failed to pass muster would either be blocked outright or would display a warning message in the caller ID field.
STIR and SHAKEN were scheduled for a rollout in 2019 and that rollout is, in the last months of the year, finally actually happening, with Verizon and other carriers beginning to seriously ramp up their commitment to the system. For now, these spoof apps will continue to work, but the handwriting is in the wall – soon the day will come when there is no spoofing of anyone.
Phone calls aren’t the only things that technologists can spoof. Did you know that sufficiently advanced hackers can replicate your facial features and use facial recognition to bypass the sescuirtuy features that rely on facial scanning? You can defeat them with this high-security web camera with facial recognition and anti-spoofing circuitry.
There are other resources available at TechJunkie to help you combat call spoofing efforts.
Like spoofing? We have some more spoofing-related resources for your enjoyment.
Check out our guide to telling whether an email has been spoofed.
We’ll show you how to spoof your location in Google Maps as well!
And of course, see our walkthrough of spoofing your location in GPS for Android.