Spoofing and Domestic Violence Abuse
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
In 2016, the Enforcement Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission fined two New York-area men $25,000 each for using false caller ID to carry out harassing phones calls to the ex-wife of one of the men. The practice, known as “spoofing,” has become a common stalking tactic used by abusers in domestic violence situations to trick victims into answering their phones.
Stalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific individual in order to generate fear. Stalking tactics can range from making harassing phone calls and texts to showing up at a person’s place of work. In 57% of cases, intimate partners stalk victims while the relationship is still ongoing and domestic violence is taking place.
As defined by the FCC, "spoofing" occurs when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to a person’s caller ID display to disguise their identity. Spoofing services are readily available online, and the software allows the caller to enter any name and phone number to appear on the recipient’s caller ID display. While spoofing usually occurs with telephone calls and text messages, senders of emails also may falsify the name and email address of the sender.
Spoofing provides stalkers with anonymity when they are calling or texting their victims. Abusers in domestic violence situations can make it appear that an incoming call is from someone the recipient might trust, such as a family member or their attorney, bank or financial institution. An abuser can also use spoofing to create problems in the victim’s personal or professional life by phoning others and entering the victim’s number as the caller. Some spoofing services allow users to not only change the caller ID number but to also alter their voices and add background noise.
While the technology itself is not illegal, the use of spoofing to harass, cause harm or intimidate someone can be. Although most states do not have laws that specifically address the technology, most forms of spoofing are illegal under The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. This federal law prohibits callers from deliberately using spoofing “with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can levy a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation and criminal charges can be filed against anyone who engages in the behavior. There are limited exceptions when spoofing is permitted, such as when a domestic violence victim wishes to hide her or his identity, location or phone number, or for law enforcement purposes.
Unfortunately, spoofing can be difficult to prove in court. Offenders use multiple phone numbers, and they can easily spoof themselves to make it look like they are the victim. However, phone records will show that the alleged perpetrator made random outgoing calls at specific times. Matching those with the times the victim received incoming calls is one way to show evidence of spoofing.
Anyone who suspects they are being spoofed should contact an attorney in their state for legal advice about what laws may apply to their situation. The National Network to End Domestic Violence's Safety Net Project also offers information and resources, and victims can file a complaint online with the FCC or call 888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).
If you or someone you love is a victim of spoofing or any other form of technology-facilitated abuse in a family or other domestic violence or employment situation, we are here to help. Please contact us confidentially at 973-509-8500 x213 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.