Our family still has a landline, something becoming less and less common today. We had thought about letting it go, but now they are bundled with television/internet packages so we kept it, even if it isn’t technically the same kind of landline we have always had.

It doesn’t add a lot of value to our package, though, as most of our calls are telemarketers so we don’t often answer our landline at home. However, when we see a call with the same area code and prefix as our telephone number, we will usually answer because we figure it might be a call from a local person about something newsworthy or something worthy of our time.

The cities in our area are small and most people do the same. We may not know every single person, but if a call comes in from a local number most of us figure it is likely someone we know or know of.

To my surprise, some of those calls in recent months have turned out to be from telemarketers. My first thought was perhaps they hired someone locally to call local people. My suspicions weren’t supported by the actual call, though, as they are the same people, or robots, from calls thousands of miles away.

In conversation with other local people, the practice is becoming widespread, even on cell phones as well. One person mentioned that he knows someone who is getting calls in which the caller ID lists the actual name of a friend as the caller.

It turns out the practice is called “neighbor spoofing” and it’s one of the hottest trends in phone fraud. The scam is done through voice over internet protocol (VoIP) software and new technology is making spoofing easier to do and harder to detect.

The fight against spoofers is a top priority of the Federal Communications Commission, according to the agency head. That’s because robocalls and telemarketers are the No. 1 complaint the agency gets from the public.

Last year, people received about 2.5 billion robocalls every month. Even if only a tiny fraction of those get answered, the practice is extremely lucrative for scam artists.

FCC rules require telemarketers to transmit or display telephone numbers and, if possible, the names or the names of the company for which they are selling products or services. Under the Truth in Caller ID Act, FCC rules prohibit any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.  

Still, most of us still get bombarded with these calls, many of them without the proper identification. Many of us have become adept at ignoring obvious telemarketing calls from numbers we don’t recognize. But, the new trend of neighbor spoofing has made that more problematic. Most of us, even if we aren’t newspaper editors, are likely to pick up a call identified as being from a local source because we imagine it could be from a local business, such as a medical clinic, or someone we know, even if not well enough to immediately recognize the number.

A friend of mine was so incensed after getting hit several times he called the telephone company, which told him it couldn’t do anything about the practice. It turns out the FCC has obligated carriers to patch through any calls they get.

However, that has changed recently as phone carriers are allowed to block some spoofing when detected. However, the ultimate solution is a system that can actually authenticate callers. There is a type of digital fingerprint for each number that can be cross-referenced to guarantee a number really is attached to the unique identifier of the caller.

That type of system for phone companies is still a ways off, though. In the meantime, people can install their own software to block the robocalls, although the apps only work on smartphones, and the FCC is cracking down on scammers, recently proposing to fine one company $120 million for spoofing 96 million homes to sell timeshares.

However, the people who are savvy enough to install these blocking apps aren’t likely the ones to get duped by fraudulent telemarketers. And, despite the tough action of the government, the robocalls appear to be increasing, not decreasing.

The best advice for now, say experts, is to ignore unknown numbers, even if they appear to be coming from down the street. Once you pick up and engage in a call, the software learns yours is a real number and you may be getting more calls.

And, if you do get in a conversation with a telemarketer, use common sense and check everything out before revealing any information. The FCC notes people should never give out any personal information in response to unexpected calls and if there is an inquiry from people who claim they represent a company or government, hang up and call the number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the agency’s website.

Technology has made our lives easier, but it has also made it easier for scam artists to trick us into parting with our money. Even worse, our “neighbors” who appear to be from the same town we live in are now suspect every time we get a call.

While the trend decreases the value of my landline even more, you would think it would increase the value of face-to-face communications. I haven’t seen evidence of that yet; instead, it seems to have decreased the value of all two-way communications.