Virtual Telephone Service
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone services have become very popular in recent years. VoIP services allow users to place and receive calls over their Internet connection. Many consumers and businesses alike have dropped their traditional local telecom companies in favor of the low cost VoIP services.
An additional advantage to these virtual telephone services is that subscribers can obtain local telephone numbers in any location, regardless of the subscriber's actual location. This feature is popular with companies that want to offer more "local" service, or at least give that appearance. For example, a business located in New York, with a large number of customers in New Jersey, can obtain both a New York number and a New Jersey number. Even though the business is physically in New York, the New Jersey number can be used when dealing with New Jersey customers and vice-versa.
Criminals like to use virtual phone services for this same reason. For example, the criminal can be located in Arizona, and obtain a local number for Chicago, Illinois if he or she wants to make bogus calls to prospective victims in that area. Overseas scammers have found this technology quite beneficial in expanding their scams to the United States. Some virtual phone services also allow the subscriber to customize the information transmitted to caller ID displays. This can be used to trick traditional land line telephone caller ID systems into displaying whatever information the thieves want their target to see. There have been numerous reported cases of thieves employing this tactic using the names of large credit card companies, in efforts to trick their intended victims into revealing credit card information, PIN numbers, Social Security numbers, and other sensitive personal information.
Cellular Telephone Service and Disposable Phones
In addition to VoIP telephone services, criminals also use disposable (pre-paid) cellular phones to commit their scams. They purchase these phones, register them under a deceptive name, and then use them to contact unsuspecting victims. Such disposable phones can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement authorities to trace. Once the scam has ended, the criminals simply throw the phone away and buy a new one for the next scam.
In one example, in the State of Georgia a group of criminals purchased a cell phone and registered it under the name of "Georgia Powers." In doing so, when they placed a call the name Georgia Powers was displayed on a victim's caller ID. Over a five month period, the thieves called at least 86 elderly persons who, upon seeing the name on the caller ID, thought that they were speaking with their utility company, Georgia Power. The thieves told the victims that their bills were overdue and their electricity would be cut off if they didn't make immediate payment. They then demanded credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other personal information. Numerous victims fell for the scam.1