Here's one scam where law enforcement technology has yet to catch up with the criminal.
Regulators call it "Caller ID Spoofing." Using virtually untraceable telecommunications equipment, scam artists manipulate phone transmissions to make a consumer's caller ID show any name, any number they want.
"(The name and number) may look and appear as your bank, as your doctor, a MasterCard, a VISA," says Sara Kyle, commissioner of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA).
In the case of Moscow, Tennessee's Jamie Mendius, a scammer made her caller ID look like it was her father on the line, even down to his nickname.
"It said, 'TaTa,' and my children call their grandfather, 'TaTa,'" says Mendius. "And so I answered the phone."
It wasn't 'TaTa.'
It was a telemarketer.
Mendius says he breathlessly told her she won a $300 gas voucher for being such a valued VISA customer.
All he needed to get the voucher to her -- was her credit card number.
"And I immediately said I am not going to give you my credit card number!" she exclaims.
Phil West, communications director for the TRA, says caller ID spoofing came to light in the summer of 2007, and it has hampered the agency's ability to investigate alleged violations of the state's Do-Not-Call registry. The technology leaves no paper trail, or when it does, it leads to the number of a company or person who may have no connection to the scam.
In June '07, former TRA Director Ron Jones testified before Congress in support of a law that would make spoofing a crime. In his testimony, Jones indicated the TRA, which maintains Tennessee's Do-Not-Call Registry, was unable to fully investigate 42 Do-Not-Call complaints last year because of fake caller ID information. That was 14 percent of the agency's total number of Do-Not-Call complaints at the time, according to Jones.
"We cannot trace back those numbers. We don't know where to locate these people," says Kyle.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2007 to outlaw causing "any caller identification service to transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information" via "any telecommunications service or IP-enabled voice service."
Exempting only law enforcement, the bill would have set punishments, including fines and jail time, for spoofing violators.
But after it passed a voice-vote in the House, it died when the Senate buried it in committee. A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, says Engel plans to reintroduce the bill in January.
At Mendius' request, the Mid-South Better Business Bureau attempted to call the number that appeared on her caller ID along with her father's nickname. A BBB official left a message. Nancy Crawford, spokesperson for the BBB, says the message was returned by a representative of VS&L America, Inc. -- purpose and location unknown -- who said the company's phone number had been 'spoofed' and who insisted his company had nothing to do with either giving away gas vouchers or obtaining credit card numbers.
It is still uncertain how the caller knew the nickname of Mendius' father.
Kyle says never give out your personal information over the phone to anyone, unless you have initiated the call.
If you get a phone call that you feel has been 'spoofed,' contact the Tennessee Regulatory Authority at http://www.tennessee.gov/tra/consumer.htm or call 1-800-342-8359.
In Mississippi, contact the Northern District of the Mississippi Public Service Commission at http://www.psc.state.ms.us/telecom/telecom.htm or call 1-800-356-6428.
In Arkansas, contact the Arkansas Attorney General's Office at http://www.ag.state.ar.us/ or call 1-800-482-8982.