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Lawmakers take on phone spoofing of Virginia consumers

A senior citizen in Manassas picks up the phone to hear that her grandson is in jail and she needs to wire money to get him released. Another unsuspecting Virginian receives an unexpected call from his “Internet provider” asking for his credit card or bank account number to secure service to rid his computer of a virus. A Northern Virginia teen eagerly gives her Social Security number to the hotel chain that has called to offer her a free vacation.

All these are common fraudulent attempts to gain access to the consumers’ funds or credit accounts or to steal their identities.

These and many other scenarios describe the phenomena of “spoofing” via the telephone. Often, the caller ID number displayed on the recipient’s phone equipment is reassuring because it appears to be local, giving the consumer a higher sense of security that the call must be legitimate.

The telephone has become a more intense vehicle for identity thieves and for people seeking to use fraud to steal money. These acts may violate federal and state consumer protection laws and regulations and they may even rise to the level of criminal behavior.

Proposed Virginia legislation

Two bills are currently under consideration in the Virginia legislature that would put more teeth into combatting spoofing. First, Del. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, introduced H.B. 2564 that would add telephone spoofing to those acts prohibited under the Virginia Telephone Privacy Protection Act or VTPPA, the state’s law that regulates phone solicitation.

Under the Act, when a person is victimized by a violation he or she may file a lawsuit in state court for damages and an injunction (court order that the violating behavior stop). Damages are available in an amount of $500 per violation or up to $1,500 if the violation was willful. The plaintiff may also be eligible to recover legal fees and costs.

One important provision in the proposed law, among others, would make it a violation to call or text with the intention to “defraud, harass, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value, including financial resources or personal identifying information” while causing a caller ID to display with a Virginia area code if the caller does not have a physical presence in the state.

As of this writing on February 11, this bill is in the House Committee on Commerce and Labor, according to the legislative website.

Criminal violation

Del. Emily Brewer, R-Prince George, sponsored the second bill H.B 2170, which would make telephone spoofing a Class 3 misdemeanor for which someone convicted could face a fine up to $500. This bill passed both the state House and Senate, but the Senate has agreed to “reconsideration,” according to the legislative website.

We will continue to watch the progress of these consumer-friendly bills. The third link above is to an article on WTVR.com that contains further links to the legislative website information for the two bills.