The Eerie, Persistent Scam That Calls You From Your Own Phone Number

The robocall is coming from inside the house!
The robocall is coming from inside the house! Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, Slate’s national editor Josh Levin received a call on his cellphone that appeared to be coming from his own number. He didn’t pick up, and afterward his phone log indicated that he had missed a call from someone who was “Maybe: Josh Levin.”

Josh Levin's call log
The time Josh Levin got a call from “Maybe: Josh Levin.” Josh Levin

On Thursday, Slate staff writer Ruth Graham received an apparent self-call on her landline. When she picked up, she heard “a robot voice from ‘Microsoft’ saying my IP address had been compromised and I should press 1 to reset.” What made the experience all the more unsettling, Graham says, is the fact that her husband was listed as the caller. It’s easy to find plenty of people complaining on Twitter about getting calls from their own numbers, even in the last few days.

This scam has been spooking people for at least the last five years. In 2014, CBS News reported that scammers purporting to be Microsoft representatives and credit card interest rate specialists were using spoofing technology to make it seem like their targets were calling themselves. Spoofing is a common tactic for robocallers that allows them to trick caller ID systems into indicating that a call is coming from a local number or, in some cases, from one’s own number. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission put out a consumer information notice warning about the self-calls: “No, this isn’t an alternate reality where your future self is calling the present you. It’s a scammer making an illegal robocall.” CNN again covered the phenomenon in April.

Federal agencies and consumer advocates advise people not to pick up these calls, no matter how curious they may be. The scam is just an attempt to get valuable information like Social Security or credit card numbers out of gullible marks. If you do end up answering the call, definitely don’t follow any directions about pressing numbers. This signals to the scammer that your number is active, and you’ll just end up receiving more sketchy calls.

There’s not a lot you can do to stop spoof calls purporting to come from yourself or your area code. Scammers won’t abide by the strictures of no-call lists and spoofing often allows them to evade law enforcement and blocking technologies. For iPhone users, apps like RoboKiller can reduce the number of spoof calls that get through to you, and Apple’s iOS 13 has a “Silence Unknown Callers” setting, though it’s unclear whether your own number qualifies as an “unknown caller.” The Minnesota attorney general’s office also recommends that people report the call to their phone companies, the FTC, the FCC, and their state’s public utilities commission. Perhaps it will help them shut down the scam one day—even if it feels a little like telling on yourself.