Digital dirty tricks are easy to pull off - and getting easier every day.
Sometimes the fraud is all in good fun. But there’s also plenty of potential for scamming, bullying and online abuse - and that’s no laughing matter.
Back in the day, a prank callers might dial* numbers chosen randomly from the phonebook**, and ask a silly question, like “Is your refrigerator running” or (a favourite among the children of pipe-smoking dads) “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” before delivering a wise-guy answer and collapsing in helpless giggles.
* ** Not old enough to remember dialling or phonebooks? Ask an adult to explain.
Caller ID spoofing
Today’s pranksters have more sophisticated means at their disposal. Caller ID spoofing, for example, involves altering or deliberately falsifying information displayed when a call comes through.
“A number might come up that says ‘Mum’ on your phone, but really the call is coming from someone else,” explains Alex Davis, a tech abuse specialist at Legal Aid NSW.
It’s used for many different purposes, not all of them nefarious - including private investigations, so-called “secret shopper” surveys or good old prank calling.
A variation on the theme involves tampering with the outbound display ID to trick the person being called call recipient into thinking a call is coming from a specific location - Hollywood, say, or central London.
Is it legal? That’s not entirely clear. According to a recent ABC news report, “while deceitful phone spoofing is not explicitly outlawed in Australia, fraudulent use of caller ID is illegal.” Huh?
Professor of cybersecurity at University of the Sunshine Coast, Dave Lacey, explains that there is no single body or law in Australia that regulates phone deception, although “there’s no shortage of organisations in government or indeed industry that have a stake.”
Then there are apps like WhatsFake - whose whole point is to “quickly simulate very realistic” WhatsApp text exchanges to amuse, confuse and deceive your friends and family.
“It’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a fake talk made with WhatsFake and a real conversation,” brags the website in tell-tale stilted English.
With WhatsFake, you can take screenshots that “prove” you had a certain conversation with a particular contact. The app’s motto - scrawled at the bottom of its display pic - asserts: “Speaking the truth is not always Is the best option.” (Yep, it really does say that!)
Again, the potential for abuse, bullying and harassment is enormous with such apps. In one case reported by ABC News, a stalker made use of the app to fraudulently show his victim's mother speaking negatively about her.
In a world where digital deceit is running rampant, staying safe online has never been … well, trickier. Family Zone can help. Our world-leading technology helps parents manage the smartphones and other mobile devices our children increasingly depend on. Learn more or start your free trial today, at familyzone.com