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One of the more frustrating spam calling tricks is when telemarketers, scammers, and other characters “spoof” an outgoing number to make it seem like their calls are local. Now, car dealerships have joined the fray.

As a professional car shopper, I probably field way more calls from dealerships than the average person. In any given month I may get upwards of 100 phone calls from various dealers across the country and I’ve noticed a new alarming trend. Some dealerships are using call spoofing tactics to make it seem like they are contacting you from a local number.

In case you aren’t familiar with this tool, it’s when a company who is not in your vicinity masks the outgoing number so that your caller ID displays it as a local phone call. The play here is that most people are trained to ignore calls that don’t look familiar especially if they are coming from outside their area, but some folks might be more likely to answer a call that seems local.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, in most cases call spoofing is illegal and violators can be fined -

“Under the Truth in Caller ID Act, FCC rules prohibit anyone from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value. Anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation. However, spoofing is not always illegal. There are legitimate, legal uses for spoofing, like when a doctor calls a patient from her personal mobile phone and displays the office number rather than the personal phone number or a business displays its toll-free call-back number.”

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I live in South Jersey and have a 609 area code, but the vast majority of the car deals I work on are well beyond my region. For the longest time, I would get inundated with phone calls from Fiat-Chrysler’s call center whenever I would submit a lead to a dealer on one of their products. Almost every time the FCA call center would display a 609 area code. After about a dozen instances I reached out to their corporate line to explain my situation as a professional car buyer and push as to why they would constantly spoof their calls. They never offered an explanation for the spoofing but they did agree to take me off their list.

This weekend I get a phone call on Saturday afternoon, and sure enough, the call ID reads a 609 area code. Of course, I am very accustomed to receiving calls from all areas of the country due to the nature of my job, but in this case, I figured it was perhaps a local business that was returning my call on another matter.

“Hello Tom, this is [Hyundai Dealership] calling to follow up on your Hyundai Veloster inquiry,a woman on the other line said.

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“You are in California correct?” I asked. She confirmed, so I asked, “How are you able to call me from a 609 area code. That is South Jersey.”

“Well, we are calling from a call center…” The woman said.

“So you are masking your number to make it look like a local call,” I said. “Are you aware that spoofing your number is a violation of FCC regulations?”

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I get about 30 seconds of dead air, and then the woman hangs up the phone. I reached out to Hyundai corporate to get their statement and policies regarding dealerships and call centers using call spoofing technology to communicate with potential customers. A Hyundai Motors America representative got back to me: “We are looking into what you experienced and expect all of our dealers to follow all regulations when communicating with customers.”

As you already know, when car shopping it’s critical to shop around to multiple dealers in order to find the best price and often it’s worth casting a net beyond your immediate area for some potential savings. If a dealer or a manufacturer calls you and spoofs their number, you can and should file a complaint with the FCC here.