Any business or organization can suffer from call spoofing scams that undermine their reputations. Hospitals, however, have become popular targets because people trust the organizations to give them accurate, necessary information. This has lead to an increase in healthcare call spoofing scams.
When you see a call from your local hospital, you’ll likely answer because you think that you’ll get important health information about yourself or a loved one. A call coming from a hospital could also be someone you care about trying to reach you during an emergency. Even if you would ignore an incoming call from other organizations, you can’t risk missing a call from a hospital.
Scammers look for opportunities to take advantage of trust and importance. If you manage a hospital, doctor’s office, or health insurance provider, there’s a chance that someone will spoof your number so they can reach unsuspecting consumers.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that you can do to prevent someone from spoofing your phone number.
Examples of Healthcare Call Spoofing Scams
Scammers don’t seem to have any ethical problems with spoofing the phone numbers of healthcare organizations when trying to defraud consumers. The wide variety of healthcare call spoofing scams proves that they will take advantage of any opportunity.
Erlanger Health System Warns the Public About Spoofing Calls
In April 2020, Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, TN warned patients that individuals and computerized systems not affiliated with the hospital were contacting residents. The hospital told patients that their private information had not been compromised, but they should know that the healthcare system doesn’t make cold calls.
Erlanger had already identified two of its spoofed phone numbers and passed the information on to authorities at the Federal Communications Commission (FTC).
North Carolina Hospitals Warn Against Call Spoofing
In March 2019, Nash UNC Health Care published a notice about an increase in spoofing scams. The North Carolina Department of Justice (DOJ) had made the organization aware of the problem. Nash UNC Health Care advised the public to request specific information – such as billing address, first name, and last name – before responding to calls from their phone numbers.
Similar warnings came from Catawba Valley Medical Center and Frye Regional Medical Center around the same time.
The NC DOJ says that it has difficulty blocking the spoofed calls because many of them come from overseas.
Health Insurance Scams Use Call Spoofing to Trick Consumers
The United States has nearly 30 million uninsured, nonelderly residents. Millions more are underinsured. The statistics help highlight why so many Americans feel anxious about their health insurance coverage. Scammers use that anxiety to trick consumers into giving them private information, including their Social Security numbers, birth dates, fill names, and income.
The spoofed calls have been happening for years. The FTC posted a warning about the issue in early 2016. The FTC’s efforts did not slow the increase in health insurance call spoofing scams.
During October 2019, suspicious robocalls supposedly selling health insurance caught the attention of federal authorities.
Legislators worked on a bill that would slow the number of unauthorized robocalls. Considering that scammers don’t follow the law, though, it’s difficult to see how increased legislation would help much. A truly effective solution would require the entire telecommunications industry adopts SHAKEN/STIR protocols.
Scammers Use COVID-19 Scare and Stimulus Checks to Steal From Consumers
Few things have created more anxiety and fear lately than the COVID-19 panic and economic disaster caused by fighting the coronavirus. Not surprisingly, scammers know that they can target uncertain people to take advantage of them.
Criminals have concocted several types of scams to steal stimulus checks and private information from consumers. One popular trick involves spoofing an IRS phone number. When people see an incoming call from the IRS, they answer because they want to learn more about the status of their stimulus checks and 2020’s postponed tax deadline.
The government emphasizes that its agencies do not call individuals. People who receive calls that say they are from the IRS should not answer. Instead, they can get the IRS’s official contact information and return the call. Dialing the IRS’s number authentic number will not connect consumers to scammers.
The pandemic also makes it easier for scammers to convince people that they have essential advice about healthcare and health insurance. For most people, the pandemic is a time for supporting each other and understanding that others are struggling to get through the crisis. For scammers, it’s another chance to trick individuals into handing over information that helps them commit fraud.
Consequences of Call Spoofing for Patients and Healthcare Organizations
Call spoofing does more than contribute to the millions of identity theft and fraud cases reported every year. It also puts patient health at risk by making it more difficult for medical centers to do their jobs.
Robocalls, for example, can overwhelm hospital call centers. Tufts Medical Center receives about 4,500 calls between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. During surge times, the phone system handles thousands of requests per hour. According to the medical center’s chief information security officer, many of the calls are obvious scams, such as messages in Mandarin threatening deportation unless the person hands over private information.
This specific scam seems designed to steal information from Mandarin-speaking immigrants who may already fear deportation. When hospital operators are busy processing scam calls, they can’t address the needs of patients and loved ones trying to get needed information.
Damaging the Healthcare Industry’s Reputation
Call spoofing also degrades the trust that people have for healthcare centers. The average person will answer an incoming call from a hospital, insurance company, or a similar organization. Over time, though, spoofed numbers can develop bad reputations as more people report them.
Phone service providers and third-party apps collect these reports to decide which numbers get listed as potential scams. If a healthcare call spoofing scam spreads to enough people, then a hospital’s legitimate phone number could get mislabeled as spam. Suddenly, consumers and patients have to think twice when they see their healthcare providers calling. The trust has already been broken.
Between overwhelmed hospital phone systems and a breakdown in trust between patients and their healthcare providers, call spoofing can do tremendous damage to individuals and organizations.
How to Deal With Healthcare Call Spoofing Scams
Consumers and health organizations need to take different approaches to dealing with healthcare call spoofing scams.
How Consumers Can Deal with Call Spoofing
Most importantly, consumers should not respond to calls requesting personal information. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people should feel especially suspicious of calls that promote health insurance coverage, cures, and financial relief.
Ideally, you should not answer or respond to any numbers that you do not know. If you do answer, do not provide any personal information, including payment and banking information.
Consumers should also report calls that they think might be scams. The FCC has a Consumer Complaint Center where you can report any type of potential telecommunication scam.
Consumers can keep up with the latest scams by visiting the FCC’s COVID-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips page.
How Organizations Can Prevent Healthcare Call Spoofing Scams
Organizations will continue to struggle with call spoofing scams until every phone service provider adopts SHAKEN/STIR call authentication that checks a phone number’s origin and ensures its accuracy.
In the meantime, you can add your phone numbers to the Do Not Originate (DNO) Registry. The DNO Registry is a list of numbers reserved for inbound use. When a scammer tries to spoof a registered inbound number, the service provider can block it. Since the DNO Registry only includes inbound numbers, it can’t protect your organization from healthcare call spoofing scams that focus on your outbound numbers. It’s not perfect, but it does offer some protection.
Monitoring Your Numbers for Flags
You can add another level to your healthcare organization’s protection by monitoring your phone numbers for flags. Caller ID Reputation proactively monitors service providers and third-party call-blocking apps so it can notify you when one of your numbers gets flagged. If a number gets flagged or blocked, then it has probably been used in a healthcare call spoofing scam. At that point, you may need to stop using the phone number. Patients will feel confused when they see a legitimate call from a blocked number. Most of them will not answer, which can make it harder for you to contact patients about scheduling appointments, providing health information, and other services.
Monitoring and managing your outbound phone numbers is one of the most effective things that you can do to protect your business and your patients.