Terrorizing death threats targeting realtors caused one Kitty Hawk woman to hand over $1,500

KITTY HAWK, N.C. - A terrifying new scheme that seems to be targeting people in the real estate field left one North Carolina woman without $1,500.

News 3 met up with two victims and Kitty Hawk Police police to learn about the latest scheme that comes with a violent twist and threats towards several in the real estate community.

“I was shaking and I was crying. It is still hard to talk about."

One victim who did not want to be identified said she felt pure terror when her phone rang at 6 a.m. last Tuesday.

She said the caller ID on her cell phone showed it was a woman who used to work for her, but the voice on the other end was not her friend.

The caller said they had her friend hostage, saying they were going to shoot her and claimed to have already severely beat her husband up.

The victim said you could hear commotion in the background and said the caller was convincing.

She said she got in the car, drove to several stores and bought three gift cards for $500 each, fearing that her friend was going to be murdered.

The caller demanded she provide the gift card numbers, throw the receipt away and cut up the gift cards once they got the numbers.

She thought it could be a scam but still questioned that the caller had her friend hostage and worried that her actions could get her killed.

She said she spent an hour and a half on the phone with the thieves.

She called her friend back - who told her she was safe – then called police.

And she isn’t alone - her colleague’s son got a similar call the same day. His caller ID said it was his mom calling, but it wasn’t.

News 3 met up with this realtor as well.  She didn’t want her identity shown.

She said they told her son they were going to blow his mom’s head off if he didn’t get them the money.

She said he texted his dad, who confirmed that his mom was safe at home.

This realtor said her son is still traumatized and said the criminals on the other line were convincing.

“He said he’ll never forget it, and I could just totally hear the fear in his voice. It just tore me apart that someone would do that to him,” she said.

The FCC said caller ID spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.

They said spoofing is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally, but it also can be used legitimately. For example - to display the toll-free number for a business.

“They don’t even technically have to be here in the United States. They can be anywhere in the world to use that number [on the gift card] to purchase items over the Internet and get cash,” said Kitty Hawk Police Detective Sergeant Brian Strickland. “I think once the word gets out, the scam artist is going to change the way they’re doing it.”

Strickland said people need to be careful with the links they clink on in emails and text messages. He said hackers are constantly trying to get your information.

Below is more information from the FCC:

What is neighbor spoofing?

Robocallers use neighbor spoofing, which displays a phone number similar to your own on your caller ID, to increase the likelihood that you will answer the call.

Tips to avoid spoofing scams

You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be extremely careful about responding to any request for personal identifying information.

  • Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
  • If you answer the phone and the caller - or a recording - asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with "Yes" or "No."
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.  You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
  • If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
  • Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls. Information on available robocall blocking tools is available at gov/robocalls.

What can you do if your number is being spoofed?

If you get calls from people saying your number is showing up on their caller ID, it’s likely that your number has been spoofed. We suggest first that you do not answer any calls from unknown numbers, but if you do, explain that your telephone number is being spoofed and that you did not actually make any calls. You can also place a message on your voicemail letting callers know that your number is being spoofed. Usually scammers switch numbers frequently. It is likely that within hours they will no longer be using your number.

When is spoofing illegal?

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.

What is blocking or labeling?

If a telephone number is blocked or labeled as a "potential scam" on your caller ID, it is possible the number has been spoofed. Several phone companies and app developers offer call-blocking and labeling services that detect whether a call is likely to be fraudulent based on call patterns, consumer complaints or other means.

FCC rules do not prohibit call blocking or labeling technologies, however the FCC is very concerned about ensuring that lawful calls are completed and has encouraged providers who block calls to establish a means for a caller whose number is blocked to contact the provider and remedy the problem.

You can legally block the transmission of your phone number when you make calls, so your number will appear as "unknown." Doing so is not spoofing.

What are the caller ID rules for telemarketers?

FCC rules specifically require that a telemarketer:

  • Transmit or display its telephone number or the telephone number on whose behalf the call is being made, and, if possible, its name or the name of the company for which it is selling products or services.
  • Display a telephone number you can call during regular business hours to ask to no longer be called. This rule applies even to companies that already have an established business relationship with you.

Click here to learn more about stopping unwanted calls and texts.