A new twist in technology allows solicitors to fool your caller ID, making it appear that the number they are calling from belongs to someone else. That might permit them to fool you into picking up the phone - whether you want to receive their spiels or not.
A service called Star38.com went online Sept. 1, offering a Web-based product initially aimed at bill collectors and private investigators. Instead of the number that originates the call, the caller ID function on the recipient's phone displays whatever digits the caller punches in.
The company contends it's all legal, allowing callers ''to be anyone, any area code, at any number at anytime, simply, easily and cost-effectively.''
''The use of any type of technology that deceives the consumer into thinking the call comes from someone other than the real caller is not only unethical, but it certainly seems to violate federal law,'' said Rozanne Andersen, general counsel for the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals in Indianapolis.
Phone spam is rapidly growing - and not just through spoofed caller IDs. With cell-phone text messaging gaining popularity, spammers have increasingly been sending out spam messages.
Because phone spam doesn't use the Internet, it isn't covered by the CAN-SPAM Act. But Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates telephone services, to come up with some sort of policy to address phone spam.
In July, the FCC banned the sending of unauthorized text messages to mobile phones unless the recipient had given his or her permission.
But if a company can show a business relationship with someone, no matter how tenuous, courts have generally been reluctant to rule that the communication is unauthorized.
Big retailers and TV shows are increasingly running promotions and contests via text messaging. If someone answers one of those promotions or casts a text message vote in a poll or for a performer in response to a popularity contest, he or she establishes a business relationship and, in effect, agrees to receive future messages.