Stealth Technology Reveals Stalker's Trail

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Receiving obscene and threatening phone calls can change or ruin your life, as hundreds of women across the U.S. and Canada can attest to, after a phone stalker targeted them. Daniel Christopher Leonard, 32, of Olympia, WA attempted to remain unidentifiable by "spoofing" Caller ID systems using a service that masks your outgoing Caller ID information. When such a system is used, it becomes much harder to identify who is harassing you - but not impossible.

Like any tool, technology can be used for good or ill. Technology is also constantly evolving to meet current needs. When Caller ID came along, it changed how we all used phones. You could know before answering who was calling, and greet the caller by name, or decide not to answer at all. Screening your calls became common even for people who didn't have secretaries. Caller ID also helped curb the problem with prank phone calls, and the rise of free reverse phone lookup services made identifying a mysterious caller much simpler.

Due to the way Caller ID was implemented, it is possible to trick the system (called "spoofing") into giving out false Caller ID information to the call recipient. This generally makes Caller ID unavailable, or, even worse, enables someone to impersonate someone else, perhaps an official, and do more mischief than they would normally be able to do.

The weakness of Caller ID spoofing is that you have to use a service to do it, and that leaves a trail for investigators to follow. In the case of Mr. Leonard, those 4,000 spoofed calls left a very large amount of evidence to be used against him at his trial, resulting in a 3 1/2 year prison sentence.

Most harassing or threatening phone calls are not spoofed, mainly for this reason. Even using a disposable cell phone will leave records - that phone has to access the system, and even disposable cell phones have GPS chips in them now, which enables them to be tracked once the phone number is identified, and can even be tracked back to where the phone was purchased.

If you're getting phone calls you don't want, for whatever reason, try using a reverse phone lookup on that number to get what information you can. More often than not, it'll lead you straight to the person bothering you. But even if it doesn't, it's something to take to the authorities to continue the investigation. The bad guys can use technology, but they can't use it to hide.