Fake Emergency Alert Messages – Serious Threat or Passing Annoyance?

This article from Johnson County, Wyoming raises some interesting issues.

It seems that residents have been getting fake calls that appear to be “emergency alert” calls from the county.  But it’s unclear what the motive for the calls is.  The article says the calls become garbled, then cut out.  So other than annoying folks, it’s hard to see what these calls will accomplish.

But the assurances from the county don’t give us a warm and fuzzy, either.

First, the article tells us that all real calls will start with “This is a CodeRED alert”.  But if the calls can start with “This is Johnson County”, it’s not hard to imagine the culprits changing that message to “This is a CodeRED alert.”

Second, the article tells us that the caller ID for real calls will end in “5000” (probably).  Again, that’s not hard to do.  Faking a caller ID is pretty easy.  And there are thousands of phone numbers that can end in “5000”.  For the past few months, I’ve been getting illegal automated calls that have my area code and exchange so they look like local calls.  And we’ve talked to friends who’ve gotten similar calls.

Still, despite the fact that hackers could probably fake emergency alert calls pretty easily, it’s not obvious that they’d bother.  Making calls on the public phone network costs money – lots of money when compared with emails and other Internet messaging – and a scammer has to find a way to get a return on their investment.

These fake calls are a concern.  And we’re glad people report this kind of activity.  But it’s too soon to tell if the calls are a serious problem.  Hopefully – once the perpetrators find that this activity is not profitable – they will simply stop.


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