Scammers and some telemarketers change Caller ID information to get past your defenses. That may soon draw a $5,000 civil penalty in New Hampshire – although good luck finding the real perpetrators, especially if they’re overseas.

Here’s my story today in the Monitor: Fake caller IDs may soon be illegal.

“Spoofing”, incidentally, is a geek term for pretending to be somebody you’re not via technical means, especially if you intercept and alter the signal between the two parties. It doesn’t apply only to telephones.

According to the Jargon File, the definitive source for geek slang, the word is really old: “Interestingly, it was already in use in its modern sense more than a century ago among Victorian telegraphers; it shows up in Kipling.” I have not been able to find where in Rudyard Kipling’s work the word is used. It’s hard to search for it online because you end up with lots of parodies – spoofs – of Kipling poems.

(Update: The site claims to have a text-search function for all of Kipling’s works, and it finds either “spoof” nor “spouf”. Might the Jargon File be in error?)

(Updated update: An alert reader (see comments) pointed out that “spoof” comes up in Kipling’s autobiography, which apparently isn’t part of the online-literature database. And the reader is quite correct: “spoofed” and “spoofing” both appear once in his autobiography, referring to made-up written items such as letters or announcements that are designed to fool authorities. Search the text here. However, the autobiography was published in 1937, so that actually isn’t a very early reference.)

Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s online material has a  history of the word that starts long before Kipling started publishing.

They trace their origins back to a game called “Spoof” (or “Spouf,” depending on the source you consult), supposedly created by the British comedian and actor Arthur Roberts. Our first written evidence of the game Spoof comes from 1884, and the citation in question tells us only that the rise of the popularity of the game must be credited to Mr. Roberts. By 1888, the name of the game had been made into a verb that referred to being tricked out of something:

As for our usage, Merriam-Webster says “Spoof is used to refer to the method of imitating another person’s identity—especially an electronic identity, like an email address or a social media account, usually for personal gain or nefarious purposes.” but gives no history of this sort of usage.


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