June 10, 2020 611 PM
ALPINE — The FBI is investigating an alleged case of identity theft after Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson says his number was “spoofed” to send out racist text messages.
With the investigation still ongoing, it was unclear at press time how many people received the allegedly spoofed texts. A spokesperson for the Brewster County sheriff’s office said they weren’t sure. An initial statement from BCSO suggested there was only one recipient, but a later statement from the FBI said that “several members of the community” had received one.
Caller ID spoofing involves tricking telephone providers into showing that a text or call came from a different phone number.
Over the years, caller ID spoofing has earned a more sinister reputation for its role in scams and identity theft. Congress in 2009 passed the Truth in Caller ID Act, banning the use of the tool when there’s an “intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”
Dodson alleges his number was spoofed to send out racist slurs, prompting a deluge of angry calls and even threats. He had to stop using his number.
The Brewster County Sheriff’s Office has addressed the situation on social media. Last Tuesday, the office said Dodson’s number was spoofed to send “an offensive message.” Dodson did not “condone any of the language contained in the message” and filed a complaint for identity theft and threatening a peace officer, the post said.
Then, on Friday, the office said the FBI had “verified that none of the offensive messages originated with any of Sheriff Dodson’s devices” and that “all devices and information has been turned over to agents to aid in the investigation.”
In response to an inquiry from The Big Bend Sentinel, the FBI on Monday confirmed its role in the case.
“Brewster County Sheriff Dodson has been in contact with the FBI in regards to the spoofing of his telephone number,” a spokesperson for the FBI’s El Paso office said in an email. “The spoofed text messages were racially insensitive and hateful in nature.”
“The FBI is working with Sheriff Dodson to determine how this happened and who is responsible for this offensive act,” the spokesperson added.
In an interview, Dodson said he was at work last week when he received an angry text from a woman calling him a racist. He didn’t know what to make of it at first — and then he started getting “call after call after call.”
In total, Dodson says, he received at least five angry calls and texts. They ranged from people insulting him to one person who made “a pretty bad threat.”
In his interview, Dodson called the situation “horrible,” adding that the technology has become “dangerous.”
Much about the incident remains unclear, from who allegedly spoofed Dodson’s number to how the controversy went public. But Dodson said he first learned about the situation on social media, and NBC News later confirmed that the alleged texts had been shared online.