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Caller ID: Do you really know who's calling?

Company debuts technology that will make it possible to send false information about an incoming call.

Your Caller ID feature may no longer be telling the truth.

This week, a company is launching technology that will make it possible for someone to choose what appears on phones that have Caller ID, the feature for displaying identifying information about an incoming call.

It could be a different phone number, or even a few words, said Jason Jepson, founder of Star38, which has developed the commercial Caller ID spoofing service.

Sales of Star38 will be limited to licensed private investigators and collection agencies, Jepson said. The service will cost $20 a month plus airtime charges.

The technique for replacing the usual bits of identifying information, such as phone number and name, that accompany inbound calls was discovered a few years ago by hackers. Privacy advocates fear that in the wrong hands, commercial services have the potential to be abused. For instance, telemarketers could use technologies similar to Star38's to trick people into answering a call that looks like a familiar phone number.

Star38 aims to overcome the stigma created by earlier pranksters and thieves.

"Unfortunately, what's happened is some hackers have got to it first and gave it a bad name," Jepson said. "If they step back and see the forest through the trees, they'd realize what they are doing is hard and illegal. What we are doing is neither."

The company plans to explore other markets as well. For example, Jepson said he's begun talks with Musicphone, a San Francisco-based service that lets people send songs, along with personalized messages, to any kind of phone--cellular or standard.

Musicphone wants to use Star38's software to send even more information about certain artists, he said. A Musicphone representative could not immediately be reached for comment.