How to Stop Those Annoying Spam Calls and Robocalls
It's unfortunate, but receiving annoying spam calls every day is the new normal. This year alone, Americans are expected to receive more than 52 billion robo-calls, which equates to about 1 billion calls per week, according to YouMail, a company that specializes in call blocking.
And these calls come in all shapes and sizes. You're probably familiar with the good old "scam calls," but there are also more sophisticated attacks that spoof local numbers, as well as those of well-known companies, to get you to hand over your personal information and money. More recently, these attacks have also shifted to text messages, where phishing text messages are sent from your own phone number.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission tried to get a handle on the robocall problem by requiring major wireless carriers to use Stir/Shaken technology. Stir/Shaken screens all incoming and outgoing calls for wireless carriers that are routed through their networks. By screening each call, carriers can reduce the number of spoofed or forged calls. But that's just one way to prevent robo calls - it's not the be-all and end-all. You may still receive spam calls for free trips or fake messages that your student loan payment is past due.
How to keep nuisance robo-calls to a minimum
According to the FCC, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the number of robo calls:
- Don't answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers.
- Don't answer calls from numbers you don't recognize.
- Don't assume that an incoming call is really from a local number just because it looks that way.
- Don't answer questions that can be answered with a "yes."
- If someone calls you claiming to work for XYZ company, hang up and call the company yourself. Use the company's website to find an official number.
- If you answer the call and hear a recording, such as "Hello, can you hear me?" simply hang up.
- The same goes for calls that ask you to press a number before connecting you with an employee.
If you answer a call and respond to the voice prompt or press a number, the spammers know your number is real. They can then sell your number to another company or call your number more often.
When the Call Screen feature was first introduced by Google, it arguably violated the FCC's advice by accepting and interacting with robocalls on your behalf. However, Google has added new features to Call Screen for its Pixel phones. The feature can now detect and block robo calls and spam calls before they reach you. Google Assistant interacts with the caller, and if it determines the call is legitimate, it routes the call to your phone.
Apple's iPhone has a Suppress Unknown Callers option that routes calls from numbers not in your Contacts, Mail or Messages directly to voicemail. Any legitimate caller can leave a message. But that's the catch: we often receive important calls from numbers we don't have saved on our phone, such as a doctor's office or a technician, so you might miss important calls this way. But if all else fails and you are desperately trying to stop robo calls, this is a good option.
If you receive a lot of spam SMS messages, you can forward the message to 7726 (which stands for "spam"). This won't stop the number from texting you right away, but your carrier can check where the message is coming from and put a stop to it.
Check with your mobile carrier
All four major wireless carriers offer some type of call blocking. All have a free option and a premium tier. But let's face it, all robocall blocking services should be free. This shouldn't be a way for wireless carriers to make money off of us:
- AT&T's Call Protect app is available for iOS and Android. The free version blocks spam and scam calls and offers harassment alerts and a personal block list, and you can block all unknown callers. Call Protect Plus costs $4 per month per line and offers additional benefits such as caller ID for unknown numbers, reverse number lookup and custom call controls.
- Verizon's Call Filter app is automatically enabled for Android users with a postpaid plan. The service offers spam detection, a spam filter, a call log for blocked or spam calls, the ability to allow calls from specific numbers (iOS only), and the option to report numbers for free. You can pay $3 per month (or $8 per month for three or more lines) for caller ID, spam search, a personal block list, and a spam risk meter. Call Filter is built in out of the box on most Android devices (which you've probably been alerted to), but is also available in the App Store for iOS users.
- Scam Shield from T-Mobile is free for all customers and includes several features designed to protect you from robo-calls and sharing your personal information. Dial #662# from your phone to activate Scam Block, or download the free Scam Shield app from your phone's respective app store. When you enable Scam Shield, you'll get full caller ID, be able to report scam messages, block scam calls before your phone even rings, and mark numbers as favorites so they keep ringing your phone.
Do you use a different wireless carrier? I suggest calling customer service or visiting the carrier's website to see if they offer a similar service.
Use a third-party app to limit the number of promotional calls you receive
If your provider doesn't offer an app or service to limit robo-calls, or offers it but it's too expensive, there are a variety of third-party apps. You should find an app that works on your device, provides automatic call blocking and spam alerts for suspicious calls, and lets you easily report a number when a call comes through.
Hiya is a free app that I've been using successfully on Android and iOS for some time now. It comes from the same company that powers AT&T's Call Protect app and Samsung's integrated call blocking and spam protection service. Samsung Galaxy owners can enable the integrated service in the Phone app under Settings > Caller ID and Spam Protection. The setup is effortless and provides an easy way to report a number.
Nomorobo is the service Verizon uses for its Fios users, but it also has a phone app. The service is free for VoIP users and costs $2 per month for mobile users. Other services with similar features include YouMail and RoboKiller.
The firewall app is only available for the iPhone and does a great job of blocking calls. In case you need to make a call that you don't want to use your real phone number for, the $4 per month subscription offers unlimited fake phone numbers for one-time use.
Another option is to sign up for a free Google Voice phone number that you can use to sign up for certain things instead of giving out your real number - and once the robo calls start coming in on that Google Voice number, you can use the blocking feature. However, keep in mind that blocking calls can be a lot of work, as robocallers are constantly spoofing different phone numbers.
None of the above solutions are perfect, but they complement the integration of the provider's technology, which is now required to check caller ID for spoofing. So, for now, you need to do something more to minimize the number of robo calls you receive. If you are careful about calls from unknown numbers and use a service (paid or free), you can reduce the number of unwanted calls and spam you face.
Was this article helpful?1 Posted by: 👨 David A. Hill