Your smartphone is ringing again. An unknown caller! Who could it be? A long-lost friend perhaps? Your kid making an emergency call on a payphone? The pope?
Sadly, you already know the answer—and it’s maddening.
Telemarketing calls, robocalls, and spam calls are more pervasive than ever, with 50 billion robocalls placed in the United States in 2021. And getting constant unwanted calls isn’t just annoying—many of these spam calls are potentially dangerous, as an estimated 19.7 billion USD was lost to phone scams in 2020.
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While anti-robocall legislation is in place to help combat the spam call surge, there are still ways to stay safe from phone scams. Here are seven things you can do to protect your privacy and block spam calls.
1. Check if your carrier offers a call filter
Your phone service provider may have products available to filter out unwanted calls. In the U.S., carriers with such offerings include T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, though some of these services may require a fee. Here’s a breakdown of the various filter services offered by carriers:
AT&T’s Call Protect
AT&T has Call Protect, a free service that blocks robo, spam, and scam calls. While it might not fully protect you from telemarketers, the app does warn you if a call is unknown and provides a “nuisance warning” so you know to avoid it.
There’s also a premium version of the app called Call Protect Plus that offers caller ID, reverse number lookups, and the ability to send calls straight to voicemail. This add-on service is available for 3.99 USD/month.
Verizon’s Call Filter
Call Filter is free for Verizon customers with a compatible device. Upgrades like Call Filter Plus and Call Filter Plus (multi-line) are available for 2.99 USD/month and 7.99 USD/month respectively.
Call Filter screens incoming callers and alerts you of any number that might be spam, robocall, or fraud. The free service allows you to block up to five phone numbers for 90 days.
T-Mobile’s Scam Shield
Scam Shield offers anti-scam protection services like call blocking, caller ID, and lets customers change their phone numbers up to one time per year. The service also offers a proxy number that customers can use if they don’t want to share their private phone numbers.
2. Use a call-blocker app
Call-blocking apps are an efficient way to curtail (or even deter) spam calls. Besides fulfilling their basic promise of blocking unfamiliar calls, each app comes with its own add-ons and features tailored to what you need, whether it’s filtering spam texts too or adding an automated answering message (designed to frustrate scammers). Most of these apps charge a subscription fee. Make sure you do some research before signing up for these apps to ensure they’re serving your needs and can be trusted to use your data wisely. Here are some popular choices:
RoboKiller automatically blocks telemarketers and prevents robocalls from ringing, even if these callers spoof their numbers. The app uses voice recognition to detect voice patterns and update their block list almost in real-time. There’s also the Answer Bot feature that takes “revenge” on telemarketers by picking up phone calls and wasting their time. The results can be quite hilarious. RoboKiller is available at 3.99 USD/month.
Truecaller is an app that shows users information about callers not in their address book and blocks unwanted calls. The app allows users to search for any name or number so they can block people or organizations easily. Truecaller is available for 10.99 USD/month, with a seven-day free trial.
YouMail is a voicemail app that provides spam filter protection for individuals and businesses. Individuals can get on a free plan that stops scam and spam calls and provides information on blocked calls. A premium plan adds live chat and email support features at 5.99 USD/month.
Nomorobo is a no-frills robocall protection service that offers free and unlimited voice-over internet protocols for landlines. Mobile users will have to pay 1.99 USD/month to subscribe to the service through an app. There’s also a 14-day free trial.
DoNotPay is a legal services chatbot that lets users file disputes against businesses and individuals. Most recently, the platform launched Robo Revenge, an app that lets users track robocalls and make it easier for them to file claims against scammers. DoNotPay provides users a free virtual credit card that they can share with scammers. Scammers will then attempt to charge the credit card, which in turn helps DoNotPay access the scammer’s information and reveal who they are.
Users will receive information about the scammers that they can then use to file claims.
3. Check the built-in features of your phone
You can change the settings on your Apple or Android phone to block calls from unknown callers.
For iPhones, you’ll need to be running iOS 13 and later. To turn on the Silence Unknown Callers feature, go to Settings > Phone > Silence Unknown Callers, and toggle it on. Unknown numbers will then be silenced and sent straight to your voicemail, but they’ll appear in your recent calls list.
On your Android phone, there should be a function to block all unknown callers within the Settings menu. While the process varies depending on your device, you can usually access it by opening the Phone app > tap the three dots ⋮ > Settings, then find the option to block numbers and activate the feature.
You can also block individual numbers that seem to keep spamming you. Here’s how:
Tap the Phone app, tap Recents, then tap on the Info icon on the number you’d like to block. Once done, select Block this Caller.
Open Phone app, tap the recent history tab, and tap on the number you want to block. Then, tap Block/Report spam.
4. Add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry
If you’re in the U.S., a free and easy way to filter out telemarketers is by adding your number to the National Do Not Call Registry. This can be done via www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register.
You should receive fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering; however, this method does not filter out scammers or unscrupulous companies who ignore the registry.
5. Never let the robots know you’re a real human
Scammers use robocalls as a way to confirm that the person on the other end is a human being they can continue to target. Through this, they’re able to mark numbers that are valid and spoof their own numbers to continue calling you.
Be wary of responding to calls with your name or saying the word “yes” as these robocalls may be recording you.
6. Don’t give out your number unnecessarily
There are several ways that your phone number could be exposed online, such as listing your phone number on your social media accounts, submitting your number when signing up for things (always read terms and conditions), or having it leaked in a data breach.
Doing a quick search of yourself and your phone number is a good way to figure out how much of your private information is easily accessible online. If it’s listed on a website, you could try sending the site admin a request to remove it. Some social media sign-ups may require your phone number, but you can potentially sidestep this by using a fake number. Some options for acquiring a fake number include Google Voice, using a temporary number app or website, or getting a burner phone number.
7. Report spam calls to the Federal Trade Commission (U.S. only)
Besides adding your number to the Do Not Call Registry, people based on the U.S. can also report scam calls to the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
Not based in the U.S.? Check if your local law enforcement agencies have hotlines or sites that allow you to report scam or spam calls.
How to block unwanted calls on a landline
Apps like Nomorobo provide call-blocking services for landlines. Your landline’s carrier might also be able to help you block certain numbers.
If all else fails, consider purchasing a hardware call blocker. Most of these devices come pre-programmed with thousands of known spam numbers and could be used to add new numbers as they appear. The only downside is that these devices might not actually be as up-to-date as a software-based service.
What are spam calls and where do they come from?
Spam calls are unsolicited calls with the goal of making a sale for products or services.
Here are some of the different types of spam calls:
Telemarketing calls are one of the ways businesses attempt to sell products or services to potential customers. Telemarketers are usually given a target to make prospect calls each day.
Businesses and agencies employ robocalls to remind consumers of upcoming appointments, bookings, and the like. In Singapore, several booking platforms use robocalls to confirm bookings for restaurants. In this case, these calls are legal because you’ve provided your number and have acknowledged that these platforms might call you when you’re making the booking.
In general, illegal robocalls are calls that are unsolicited. In this case, your number could have been obtained through illegal means, whether from a shady operator or through a data breach.
Scam calls are fraudulent calls with the intention of stealing information or money.
While both scam and spam calls are annoying, their difference lies mainly in the intention of the caller. Scam callers may occasionally demand payment or information and are generally illegal.
Why am I getting so many spam calls on my cell phone?
The main reason people are getting more spam calls is the sales spammers make through these calls are worth their while. Meanwhile, there’s hardly any downside for scammers and spammers: Their identities are easily concealed over a call, and there is a general lack of legislation that would prevent these activities.
How do you deal with spam calls? Let us know in the comments.
FAQ: About spam calls
How do you know a call is spam?
It can be difficult to determine if a call is spam. However, experts have suggested that calls with country codes in them could be spam calls.
What happens if you answer a spam call?
If you answer a scam call, your number could be marked as “good” by scammers, and they might attempt to call you again.
Will spam calls eventually stop?
It’s difficult to stop spam calls. However, you can sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry to prevent further spam calls from affecting you.
Is it better to decline or ignore spam calls?
Ignoring and declining spam calls should ideally lead to fewer calls.
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