We all get our share of robocalls and unsolicited telemarketing calls on a daily basis. You know how it goes. Your phone rings, you don't recognize the number, but you answer anyway, and you hear dead air and then a voice says "Hi! We've been trying to reach out about an important matter ..."
Robocalls. They can be easy to spot, but that doesn't make them any easier to avoid. And when you do get a live person on the other end, they waste your time peddling everything from health insurance to home and computer services. Worse yet, aside from trying to sell you stuff, these annoying calls can be downright deceptive and malicious. These scams may be trying to rip you off or steal your identity.
And thanks to technology and cheap internet access, the robocall plague will just get worse in 2019 and beyond!
So, how can you protect yourself from these robocall and telemarketing scams?
To fight back against all kinds of nuisance calls, you have several smartphone tools at your disposal. You can block numbers, turn on Do Not Disturb mode, use your carrier's tools, use third-party apps or a phone with built-in spam filtering, and more.
In this guide, we will explore your options and in the end, you will pick up valuable pointers on how to minimize and even eradicate all these unwanted calls.
Use your carrier tools
All four of the major carriers have specific tools to identify, filter and block suspected nuisance numbers from calling or texting your phone. Most require you to shell out an extra monthly fee to activate the caller ID service, but network-level blocking is free of charge across all the carriers.
AT&T subscribers can use a free iOS and Android app called AT&T Call Protect. It has automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam warnings. You can also use it to manually block unwanted calls.
Verizon has just announced that it will offer free call-blocking service to its customers beginning in March. Verizon previously had offered a "Caller Filter" service for $2.99 per month per line.
Verizon says it has identified 300 million spam and scam phone numbers that it will block to begin with. Details on how to sign up for the service will be shared soon.
UPDATE: On Jan. 17, 2019, Verizon announced starting in March, its span and robocalling features will be free to all Verizon customers whose smartphones support these features.
T-Mobile provides two free ways to combat robocallers and spam calls.
First is Scam ID, an automatic system that identifies spam numbers when your phone rings. T-Mobile automatically does this on its network, and there's no app to install or service to turn on.
The second free method is Scam Block. Unlike Scam ID, which simply identifies known spam numbers, Scam Block gives you an option to block those numbers. To turn this on, just dial #662# on your T-Mobile handset. To turn it off, dial #632#.
Similar to Verizon's Caller Name ID, T-Mobile also has its own paid "Name ID" service, which identifies and provides caller information like the name, location and type of organization and block them as needed. This is included in T-Mobile ONE Plus plans. For other T-Mobile plans, it costs $4 a month per line.
It also has a dangerous caller identification that immediately identifies robocallers, scammers, and other nuisance callers even before you answer.
Finally, Sprint customers can sign up for its "Premium Caller ID" service to protect themselves from robocalls and caller ID spoofers.
This service is $2.99 a month and it provides a threat level indicator to give customers an idea of how suspicious a call is. It does this by flagging calls with real-time data trends gathered across the U.S.
However, this service doesn't automatically block known spam calls. However, based on the threat level, you can choose to answer the call, block the number or report it to prevent future calls.
Use third-party apps
Another way to stop nuisance calls on your smartphone is via call-blocking apps. These apps can identify who is calling you and also block unwanted calls that show up on a crowd-sourced spam and robocaller list.
Here are the top call blocking apps you can use right now.
Nomorobo is an iOS and Android app that offers real-time protection from a growing list of robocallers, telemarketers and phone scammers.
Here's how it works. It lets the phone ring once, then tries to identify the caller. If the number is on the Nomorobo list, the app will automatically block the call for you.
Nomorobo is free to use for 30 days, after that it costs $1.99 per month or $19.99 for an entire year. To sign up, you will need to provide Nomorobo with some information. List the type of phone you have - wireless or landline - and select your carrier. Note: Not all major cell carriers support Nomorobo.
Next is the free Truecaller app for iOS and Android. This service lets you find out who's behind that unknown number. Just copy and paste the number into the search bar embedded in the app.
Truecaller will then search the unknown number to find out who it is. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, it's a great resource to avoid answering an unwanted robocall.
Another great feature of Truecaller is its ability to block spam calls. When a pesky telemarketer calls, there will be a big warning in red, telling you that it's a spam call. Simply swipe up when this happens to automatically block that caller and add them to the spam list.
The Truecaller app is free for both download and use. However, there is a professional version that can be bought as an in-app purchase for $1.99 per month.
With the pro version, you won't see ads, you get 30 contact requests a month to ask for numbers when searching for names and you get a Pro Badge beside your avatar.
Hiya - Caller ID & Block
The Hiya - Caller ID & Block app is perfect for identifying calls that you want to accept and blocking calls and texts you want to avoid. The app is free, with no ads, and is extremely simple to use. If you had to choose one, this is the best choice.
It allows you to block calls, blacklist unwanted phone numbers and text messages, reverse phone search incoming call information and receive spam alerts. The app is powered by a database of hundreds of millions of phone numbers confirmed to be spam by other users.
Call Control - Call Blocker
The Call Control - Call Blocker app automatically blocks spam calls and calls from other numbers you don't want to hear from. You can also block entire area codes like 888 if you're getting tons of calls you don't want from a particular location.
Worried about missing out on important calls? Call Control gives you your own personal Whitelist and Contacts Protection to make sure people you know get through.
The app's users actively report their spammers so its catalog is always up to date. That means it provides you the best protection possible from these fake callers. It even works for spam texts, too!
Call Control will automatically block active spammers, and the reverse lookup allows you to track them to their source. You can even add numbers to the Community Blacklist and choose to block specific numbers that won't leave you alone.
Use a phone with auto-spam filtering
Did you know that some smartphones already have built-in spam and robocall protection in place? Samsung's flagship Galaxy and Note smartphones have a native feature called Smart Call that automatically screens and flags suspicious numbers.
Google's own Android smartphones like the Pixels and even the old Nexus and Android One, also have built-in spam call protection.
With this feature turned on, users with Caller ID enabled will get a warning if a suspected spam call or robocall is received.
Aside from ignoring the call, the user then has the option to either block the number or whitelist it if the spam flagging is deemed an error. Any blocked number can be unblocked at any time. An option to report the call to Google is also available.
Join the National Do Not Call Registry List
In a perfect world, adding your number to the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry should stop telemarketers from calling you. Technically, it's illegal for telemarketers to call you if you are on this list.
Unfortunately, scammers don't follow the rules nor do they care about this list. However, it's still good practice to register your number as an added layer of protection against unwanted calls.
Joining the National Do Not Call Registry is actually very simple. You go to the website donotcall.gov and enter the landline or cellphone number you want on the list. Note that fax numbers are governed by different regulations, so signing them up won't do anything.
After going through a quick email verification, you're done. You can also call 1-888-382-1222 from any phone you want on the list. That's all it takes, and your number stays on the list until you ask for it to be removed or you give up the number.
Once you sign up, the Do Not Call list takes you off of for-profit business call lists, but it isn't immediate. Telemarketers only update their lists periodically, so the FTC says it can take up to 31 days to take full effect.
Also, political organizations, charities and survey takers are still permitted to call you. Businesses you've bought something from or made a payment to in the last 18 months also have a right to call. When they call, however, just firmly tell them to take you off their list and they have to honor your request, although they might still try to talk you into reconsidering.
Note: Due to the current government shutdown, the FTC's Do Not Call Registry service is currently down.
Do not answer
This is actually the easiest solution to eliminating robocalls. If you receive a call from an unknown number or one that doesn't show up on caller ID, don't answer. If it's an important call, the person will leave a message and you can get back to them.
If you answer the phone and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop receiving calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify and target live respondents. Once they know the number is active, you will receive more calls in the future.
Block individual numbers
Here's a feature that's available on any iPhone and Android - the ability to block specific numbers. Although this cannot possibly stop every robocall and spammer number out there, you can at least block the recurring ones.
On an iPhone, open your Phone app, go to your Recents tab, then tap the circular information icon on the right side of the number you want to block. On the next page, tap "Block this Caller" to put the number on your block list.
On Android, you can likewise open your Phone app, navigate to the Recents section, do a long press on the suspicious number then select "Block/report spam."
Use Do Not Disturb
To block every number except your most trusted contacts or favorites, you can turn on your iPhone or Android phone's built-in Do Not Disturb Mode. It's an extreme solution but it will definitely stop all unwanted calls, including robocalls, telemarketing calls and spam calls.
Keep in mind that you will certainly miss some legitimate calls when this mode is on, but unknown callers will always have the option to leave a voice message. You can also add any number to your Contacts list to let them through in the future.
To customize your Do Not Disturb preferences on an iPhone, go to Settings >> Do Not Disturb. Here, you can turn the mode on, set a Do Not Disturb schedule and set your allowed calls to either all your saved contacts or just your Favorites list.
To quickly activate Do Not Disturb, go to your iPhone's Control Center (swipe down for the upper-right corner on iPhone X, swipe up from the bottom for other iPhones) and simply toggle the Do Not Disturb switch (the icon looks like a moon).
On Android, go to Settings >> Sound (or Sound & Notification in other phones) >> then Tap Do Not Disturb to customize your Do Not Disturb settings.
To activate Do Not Disturb, simply swipe down from the top of your display to access the Quick Menu then tap the Do Not Disturb icon to turn it on.
Warning: Beware of spoofed calls
One of the robocall techniques that's increasingly getting more popular is a scam called "neighborhood spoofing."
With this scam, fraudsters will disguise their numbers with local numbers that appear to match your area code and 3-digit prefix. By spoofing a local number, these spammers are hoping that there's a better chance that their targets will pick up the call.
And neighborhood spoof calls don't just harm the intended targets, they are also a big hassle to the owner of the spoofed number.
And in some cases, these scammers will even spoof your OWN number! The idea with this is that if you see a call coming in from yourself, they think you may be so intrigued that you answer it.
Another problem with neighborhood spoofing? Third-party spam call blocking apps are mostly ineffective against spoofed numbers since they only tend to blacklist known robocall numbers and not legitimate numbers.
Remember, legitimate phone numbers can be hijacked and used for neighborhood spoofing.