Tuesday Tip: How to stop robocalls, scams and phone spam

Heard from any robots lately? You’re not the only one. Robocalls are exploding. There were 4 billion robocalls placed nationwide in July 2018 alone (up from 2.6 billion the previous year). That’s around 12 calls to every person in the United States – in one month! In fact, almost half of all calls made on any given day are robocalls.

Many of these calls are legitimate, of course. Like maybe your dentist calling to remind you of that root canal. But many are worse. Worse than a root canal? Yes. Many robocalls—and live calls from people you don’t know—come from scammers trying to swindle you.

And their techniques are getting better. Techniques like “neighbor spoofing,” which makes it appear that a robocall is from a number in your area and, therefore, perhaps a call with an honest purpose. Maybe it’s your kid’s school or your car mechanic—so you answer. A lot of people do. And some of them are cruelly scammed. Some lose their life savings.

Federal and state regulators are taking action, in large part because robocalls are annually their number-one consumer-complaint category. But regulatory action alone will not stop robocalls. Regulators are up against the combined forces of internet technology, profit motive and geography (a lot of robocalls come from outside the U.S.)—and they’re losing.

So you should take measures to protect yourself. Here’s what you can do.

Register your number in the National Do Not Call registry

This is a good first step. Once your number is listed here, most legitimate companies won’t call you anymore. But the Do Not Call registry prohibits only sales calls. You may still receive calls from political campaigns, charities, debt collectors and survey takers.

In addition, a company can call you if it has recently done business with you. Although if you ask a company not to call you again, it must stop. Make sure to record the date of your request if this happens.

Dismiss calls you don’t recognize

If your number is on the Do Not Call Registry for more than 31 days and you get a sales call or any kind of robocall, the simplest approach is to ignore it.

This is not always easy to do, of course. What if it’s important? If you do answer a call from a number you don’t recognize and it does turn out to be spam, don’t interact in any way. Don’t press a button to be removed from the call list or to speak with a live person. Doing this will flag you as a target and likely lead to more calls.

Instead, hang up and report the call to the FTC.

Get a call-blocking app

(Standard disclaimer: App creators’ views and values are their own and are not endorsed by CREDO Mobile. Before downloading any app, please confirm that it meets your personal standards for corporate ethics and protection of privacy.)

There are hundreds of call-blocking apps on the market now. Most work a similar way: they check incoming calls against a robocall database and block them. But they can only stop calls from known robocallers, so calls from fresh numbers may still get through.

One highly rated free app is Hiya, which is available for Android and Apple phones. Other free apps to check out include YouMail, Mr. Number and Truecaller. If you don’t mind a small subscription fee, there are paid apps that claim to do more, like Nomorobo ($1.99/month) and RoboKiller ($2.99/month).

One fun app is the Jolly Roger Telephone Co. (“Our robots talk to telemarketers so that humans don’t have to”). It’s 99 cents a month but that small fee might be worth the satisfaction of sticking it to the scammers. For a few laughs, go to the Jolly Roger blog and listen to the remarkably lifelike Jolly Roger bots give clueless scammers the runaround. Score one for our side.

AT&T and Robocalls

While we’re on the topic of robocalls, we’d like to tell you about a recent robocall campaign by AT&T that was aimed at stopping California’s landmark bill to preserve net neutrality in the state and ensure that California residents have access to a free and fair internet, without throttling and price gouging by Big Telecom.

Specifically targeted at senior citizens, the AT&T robocalls spread misinformation, claiming that California’s net neutrality legislation would increase cell phone bills and slow down data connections. This is not true. The truth is this: California’s net neutrality safeguards would serve as a model for other states to fight back against Big Telecom’s efforts to drive up already-massive profits. That’s why AT&T wants to kill the bill.

If you’re an AT&T customer, you should be angry. Do you really want to send a monthly payment to a company that interferes with your internet so it can make more millions?

Instead, consider CREDO Mobile, the only carrier fighting for your rights and a free, open internet. For more than a decade, CREDO has been fighting for strong net neutrality protections. We’ve mobilized hundreds of thousands of CREDO members to take more than 4 million actions, through petitions and phone calls to key decision-makers, and through protests in Washington, D.C., and across the country. We also worked with partners to pressure the California legislature to pass net neutrality legislation – generating more than 30,000 petition signatures, 2,750 phone calls and 15 in-district meetings – in support of the bill, and we are working with partners to make sure Gov. Jerry Brown signs it.

CREDO Mobile is the only U.S. mobile carrier standing up for a free and open internet, and through our donations program, powered by our customers, we’ve donated more than $2.6 million to progressive groups fighting for net neutrality.

Are there other tips to block robocallers that have worked for you? We’d love to hear about them!