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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 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!

42 Comments on “Tuesday Tip: How to stop robocalls, scams and phone spam

  1. I’ve registered all numbers in our names on the federal Do Not Call list, but still get robocalls — sometimes 4 times a day. Filing complaints with the FCC hasn’t done any good; now I don’t answer any calls from numbers I don’t recognize on my cellphone, and just block them if they leave a message.

    • susan same here all numbers we have on do not call list yet i am bombarded and yesi have filed complaint with fcc which i still am bombarded calls from caller id beginning with letter “v” and random numbers to numbers supposedly my area but i know are not i as well if i dont recognize i wont answer and i block as well

    • on robo calls….pick up the phone, do not talk, just pick it up. After a couple minutes when the robot hangs up, hang up yourself. Machines will note that there is no answer on that number.

      • My wife came up with that exact idea. Throws off legit callers a bit, but the scammers and bots disengage after about 10 sec. & then we block the #. Voila!

      • Unfortunately, they’ll just keep calling using other bogus numbers. And others. And others….

    • As long as the telephone companies take no responsibility for insuring the accuracy of caller ID informaton, the “do not call” lists, state and national, are totally useless. Anyone with a voice over IP setup, or an ISDN line, can create their own caller ID and say that they’re anyone, just as with the “From” address on spam email, which means nothing. A lot of these calls come from outside the US where they’re not even covered by “do not call” list regulations.

      The telecom companies, AT&T, Verizon, etc. which created the caller ID protocols could put a stop to this practice tomorrow, if they chose to do so – but they do not. There’s obviously money to be made in letting it continue. In the current national regulatory environment, don’t hold your breath waiting for governments to exert some leverage on the telecoms to put a stop to this.

      This pushes us lowly consumers back into a “circle the wagons” approach which works, but hobbles the usefulness of our phones.

    • Same here, but it’s better than nothing. I actually thought the DNC (sic) list was history. Thanks for the link.

  2. Since some of you said that filing complaints with the FCC hasn’t done any good, well have you ever contacted FCC to complain why they have lots of “holes” which havent reduce robotic calls? if not, how can FCC know without you telling them?

    • Our home phone has been on the “do not call” list for years, and 80% or more of the phone calls we get are spam calls, most of them robot calls. I filed dozens of complaints to the FCC, and as far as I can tell they ignore them. They certainly know that robotic calls are still rampant. As far as I can tell, they don’t care.
      I never get spam calls on my cell phone. The number is not published in any directory service. I am sure that if I put my cell phone number on the “do not call” list, I would immediately start getting lots of spam calls on it. I am pretty sure the spammers use the list as a source of phone numbers.

  3. The FCC does not handle complaints about robocalls and the Do Not Call list. As the article states, the agency to contact is the FTC – the Federal Trade Commission. You can contact the FTC through its web site, or you can call one of their regional offices.

  4. Thank you for the information on AT and T. I have had problems with them before and now will switch my cell to Credo.

  5. Love the Jolly Roger concept. The longer we can tie up the scammers with a robo-response the better. Keeps them from calling someone else.

  6. My voicemail greeting is,”If you are NOT a telemarketer or robocaller, please leave a message.” This is for numbers I don’t recognize and therefore don’t pick up. If there is no subsequent message, I label the call “Robocaller.” If they ever call back, I can see the label and reject the call.
    This doesn’t reduce the number of robocall’s, but it does minimize my response time.

  7. I was phone-scammed out of several thousand dollars. Local police told me there was nothing they could do. Never heard from the FTC after filing complaints. So I tell anyone who might call me for any reason that I don’t answer my land line or cell unless I know who is calling, and if I don’t pick up to leave a message. Doesn’t stop the robocalls, but works for me.

    • I scream or whistle as loudly as possible when I realize it’s robocall, or scammers. Got one where different people called from different numbers, but all asked for “Omar”. I haven’t heard from them in quite a while now LMAO!

  8. On my iPhone after the call I block not only the number but scroll down and you can block the ‘caller’ . It’s still something have to do but it has slowed down the number of calls. I even had to do it to my mail order pharmacy because they drove me crazy with reminders to refill way before I needed to

  9. The do not call list is a joke! I have nomorobo on my home phone and it has blocked 4 calls in the last 2 hours. Something needs to be done as this is out of control.

    • On an iPhone, click on the blue ‘i’ (in a circle) which is to the right of the number. Then scroll down and you’ll see “Block this Caller.” I don’t know how to do it for Android, sorry.

  10. I simply don’t answer calls not in my phone list.I get calls from all over the US—I can find the area codes in my phone book—& some from foreign countries.How did they get my cell number? What are they trying to sell?

  11. Robocall-bots seem to listen for the word “hello.” One strategy that seems to help me (besides ignoring calls from unknown numbers) is to answer “This is Harry.” Eccentric? maybe a little. But if the caller hesitates, thinking i’m an answering device, or I hear a click-over to live agent, I hang up.

  12. I have Hiya on my cell and it’s great and Nomorobo on my land line at no cost.

  13. None of these suggestions work. Further, they require that you identify the robocall callers. I apparently injured the feelings of one guy, now he calls me about 12 times a day. Not answering the phone doesn’t help either. BTW, I’ve been on the do not call list since 2002.

  14. I am a senior with a land line with AT&T in Los Angeles. I get an average of 10-15 robocalls a day. I even paid AT&T extra for a “metro plan” which allows me to block calls but only up to 10 total numbers -they will not allow me to block more. Out of curiosity I began writing down the numbers. After I wrote down 200 different numbers I gave up. I get some that don’t even register an area code on my caller ID display, and some that say “invalid number” or “illegal scam”! As I am speaking now. “Out of area” has called me three times. This is maddening and enraging. I only have a flip phone for traveling. Seniors do get targeted pretty bad.

  15. For true robotic sales calls I have done one simple thing that works. I’ve changed the way I answer the phone. This started because I use my phone part time for work and prospective students, whose numbers I couldn’t know, would call. I had to answer just in case it was work related. “This is Sara. Can I help you?” Dead silence. Sometimes a repeat of “Can I help you?” is needed but usually I just hear a click as soon as I say it the first time. It doesn’t kill them all, but my random calls have dropped in half. At first I got a little ribbing from friends but as soon as they tried it too, that stopped!

  16. I have one, of many, callers that have roboed me to death. Problem is, it is a real person that calls up to 4 times a day! (Both landline and cell.) I have told her, Brandi, to stop calling me but she persists. Some of these just don’t get a clue. I am almost 70 and have 3 children and 4 grandchildren but I am never sure if it is one of them calling from some phone other than theirs. We need to put a stop to the stupidity of this nonsense, somehow. Have registered both numbers on DNC list it… still goes on.

  17. Not the easiest thing to accomplish, but worth the effort. Robocalls shut down when they hear a fax sound, so record the fax sound somewhere, and while leaving a recorder message for callers, play the fax sound while you are speaking, and hopefully the robocalls will hear the fax sound and discontinue calls in the future.

  18. Hello I keep registering all my numbers and still get in ng at least 3 robot all s a day. Driving us nuts. Just wanted to share my frustrations.

  19. I’m on the “Do Not Call” List which foesn’t seem to be very effective in reducing robocalls. I still get them probably a few daily. If I don’t recognize the number I reject the call or simply don’t answer. Sometimes I pick up the call and immediately hang up. They almost never leave a message. That suits me just fine.

  20. I have written to the FCC. Their fill in form only allows for one number when I have about a dozen phone
    numbers. I have sent an email. The calls stopped coming for a while, but then picked up. If you have an unsophisticated phone, like a flip phone, you can’t download an app. I do not answer them but I am afraid I may be getting charged for them anyway.

  21. I used to get irritated until I realized something: We don’t have to let these people use the phones we pay for to hold us hostage. I reclaimed the technology I pay for and turned the tables. I never answer my phone anymore unless I recognize the number. My voicemail message informs callers of that and politely instructs them to leave a message if they have a legitimate reason for calling me. Most don’t, and I can choose to respond or not if they do. I don’t even decline the calls, just mute the ringer and let them spend time listening to my phone ringing and voicemail message. Then I block the number, chuckle and go about my life. Quite satisfying, actually.

    • I just tried to post a comment detailing a far more complicated and expensive strategy to the same effect, (except with audible ring if I need it or range-of-numbers blocking)
      Discipline is all that’s really needed.
      Kudos because your method eliminates all uneeded ringing! A better world.

  22. I removed my land line a few months ago: for years I had been getting at least 12 calls/day; I monitored them with my answering machine. I cut back the number of rings on my phone. I tried the Do Not Call list to no avail. So now AT&T has lost me as a customer!! I am happy!!

  23. This is quite effective in my situation:
    I screen all calls, never picking up unless I know exactly who it is.
    (Any legitimate caller can and will use voicemail to leave a message.)
    If a calling number (esp. if it is odd or similar to other problematic numbers) is a sales call – or survey or unwanted charity or whatever – OR if they don’t leave a message at all, I block it using my phone which allows easily adding it to an (editable) list of up to 250 entries.
    About a year in, I have about 90 entries, and with discipline can stamp out any new burst of attempts almost right away, and I answer zero annoyance calls. I have basically solved the problem although every year or so I answer one in a busy situation where I’m already expecting a strange call, and it’s been this guy “from” Brotherhood of Poli… whose been doggedly pursuing me for at least 15 years because I asked them to mail me something detailing what would be done with those $, which they never did.
    Further upside, a huge bonus: phone (can I say Panas..) has a setting to supress the first ring (so the blocking function has time to read the call and not ring at all) – but it still lights up – so now I get a silent visual cue about 3 seconds before telephone is about to ring, which turns out to be a huge stress reducer. Never would have thought of that mattering, but I never want to be without that again!
    Only annoyance, hearing the phone ring 3 times (I see the face light and ID if I look, but don’t hear first ring) until voicemail grabs any unfamiliar call. Then I can block it and done.
    (Blocking function even allows blocking of ranges of numbers, although I haven’t needed that.)
    If you can resist picking up those calls (easy for me) then you are free – FREE I say – from this quotidian tyranny!! Ahem, sorry.

  24. It doesdn’t matter that your number is not listed . I asked one caller how they got my number, they said they call every number in the exchange. Example 879-555-0000, 0001,0002, 0003 and so on. There are no unlisted numbers anymore.

  25. When I get a false new message on my voicemail I found out the easiest way to get rid of it is to call from a different phone to my cell & leave a message. Then I play back the message on my cell’s voicemail & delete it that also removes the lase message.

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