Telemarketers have been a thorn in the side of humankind for decades. And while technology offers more options for blocking unwanted calls, it also makes spammers more agile than ever before. Here’s what to do when you get a spam call or text message, and how to avoid them.
If you haven’t noticed, scammers have gotten smart. These days, many use computers to “spoof” the number they appear to be calling from, meaning they can call from thousands upon thousands of different numbers to mask their identity. Often, they’ll use numbers with the same first six digits as your own number, in order to look like someone in your neighborhood. That makes them notoriously hard to block, but there are some things you can try.
Block and Report Individual Numbers
First thing’s first: There’s a difference between spammers and scammers. Sometimes, you may get unwanted calls and messages from a company you’ve done business with or a charity you’ve donated to. If you know the call is coming from a legitimate entity, feel free to ask to be taken off the list. Good companies will (hopefully) abide by your wishes.
Scammers, on the other hand, do not follow the rules — they’re usually ne’er-do-wells trying to steal your money. If you get a call or text message that’s obviously a scam — as many robocalls are — do not engage. Don’t dial any numbers in their automated menu, don’t reply to any text messages with “STOP,” don’t even talk. That’ll only convince the callers that the number is in service, and they’ll keep calling you back.
If the caller is a company that refuses to take you off its list or is a full-on scammer you can’t get rid of, you can block the number and report it, in an effort to prevent more calls or texts of that nature.
Some smartphones running Google’s Android operating system can report spam calls from within the Phone app, though this varies from device to device. On a phone with “vanilla” Android (like Google’s Pixel line), open your recent calls list, tap on the number in question, and choose Block/Report Spam. Other phones may be able to block numbers following similar instructions, but will not necessarily give you the option to report them as spam — though some carriers, like AT&T, will let you report spam calls from the web.
Apple’s iPhone doesn’t yet have a spam reporting feature for calls, though you can prevent a number from calling you again. Open the Phone app and find the call in your Recents list. Tap the button marked “i” and scroll down to Block this Caller to block them. The iPhone should get more robust spam reporting options this fall with the release of iOS 12.
Reporting text messages is a little bit easier: No matter what phone you have, just forward the text message to SPAM (7726). Most carriers participate in a service that will use this information to try and block future spammers. (Android users can also report text messages by going to the menu, then People & Options, then Block and checking Report as Spam. This sends the message to Google as well as your carrier, so Google can improve their spam blocking filters as well.) Users of iPhones can report blue-bubble iMessages as spam with the Report Junk link that appears below messages from unknown users.
Lastly, you can also put your number on the Do Not Call list and report unwanted calls to the Federal Trade Commission, which will ask for a bunch of information about the nature of the call and add it to its database.
None of these steps guarantee that the calls will stop, however. Scammers are getting smart, and they may just call from another number — but this process will help the F.T.C., Google and the cellphone carriers combat the problem in the long run.
Filter Spam Calls in Bulk
By reporting the call or text, you’ve done your part to fight the scourge of telemarketers and spammers. But if you’re still getting truckloads of spam calls, you can take your call-blocking to the next level.
Android users can enable Google’s built-in spam filtering from the Phone app. Tap the three dots in the corner and choose Settings, then head to Caller ID & Spam. Enable the option to filter suspected spam calls. From then on, instead of merely warning you that a call might be spam, Google will prevent that call from ringing your phone entirely.
The iPhone doesn’t have an option to filter these calls, but both Android and iPhone users can filter spammers and scammers at the carrier level, too. All four of the major carriers in the United States have apps and services to help you do so:
Verizon users can download the Caller Name ID app, subscribe to the service for $2.99 per month and enable the spam filter option from within the app.
AT&T customers can enable the AT&T Call Protect feature, which will automatically block fraudulent calls and warn you of suspected scammers. A companion app lets you track those calls and provides other features. They offer a “Plus” version of the service for $3.99 per month that offers reverse-number searches and enhanced caller ID.
T-Mobile users will, by default, be notified of suspected scammers when they call. But you can also activate an optional account feature called Scam Block which prevents those scammers from getting through to your number at all.
Sprint provides a $2.99 per month service called Premium Caller ID that tries to identify numbers that aren’t in your address book, warning you if it suspects a spam call. It cannot automatically block incoming calls, however.
There are also plenty of third-party apps that contain massive databases of spam numbers and lots of options for blocking them. Hiya (free) and Robokiller ($2.49 per month) are two of the most popular. In fact, some of the carrier services mentioned above even partner with Hiya and Robokiller to use their databases.
The main difference is in how they block calls: Third-party apps can stop your phone from ringing, but your carrier can block the call earlier in the chain, sending the spammers a busy signal that will hopefully make them think your number is disconnected. Unfortunately, carrier services aren’t always available on prepaid plans, so third-party apps may be some people’s only choice.
Lastly, if all that sounds like too much hassle, you have one more option. It’s much easier, though far more intense: Just turn on Do Not Disturb for anyone not in your contacts list.
On Android, head to Settings, then Sound, then Do Not Disturb Preferences and then Priority Only Allows. Here, you can select From Contacts Only for calls and messages. Then, drag the notification shade down from the top of the phone to see your Quick Settings, and turn on Do Not Disturb, set to Priority Only. Any calls from people not in your contacts will go straight to voice mail. (If you have a Samsung phone, this option is a little simpler: Open the Phone app and head to Call Settings, then Block Number and Block Unknown Callers.)
On the iPhone, you can do this by heading to Settings, then Do Not Disturb, then Allow Calls From and choosing All Contacts. Then, back in the Do Not Disturb page, toggle on Do Not Disturb.
This option guarantees that your phone won’t ring for any spammers or scammers, which makes it incredibly appealing. Of course, some legitimate calls will get blocked as well, if you don’t have the caller’s number in your address book — but voice mail will always be there to catch those people, and you can call them back promptly.
Unfortunately, with so many potential spam numbers, Do Not Disturb is the only catchall option — number spoofing makes blocking them one by one all but impossible. Spam-blocking services have massive databases that are constantly being updated, and that can do a decent job. The F.T.C. has also sponsored multiple initiatives to intelligently predict and prevent robocalls, which should provide hope for the future — but none of these are a silver bullet just yet. The curse of spam calls won’t be ending soon, but for now, you can at least fight back a little with these tricks.
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