Tired of those annoying spam calls? Here’s How To Stop Them

Your phone will ring and you will see “unknown number” as the caller ID. You can choose to ignore it, but if you’re waiting to hear from someone, maybe a potential job offer or even an installation person, pick it up. And you soon realize that this isn’t the phone call you were expecting. Instead, it’s a spam call.

Only this year Americans are expected to receive more than 52 billion robocallswhich equates to about 1 billion calls per week, according to YouMail, a company that specializes in blocking them.

And these calls come in all shapes and sizes. You’re probably familiar with the good old “scam-probable” calls, but there are also more sophisticated attacks, which involve spoofing local numbers, as well as those of popular companies, to convince you to give up your personal information and cash. More recently, these attacks have moved to texting, where there are phishing text messages that come from your own phone number

Whatever the calls say, one thing is certain: they have to stop.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission set out to solve the robocall problem by requiring major wireless carriers to: use Stir/Shaken technology† Stir/Shake verifies all incoming and outgoing calls for wireless carriers that are routed through their networks. By verifying every call, carriers can reduce the number of fake or spoofed calls. But it only stops robocalls one way – it’s not all. You can still get spam calls for free travel or false messages that your student debt has been paid late.

read moreCNET’s Interview with FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel

You can read more about Stir/shake here† As the FCC continues its crusade, keep reading this story for things you can do to reduce the number of times your phone rings throughout the day with calls from would-be fraudsters.

How to keep annoying robocalls to a minimum

According to the FCC, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce robocalls:

  • Do not answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers.
  • Do not answer calls from numbers you do not recognize.
  • Don’t assume an incoming call is really from a local number just because it looks like it is.
  • Do not respond to questions that can be answered with ‘yes’.
  • If someone calls you and claims to be with the XYZ company, hang up and call the company itself. Use the company’s website to find an official number.
  • If you answer a call and hear a recording, such as “Hello, can you hear me?” just hang up.
  • The same goes for a call that asks you to press a number before being transferred to a representative.

When you answer a call and communicate with the voice prompt or by pressing a number, it lets spammers know that your number is real. They can then sell your number to another company or start targeting your number more often.

When it was first launched, Google call screen position demonstrably went against the advice of the FCC by answering and communicating with the robocall on your behalf. However, Google added new features to Call Screen be first Pixel phone lineup† The feature can now detect and block robocalls and spam calls before they reach you. The Google Assistant communicates with the caller and if it determines that the call is legitimate, it forwards the call to your phone.

Apple’s iPhone has an option to Silence unknown callers, which adds the option to route calls from numbers not in your Contacts, Mail, or Messages directly to your voicemail. Any legitimate caller can leave a message. But that’s the problem: We often receive important calls from numbers that we don’t store on our phones, such as a doctor’s office or repairman, so you can miss important calls this way. But if all else fails and you’re desperate to stop robocalls, this is a valid option.

If you find yourself receiving a lot of spam text messages, you can forward the message to the number 7726 (which means “spam”). It won’t stop the number from texting you right away, but it will allow your carrier to see where it came from and put a stop to it.

Call screen feature on a Google Pixel phone

Call screening is a feature on Google’s Pixel phones.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Contact your wireless carrier

All four major wireless carriers offer some type of call blocking. They all have a free option and a premium tier. But let’s face it, all robocall blocking services should be free. This should not be a way for carriers to make some money off us.

  • Call Security from AT&T app is available for iOS and Android. The free version blocks spam and fraud calls and offers nuisance warning labels and a personal block list, and you can block all unknown callers. Call Protect Plus costs $4 per month per line, with added benefits of caller ID for unknown numbers, reverse lookup, and custom call controls.
  • Verizon Call Filter app is automatically turned on for Android users with a postpaid subscription. The service offers spam detection, a spam filter, a call log for blocked or spam calls, the ability to allow calls from specific numbers (iOS only), and the ability to report numbers for free. You can pay $3 a month (or $8 a month for three or more lines of service) for caller ID, spam lookup, a personal block list, and a spam risk meter. Call Filter is built into most Android devices by default (which you’ve probably been asked about), but is also available on the App Store for iOS users.
  • T-Mobile’s Scam Shield is free for all customers and includes multiple features designed to protect you from robocalls and sharing of your personal information. Dial #662# from your phone to enable Scam Block, or download the free Scam Shield app from your phone’s respective app store. With Scam Shield enabled, you get full caller ID, scam reporting, scam blocking before your phone ever rings, and the option to mark songs as favorites so they still ring on your phone.

Using a different wireless provider? I recommend calling customer service or visiting the website to see if it offers a similar service.

Using a firewall on an iPhone XS

Firewall takes a new approach to prevent spam and robocalls from reaching your phone.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use a third-party app to limit the number of robocalls you get

If your carrier doesn’t offer an app or service to reduce robocalls, or does, but it’s too expensive, there are plenty of third-party apps out there. You want to find an app that works on your device, provides automatic call blocking and spam notifications for suspicious calls, and makes it easy to report a number when a call comes in.

Hiya is a free app that I have been using successfully on Android and iOS for a while now. It’s from the same company that powers AT&T’s Call Protect app, as well as Samsung’s built-in call blocking and spam protection service. Samsung Galaxy owners can enable the built-in service in the Phone app under SettingsCaller ID and Spam protection† Setup is painless and provides an easy way to report a number.

Nomorobo is the service Verizon uses for its Fios users, but it also has a phone app. The service is free for VoIP users and costs $2 per month for mobile users. Additional services with similar capabilities include YouMail and RoboKiller

Using the Hiya app on an iPhone

Hiya offers robust call screening.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

The Firewall app is only available on the iPhone and does a fantastic job of blocking calls. In the event that you need to make calls that you’d rather not use your real phone number for, the $4 per month plan offers unlimited one-time use fake phone numbers.

Another option is to sign up for a free Google Voice phone number that you can use to sign up for stuff instead of giving out your real number — and once the robocalls come in on that Google Voice number, use the blocking function. Keep in mind that blocking calls can be a lot of work because robocallers are constantly spoofing different phone numbers.

None of the above solutions are perfect, but they complement the technology integration by the carrier now needed to check for Caller ID spoofing. So at this point you need to do some extra work to minimize the number of robocalls you receive. By being careful with calls from unknown numbers and using a service (paid or free), you can reduce the number of unwanted calls and spam you deal with.

Basically, carriers have started using Stir/Shaken technology to authenticate callers, which so far has not significantly reduced the number of robocalls we all receive. So for those with an iPhone, learn where the setting is to block unknown callers, but remember that using it may mean missing calls from doctor’s offices and the like. And for those with a Pixel phone, Google’s Call Screen feature will certainly help, and may even entertain you.

1 thought on “Tired of those annoying spam calls? Here’s How To Stop Them”

Comments are closed.