Spam calls on mobile devices are an annoyance we’ve been dealing with for years. For some people, it’s a daily occurrence.
Robocalls are an automated version of these spam calls, where a spammer sends out recorded calls to millions of callers at once.
Not every unknown call that shows up on your phone is going to be a spam call, it could be a long-lost friend who wants to get in touch.
But, if it is a robocall, spam call, or telemarketer you’ll want to know how to keep this annoyance out of your life and keep your information and finances safe from scammers – and stop robocalls for good.
What is Robocalling?
A robocall is an automated phone call that uses an autodialer to deliver a pre-recorded message. Even if you don’t answer the phone when a robo-dialer calls you, you still might get a pre-recorded voicemail.
Most robocalls are trying to sell you something, while others are scams.
The biggest difference between robocalls and other spam and telemarketer calls is that a robocall is a prerecorded message instead of a live person.
Unwanted robocalls are illegal unless you’ve given permission to a company or individual to contact you that way. So, if you’re already receiving a robocall without your permission, then there’s a good chance it’s a scam.
However, some robocalls are legal, including:
- Informational robocalls that deliver information about an appointment, updates to a flight or booking, delayed, or school cancellations, and more.
- Political calls about a candidate.
- Calls from your health care providers, including calls about refilling your prescription.
- Calls from charities requesting donations from prior donors.
- Calls about debt collection, however, don’t confuse this with calls about debt consolidation or debt reduction.
Robocalls can be a variation of spam calling and telemarketing calls, depending on the nature of the call. It can even take the form of spam text messages.
What is Call Blocking?
Call blocking is the process of using technology or applications to stop unwanted and unknown callers from reaching your phone or causing your phone to ring.
These unwanted calls can be scam calls, telemarketers, or illegal robocalls. There are a variety of different options you’ll have to block calls based on the phone you’re using, whether that’s a mobile phone, landline, or even a VoIP phone.
Call blocking can help to stop most unwanted calls you receive, however, keep in mind that sometimes real calls can get filtered out by call blocking technologies as well.
How to Activate Robocall Blocking
There are a variety of tools and applications you can use to try and stop robocalls from getting through to your phone.
Block Numbers Individually
This will be more time consuming, but whenever you see that you’ve gotten a robocall or other spam call you can block it and add it to your block list using the features of your iPhone or Android.
If you’re an Apple iOS user, you can tap the blue icon to the right of the number you want to block and select “Block this Caller.”
If you’re on Android, then go to your recent calls, press on the number you want to block for a second, and select “Block/report spam.”
This might take a lot of work, but it can help to stop persistent spammers calling from the same number. Don’t forget you can also set your phone on do not disturb, which will block all calls while the feature is active.
Block Anonymous Calls on Landline
If you have a landline at home, then look for a feature that blocks anonymous calls, or calls with a strange number. On your landline caller ID robocalls will come up as “unknown”, “private”, or “blocked”.
Ask your landline service provider to activate the call protect functionality. This might be included in your plan, or you’ll have to pay an additional monthly fee.
Use Carrier Tools
A lot of mobile phone companies, like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint have developed tools to help keep robocalls and annoying spam calls at bay. Some carriers will have free spam blocking built into your plan, while others will have you pay monthly for an upgrade.
The software and its features will depend upon your provider, but most won’t completely block the calls, instead, it’ll give you a warning that the incoming call is likely to be a spam call.
From there you can decide to block the number or answer the call.
Setup Built-in Phone Features
Most Android phones have built-in options for adding a call filter. On the Google Pixel phone, the entire screen will turn red when a scammer calls, so you’ll be able to see if a spammer is calling at a glance.
On iPhone devices, there’s a feature that will block all callers who aren’t in your contacts list, or haven’t texted, or been in contact with in some way. You can also create a whitelist of callers who can always reach out.
Use an App to Block Robocalls
There are several call blocking apps you can use to block robocalls and all kinds of spam calls. Usually, these are third-party apps you’ll have to install an app on your phone, like Nomorobo, Hiya, or Robokiller, and configure your settings.
The best thing about using these call-blocking services is they consistently update the list of nuisance callers. When suspected spam calls come in, they’ll get routed through the app, and if the number is listed, then the call won’t go through.
Most of these apps do have a monthly or yearly fee, but if you’re getting inundated with calls, then this can be a great option.
How to Stop Telemarketing Calls
If in-person telemarketers are your issue and not automated robocalls, then implement some of the tips below:
Don’t Answer Unknown Calls
The first step is just to not pick up your phone. Have a rule that you don’t answer your phone if you don’t recognize the number.
If it’s a loved one or friend calling from a number you don’t recognize, then they’ll leave a voicemail or send a text that you can read afterward.
If you do answer your phone when you get a robocall or a call from a telemarketer, then you’ll be marked in their system as an active caller. Even if you hang up immediately, you can expect more calls since they now know the number is real.
Put Your Number on the Do Not Call List
The National Do Not Call Registry is a list that bans telemarketers from calling your number.
Keep in mind that it can take up to 31 days for this to become active once you’ve added your smartphone or landline number to the list.
Block Specific Numbers on Your Phone
If you’ve got a call from a robo-caller or spam number, then you can block the number on your phone. Most Android phones and iPhones have a built-in feature that lets you quickly block numbers. There are also built-in features that attempt to identify and block spam calls, so they never ring on your phone.
If everything above doesn’t work and you’re still getting calls, then you might want to answer the phone and say “Put me on your do not call list”. Make sure you don’t say anything else or engage with them in any way.
If you still keep getting calls from the same number, then you can ask to speak to their manager and ask the manager to put you on their do not call list.
If that still doesn’t work then you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the FCC. If you’ve listed your number on the Do Not Call list and you’ve spoken to them and asked them not to call, it’s against the law for them to continue calling you.
Keeping Yourself Safe from Spam and Robocalls
Your first line of defense between robot, spam, and fraud calls is blocking them before they ever reach your device.
But, if a scam call or robocall does make its way through, there are some things you can do to ensure you don’t get scammed:
- If you do answer and realize that you’re talking to a scammer, then hang up the phone.
- If it’s someone claiming to be from the IRS, or another government agency it’s most likely a scam.
- If you don’t recognize the area code, then don’t answer the phone.
- If you’re on the fence about it being a scam and think it might be an actual business, then ask questions. Real businesses will take time to answer and won’t pressure you into making quick decisions.
- Don’t give out any personal information, or financial information over the phone.
- Don’t press any buttons or follow the instructions of a robocall, this can confirm your number and have it added to the call list.
- Don’t give your credit card information, even if it’s just for a delivery or setup fee. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Reporting Robocalls and Spam Calls
If you want to silence unknown callers in the future there are a variety of actions you can take:
- Have your number listed on donotcall.gov and other available do not call websites
- File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, if it’s an actual business
- If you have been scammed make sure you file a report with your law enforcement officials as soon as possible
What is Spoofing?
A lot of times you’ll get calls that look like they’re from your local area. It’ll include your local area code and sometimes even the first few digits of your phone number.
This uses what’s known as spoofing, or neighborhood spoofing. Robocallers, spam callers, and telemarketers will use this ploy to try to get you to answer, thinking it’s someone you know.
How to Make Sure it’s a Robocall or Spam Call
The call you’re getting from a strange number might not always be a robo-caller or spam caller. It could be someone with a strange number trying to get in touch with you.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if the number is indeed a telemarketer:
What Time of Day Did They Call?
Live telemarketers can only call during the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM, if you receive a call outside of these hours it might be a normal call.
What Device Did They Call?
It can be illegal for a telemarketer to call a landline phone or emergency line. However, the laws are different depending on where you live.
Did You Get a Voicemail or Text?
If you didn’t get a voicemail or text after the missed call, then it’s probably a telemarketer or wrong number.
What Does the Number Look Like?
Most telemarketers will call you using a toll-free number that starts with 800, 855, 888, 877, or 866. If you get a call from a number that begins with these digits it’s going to be a telemarketer.
What’s the Area Code?
Sometimes, you’ll get calls from outside the country to bypass US-based telemarketer guides. If you get a call from outside the country don’t answer as you may incur charges just by picking up.
How Do Telemarketers and Robocallers Get Your Number?
It might be frustrating to continually get robocalls, even though you never gave away your number. However, there are a few sneaky ways that telemarketers and robo-callers can get your number.
You Signed Up for a Free Credit Card Offer
If you’ve joined anything like a contest, joined a loyalty program, or signed up for a free credit card offers, and listed your personal cell phone number, then this number could be part of a database that’s been sold to telemarketers.
You Donated to Charity or a Non-Profit
Sometimes if you’ve donated to charity your phone number could be added to a list of potential donors. Non-profits and other fundraising organizations often use telemarketers to make calls on their behalf. If you do keep getting calls to donate, you can ask to be placed on their do not call list.
You Called an 800 Number
Toll-free numbers have a system called Automatic Number Identification (ANI). If you’ve called a toll-free number, then your number is identified, matched with your name, and can then be sold to other telemarketers to call in the future.
You Installed an App
The terms and services of an app or service you joined could spell out the right to sell your data, including your phone number. If this is the case your phone number and other contact information could have been sold to a telemarketer.
Running a Reverse Phone Lookup On Unknown Numbers
If you received a call from an unknown number you can use a reverse phone number lookup tool to see if the call was from an actual person, or if it was from a bot.
When you run a search, if no information comes up, then it’s probably a bot, spam caller, or telemarketer.
Information a Reverse Phone Lookup Can Provide
If you want to learn more about the number, before deciding to classify it as spam or robocall, then a reverse lookup tool can provide you with a variety of information like:
The Name of the Person
If the number is associated with an actual person, then the report should show their full name. It could also pull up any known nicknames, or maiden name.
The Location of the Person
Beyond the name, you can also get physical location information about where the owner of the phone has lived in the past, or currently lives.
Business Associated With the Number
If the number that called is a business number, then the report will pull up all relevant business information.
It might even show their website, address, social media profiles, and any other business information available about the business.
Type of Phone That Called
The report can also show the type of phone that called you, whether that’s a landline or mobile phone. It might even break down to the type of mobile phone that called, whether that’s an iPhone or Android phone.
Additional Contact Information
Beyond the phone number, the report can also list the email address, social profiles, personal websites, and more useful contact information you can use to follow up with the person if you wish.
Landline Phone Number Search
If you’re doing a free reverse lookup for a landline, then you can expect to find more information. This is public information that you’ve been able to find via the white pages for years.
- The owner’s name
- Physical location
- Relatives and family members
- Relevant business information
Cell Phone Number Search
A free reverse lookup for a cell phone won’t bring up as much information. But, it can include the name, along with the city and state where the number is located.
Additional information will usually require a premium account since cell phone and aggregate data is more expensive to process.