Spam Calls Are the Worst: Here’s How You Can Stop Them
Americans received 30.5 billion robocalls last year, which is up 19% from 2016. That averages out to about one robocall every third day for every American adult. Wouldn’t you like to be able to block these spam calls, once and for all?
These calls may come from telemarketers or fraudsters. The caller may claim to be a charity soliciting donations; they may claim that you’ve won something, or they may promise a low credit card rate or a pre-approved loan. Anything that sounds too good to be true, or that you don’t remember signing up for or soliciting information on, is likely a scam.
It’s important to never give any information—not even your full name—to a caller that seems suspicious.
(Even if the call is from a legitimate company, that company may not be acting legally. For guidelines on what a telemarketer can and can’t do and how they must identify themselves, consult the Arkansas Attorney General’s guide to handling unwanted calls.)
Spam calls may come from an actual human, but more often than not, they’re dialed from a computer and programmed to deliver a pre-recorded message. These calls may be designed to promote a political candidate or sell you a product. Or sometimes, more sinisterly, they’re phishing, targeting your sensitive information, to be used in nefarious ways. It’s important to never give any information—not even your full name—to a caller that seems suspicious. If you’ve received a robocall, the best option is almost always to just hang up. If the caller is a human telemarketer and you are interested in a service they’re offering, ask for email verification (and offer your secondary, not your primary, email address). It’s a good idea to do a quick internet search as well, and make sure the service or product isn’t a known scam.
Political solicitation, weather alerts, flight notifications, etc. are examples of legal robocalls, approved by the Federal Trade Commission. Legal robocalls have to identify what organization they are calling from and provide an address or call-back number. Legal calls also have to honor the Do Not Call Registry.
How To Recognize Phone Scams, Phishing and Fraud
First off, realize that robocallers have figured out how to “spoof” caller ID, so that it appears they are calling from a local number. Some of the most common robocall scams include “free” vacation offers or fake tech support that request remote access to your computer or personal devices. You may also receive spam calls claiming to have “important information” about changes to your health policy or credit card account. The FCC warns that if you get a call from an unknown number, and the caller asks, “Can you hear me?” or “Do you pay most of the bills in your home?,” the call may be trying to record your own voice saying “yes,” to use as forged consent in authorizing charges.
Some of the most popular scams are robocallers that claim to be from the IRS, Social Security or the DMV. Never give out financial information over the phone. (The IRS always sends a paper tax bill in the mail before calling, FYI.)
How To Protect Yourself
The first step is to register your mobile and landlines on the Do Not Call Registry. Additionally, you can ask a company to put you on their internal Do Not Call list, and legally, they must honor your request.
You can also register complaints about spam calls at the Registry, or by calling (888) 225-5322 or faxing (866) 382-1222. It’s also a good idea to file a complaint with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Communications Commission.
Don’t pick up unknown calls, and if there’s a robot on the other end, don’t say anything or push any buttons. Simply hang up as soon as possible.
After receiving a sketchy call, particularly if you worry that you accidentally gave the caller personal information, make sure to check your billing statements for unrecognized charges. (If you dispute the charge and your bank or credit card company says they have a recording of you authorizing it, ask to hear the recording and take your dispute to the Federal Trade Commission.)
Set the “do not disturb” setting on your smartphone to only allow calls from your contact list. However, you may miss important calls from non-contacts this way. (These calls will be patched through to voicemail.)
Ask your service provider about spam-blocking services (which may have a monthly fee) or upgrading to a phone that automatically flags spam calls (some Google and Samsung options).
There Are Apps For That
The problem with the Registry and filing complaints is that spam callers are hard to stop, simply because when illegal calls are shut down from one number, the bad actor can start all over again with a new number.
You can take the additional measure of installing a spam-blocking app on your smartphone, such as Nomorobo, Hiya, Robokiller, Truecaller and YouMail. The latter two options are free, but usually these apps are a subscription service with a monthly or one-time fee. (Lifewire has a review of some call-blocking apps here.)