Tired of those annoying spam calls? Here’s how to stop them

Your phone rings and you see “unknown number” as the caller ID. You can choose to ignore it, but if you’re waiting for a response from someone, maybe a potential job offer or even an installer, you get it back. And you quickly realize that this is not the call you expected. Instead, it’s a spam call.

This year only, Americans expected to receive over 52 billion robocallswhich breaks down to around 1 billion calls every 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 “probably scam” calls, but there are also more sophisticated attacks, which involve spoofing local numbers, as well as those of popular companies, to trick you into giving up your personal information and money. More recently, these attacks have shifted to SMS, where there are Phishing SMS from your own phone number.

No matter what the calls say, one thing is certain: they have to stop.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission aimed to solve the problem of robocalls by requiring major wireless carriers to start using Stir/Shaken technology. Stir/Shake checks all incoming and outgoing calls for wireless carriers passing through their networks. By verifying every call, carriers can reduce the number of fake or spoofed calls. But that only stops robocalls on one avenue – it’s not the ultimate solution. You may still receive unwanted calls for free trips or fake notices that your student loan payment is overdue.

Read more: CNET interview with FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel

You can learn more about Stir/Shake here. As the FCC continues its crusade, keep reading this story to learn what you can do to reduce the number of times your phone rings throughout the day with calls from potential scammers.

How to minimize annoying robocalls

According to the FCC, you can take a few simple steps to help 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 one.
  • Do not answer questions that can be answered with “Yes”.
  • If someone calls you claiming to be from XYZ Company, hang up and call the company yourself. 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 where you are asked to press a number before being connected to a representative.

When you answer a call and interact with the voice prompt or 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 frequently.

When first launched, Google call screen The feature arguably went against FCC advice by answering and interacting with the robocall on your behalf. However, Google has added new features to the call screen for his Pixel phone range. The feature can now detect robocalls and spam calls and block them before they reach you. Google Assistant will interact with the caller and if it determines the call is legitimate, it will route it to your phone.

Apple’s iPhone has the possibility of Silence unknown callers, which adds the ability to route calls from numbers not found in your contacts, mail or messages directly to voicemail. Any legitimate caller can leave a message. But here’s the catch: We often get important calls from numbers we don’t store on our phones, like a doctor’s office or a repairman, so you might miss important calls that way. But if all else fails and you’re desperate to stop the robocalls, this is a valid option.

If you receive a lot of spam, you can forward the message to the number 7726 (which spells “spam”). This won’t stop the number from texting you right away, but it will allow your carrier to figure out where it came from and terminate it.

Call screen feature on a Google Pixel phone

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

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Check with your mobile operator

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

  • AT&T Call Protection The app is available for iOS and Android. The free version blocks spam and fraudulent calls and provides pop-up 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 number lookup, and personalized call controls.
  • Verizon Call Screen the app is automatically activated for Android users on a postpaid plan. 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 per month (or $8 per month for three or more lines of service) for caller ID, spam search, personal block list, and spam risk indicator. Call Filter is built into most Android devices out of the box (which you’ve probably been asked), but it’s also available in the App Store for iOS users.
  • T-Mobile’s Scam Shield is free to all customers and includes several features designed to protect you from robocalls and the sharing of your personal information. Dial #662# from your phone to activate Scam Block, or download the free Scam Shield app from your phone’s respective app store. With Scam Shield enabled, you’ll get full caller ID, scam reporting, block scams before your phone rings, and the ability to mark numbers as favorites so they always ring your phone.

Use another mobile operator? I suggest calling their customer service or visiting their website to see if they offer a similar service.

Use a firewall on an iPhone XS

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

Jason Cipriani/CNET

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

If your provider doesn’t offer an app or service to reduce robocalls, or if it’s too expensive, there are plenty of third-party apps available. You want to find an app that works on your device, offers automatic call blocking and spam alerts for suspicious calls, and makes it easy to report a number if a call goes through.

Hiya is a free app that I have been using for some time on Android and iOS with success. It comes 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 activate the built-in service in the Phone app under Settings > Caller ID and Spam Protection. Setup is straightforward 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 functionality include YouMail and RoboKiller.

Using the Hiya app on an iPhone

Hiya offers robust call screening.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

The Firewall application is only available on the iPhone and does a fantastic job of blocking calls. In case you need to make a call for which you’d rather not use your real phone number, the $4 per month subscription provides unlimited one-time fake phone numbers.

Another option is to sign up for a free Google Voice phone number which you can use to sign up instead of giving out your real number – and once the robocalls start coming in to that Google Voice number, use the blockage. Just be aware that blocking calls can end up being a lot of work, as call bots are constantly spoofing different phone numbers.

None of the solutions above are perfect, but they complete the integration of technology now required by the carrier to verify caller ID spoofing. So right now you need to do some extra work to keep the number of robocalls you receive to a minimum. Between being careful with calls from unknown numbers and using a service (paid or free), you can reduce the number of unwanted and spam calls you have to deal with.

In short, carriers have started to use Stir/Shaken technology to verify callers, which so far has not significantly reduced the number of robocalls we all receive. So for those who have an iPhone, learn where the setting is to block unknown callers, but keep in mind that using it may mean you miss calls from doctor’s offices etc. And for those who have a Pixel phone, Google call screen feature will surely help you, and may even entertain you.

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