Robocallers, spam callers, and scammers can keep your phone ringing day and night. What can we do to make it stop?
Modern security measures, like two-factor authentication, have turned your cellphone into a skeleton key – if a scammer can access your phone, they can access just about any of your other accounts too. So, though your phone is your first line of defense against privacy invasion, it’s also a really big target.
While it’s common to see spam calls and texts as little more than a nuisance, if you’re receiving a constant barrage of spam, then you’re currently being targeted by someone, somewhere. Simply interacting with these messages, even if they’re seemingly harmless, could open the gates to a much bigger problem.
That’s why we’ve created this guide. You shouldn’t live with the hassle of spam, and you certainly shouldn’t put up with the constant security vulnerability it presents. We’re going to give you actionable advice on how to stop robocalls on your phone and protect your privacy.
Quick Overview of What We'll Cover
The Types of Robocalls
Before we talk about how to stop robocalls and spam, let’s take a moment to get our definitions straight. Robocalls (which refer to calls with prerecorded messages) aren’t inherently illegal. Despite the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) raising the alarm on a constant stream of illegal robocalls, there are permissible (and even helpful) types of robocalls too.
This leads a lot of people to a tricky question: how do I know if a robocall is a scam? The answer is clearer than you think. Here’s what you need to know. The only circumstance in which callers can send you unsolicited recorded messages (robocalls) is if they’re:
- Political or Charitable Organizations: Political candidates and charitable organizations asking for donations can make robocalls.
- Entities You’ve Done Businesses With: If you’ve made an appointment at an auto repair shop or the local dentist, they can use a robocall to contact you. This extends to banks and telephone carriers too.
- Purely Informational Calls: Robocalls regarding basic information like appointment cancellations, prescription updates, flight confirmations, and more are all allowed. This also extends to debt collection, as long as the debt collector doesn’t try to sell services via recorded messages.
That’s it. All other robocalls can be safely assumed to be at least suspicious and at worst clear attempts at a scam. If you receive any of the following types of scam calls, understand that you’re dealing with an entity that has already broken the law by contacting you (so what else are they willing to do?):
- Marketing Robocalls: It is illegal to receive unsolicited marketing robocalls. Unless someone has your signed permission, they cannot use recorded messages to sell anything to you. The fines are very steep for this behavior, so this is normally a sign of a scam rather than a true marketing call.
- Imposter Robocalls: As the FTC reported, government imposter robocalls are very common. The government will never ask for you to wire money, to enter your SSN, or to send you a tax return via robocall. These are scams.
- Other Suspicious Robocalls: There’s no shortage of creative ways scammers can use robocalls to trick you. The key to their social engineering strategy is making you concerned for your own safety or finances, such as making a fake debt collection call and asking you to verify your identity for more information. If you’re ever in doubt about a robocall, immediately hang up and locate the official number of the entity they pretended to be.
How do Scammers Get my Phone Number?
According to YouMail’s Robocall Index, in just the first eight months of 2020, nearly 4 billion robocalls have been made. While some of these prerecorded messages can be useful, such as appointment and prescription reminders, the vast majority are intrusive and illegal.
Before sharing how to stop robocalls, we’re going to see three of the most common ways scammers get your phone number in the first place:
- Your Data Has Been Sold: Now that just about every app and website requires account creation and an (often blind) agreement to terms and conditions, you never really know what you’re signing up for. Some of these services could be collecting and selling your data. While not illegal, this practice could put your sensitive information in the wrong hands. Whenever you sign up for nonessential apps or sites, avoid agreeing to terms without reading them and use throwaway email addresses and generated phone numbers (such as from Google Voice) to shield your real information.
- Random Dialing: While it’s more likely that spam and scam robocalls are being made from a call sheet (typically sourced from data broker or people-search site databases), the call may have been random. These robocalls may be checking for active phone numbers. Once you interact with the call, you may experience more sophisticated scam attempts.
- People-Search Sites: Data brokers and people-search sites have a big part to play in just about every modern scam you can think of. There’s simply no easier way for scammers to get a huge packet of your personal information, including addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, family relations, and so much more. This information is often collected from public records, and sometimes it even includes very sensitive information, such as your Social Security Number. People-search sites are notoriously difficult to remove your information from, but the OneRep team has created a solution that automates the process, as you’ll see next.
9 Tips to Block Robocalls, Scam Calls, and Spam Calls
Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with the danger of robocalls, let’s take a look at the five actionable things you can do to stop robocalls as soon as possible.
1. Remove Yourself from People-Search Sites
This is one of the most effective ways to block robocalls. As we mentioned earlier, people-search sites essentially roundup as much of your personal data as possible, create a profile of you using your name and family relations, and then publish it so anyone can find it. Even seemingly innocuous information can be leveraged by scammers to gain more sensitive information. Having your phone number included on your profile is almost guaranteed since this information is so easy to find. Removing it is key to stopping robocalls.
That means anyone who takes the time to access your profile can find your phone number – and so much more. Many scammers use programs to scrape together as many numbers from these sites as they can, and then attack them with robocalls. In this way, data brokers and people-search sites are often the first place scammers go to find your number.
Rather than visiting hundreds of people-search sites and manually completing their opt-out processes, you can use OneRep. Our online privacy tool will search the web for your data on people-search sites and then automatically complete the opt-out process to take it down. We then continuously monitor existing and new people-search sites to make sure your data doesn’t keep popping up. This is a great way to stop robocalls – by keeping your number out of scammers’ hands to begin with.
2. Choose the Right Carrier for Your Cell Phone
This is a less obvious tip on how to block robocalls, but some phone carriers have really robust spam and robocall blocking apps or services. We’re going to give you a really quick overview of what each major carrier has to offer below:
- Verizon Block Robocalls: If you use Verizon wireless, block robocalls and spam using their Call Filter service. This is a free spam screening and Caller ID service for anyone who already uses Verizon. They even display call alerts, marking potential spam calls as “SPAM?” so you can make an informed decision before you pick up. This makes stopping robocalls much easier.
- AT&T Block Robocalls: Much like Verizon’s Call Filter, there’s a free AT&T robocall block service called Call Protect. This is included in your wireless AT&T plan, and it helps block spam and manage unwanted calls from telemarketers. For enhanced security, there’s also a premium edition called Call Protect Plus, which includes the AT&T Mobile Security Plus service.
- T-Mobile/Sprint Block Robocalls: This is the most robust carrier solution out there. T-Mobile (which recently merged with Sprint) uses ScamShield as their robocall block service. It gives you control over various T-Mobile anti-scam protections like Scam ID, Scam Block, and Caller ID. It even includes some really advanced security options, such as letting you change your number for free once a year and giving you a proxy number when you don’t want to give out your real number. This service is entirely free if you have an existing plan with this carrier.
3. Take Advantage of Device Protection Settings for iPhone and Android Phones
Most phones come with useful device protection settings. While these aren’t always as robust as some of the best apps to stop robocalls or phone carrier programs, they’re worth turning on for an extra layer of security. Here are the options the two major phone manufacturers offer:
- How to Block Robocalls on iPhone: There are few useful features to block robocalls on iPhones. One is the “Silence Unknown Callers” option. This blocks all numbers that aren’t already saved in your contacts. You can also easily set up a third-party app to filter and detect spam calls within the “Call Blocking & Identification” settings page.
- How to Block Robocalls on Android: Similar to iOS, you can assign apps to block robocalls within the Android settings page. Some Android devices also let you block calls from all unknown numbers (those not in your contacts). Otherwise, you can block numbers one-by-one in the default Phone app.
4. Use Third-Party “Stop Robocalls” Apps
Most carriers and phone manufacturers let users select third-party “stop robocalls” apps. These are really sophisticated programs that make identifying and blocking robocalls easy. In this section, we’re going to talk about a few of the best apps to stop robocalls, spam calls, and spam texts.
- Nomorobo: Nomorobo is consistently considered one of the best apps to stop robocalls. It even won the Federal Trade Commission’s “FTC Robocall Challenge.” Their landline service is free, but the Android and iOS apps cost $1.99 per month. For top-tier protection, that’s pretty good value. However, there are free alternatives for blocking robocalls too.
- YouMail: YouMail is another great “stop robocalls” app. While its free plan has some limitations, it offers a comprehensive call blocking service on-par with Hiya. The paid plans are a big step up, but the first personal tier costs $5.99 a month. If you’re willing to pay, Nomorobo may be the cheaper and better way to go. Either way, these platforms make blocking robocalls much easier than doing it manually.
- Hiya: Hiya is free, and it’s also considered one of the best apps to stop robocalls. The streamlined app interface makes it easy to identify calls and block numbers and texts that you want to avoid. It includes useful features like a reverse phone search option for incoming calls, spam alerts, and a call blacklist.
5. Stop Robocalls on Your Landline
If you’re using a landline phone, you can’t do much better than Nomorobo. As the Washington Post covered, services to stop robocalls on landlines typically aren’t as advanced as they are on smartphones. While Nomorobo doesn’t work on copper-based phone lines, it does work on dozens of VoIP carriers (including Verizon Fios, Cox, Comcast Xfinity, and AT&T U-verse). This powerful robocall blocker is completely free for landlines.
6. Sign Up for the Do Not Call Registry
One of the easiest steps you can take to stop robocalls is to join the Do Not Call Registry. The FTC oversees the National Do Not Call Registry. It’s completely free to join, and you can add as many numbers as you’d like.
That said, keep in mind that the Do Not Call Registry provides no protection over scam calls – it’s simply a database that reputable telemarketers use to figure out who they can’t contact. Scammers are already willing to break the law by stealing your information, so they don’t really care if your number is listed or not.
7. Don’t Answer Suspicious or Unknown Calls
If you don’t regularly receive calls from unknown numbers, then you can safely assume that a suspicious call isn’t worth your time. We recommend just not picking up any unknown calls unless you have a reason to believe they’re legitimate.
From day-to-day, however, it’s better to ignore these calls. For more information on this, you can read our detailed guide on phone scams.
8. If You Pick Up, Never Interact with Robocalls or Suspicious Calls
Scammers love robocalls because they’re really inexpensive and they can run all day, contacting hundreds of people very quickly. This is called “phishing” – they’re trying to see who will be fooled by their imposter call. If you interact with the robocall, then it’s a safe bet that they can further scam you.
By interacting with unsolicited robocalls, you put yourself directly on the radar of more sophisticated scam attempts. This is especially true for robocalls that try to get you to respond “Yes,” entering you into a completely unknown agreement.
9. When in Doubt, Just Hang Up and Find the Official Number
If you are truly being contacted by a legitimate business or agency concerning an emergency or update, then there is zero risk in playing it safe. Hang up immediately (without speaking or otherwise interacting), search for the official phone number of that organization, and then ask a representative if the claim is real.
Robocalls are a huge problem, but with the right services, they’re pretty easy to avoid. You just need to know what to look for. By using the best “stop robocalls” apps, activating call filtering options on your cell phone, and learning a few common tricks that robocall scammers use to fool people, you can keep your information safe. For more information on how to stop robocalls, we recommend reading the FCC’s consumer guide.