In November alone, Americans received an estimated 5.1 billion scam calls from automated machines – more than any month on record, according to YouMail’s robocall index.
That number was about 2.9 billion in the beginning of 2018, and the spike didn’t come out of nowhere. Consumer advocates worry the number will only continue to increase, now that the FCC has removed an Obama-era definition of auto-dialers that the agency thought was too broad.
In 2018, Americans were hit with 26.3 billion robocalls – a whopping 46% increase compared to 2017, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Federal agencies are taking action, holding robocallers accountable and searching for new ways to regulate as robocallers continue to become more sophisticated with their tactics. FCC chairman Ajit Pai sent a letter in November to more than a dozen phone providers demanding they adopt “a robust call authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing.” Pai warned that the FCC “will take action” if it doesn’t see any progress in creating such a system by 2019.
Policies are in the works to address “neighborhood spoofing,” which is the extremely effective tactic used by robocallers to make calls look like they’re coming from recipients’ own area code so they’re more willing to answer. So far, no policy has been successful in preventing those.
Even when consumers don’t fall for the scam and share personal information, being inundated with robocalls can be a liability: there’s no way to know whether the unknown number dialing you is a time-wasting scam, or a real-life emergency. So while lawmakers and regulators work to figure out the best way to subside the number of outgoing scam calls, agencies and companies have come up with solutions to block the ones that get through.
It’s nearly impossible to be 100% robocall-free, but here are some tactics you can adopt to limit your number of robocalls:
Add your name to the <a html=”https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0133-cell-phones-and-do-not-call-registry” target=”_blank”>FTC’s “Do not call” registry</a>, and <a html=”https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx” target=”_blank”>report the calls</a> you get anyway.
- WOCinTech Chat/Flickr
Registration for the service began in 2003 and sign-ups don’t expire, yet the FTC reported receiving 4. 5 million complaints in 2017, at “an average of more than 375,000 robocall complaints per month,” compared to 2013’s 2.18 million.
It it isn’t completely effective, but the people who signed up probably get fewer calls than they would have if they hadn’t.
Use your phone’s Do Not Disturb mode so that you only get calls from people in your contact list.
This way you don’t have to see the calls come through or have to ignore them. Keep in mind this strategy won’t work for any professional hoping to hear from new clients or those who receive regular calls from unknown numbers are part of their job, but it’s a great option if you have a separate, non-work phone.
If you don’t want to block all new numbers, block them as they come by going into the callers’ contact information in your phone.
- Google Play
This is especially helpful if there are a few numbers you get calls from frequently. If you choose the route of answering unknown numbers instead of waiting for a voicemail, keep a couple of things in mind:
Don’t engage by speaking OR by pressing a number even to be taken off a list, according to the FTC: “Doing so will probably lead to more unwanted calls. Instead, hang up and file a complaint with the FTC.”
Train yourself to answer questions by repeating them instead of saying “yes,” because that can be used as a vocal signature to make unauthorized credit card charges. For example, the answer to “Can you hear me?” should be “I can hear you,” instead of “Yes.”
Buy a Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Note, or Google Pixel phone that lets you know a call is a scam, so you don’t have to answer to find out.
Samsung’s Smart Call feature flags calls it suspects are spam. Meanwhile, Google recently announced the addition of Call Screen to its Pixel phones. The software lets you use Google Assistant to answer a call and get an instant transcription. From there, you can instantly mark the call as spam.
If you have any other phone, ask your carrier about caller ID options that help identify callers that aren’t legitimate.
For now, Sprint and Verizon still make you pay for premium caller ID; AT&T and T-Mobile offer it for free to postpaid customers. Again, this won’t completely eradicate calls but it’ll help. Lately, senators and members of congress have been pushing for legislation that requires carriers to offer free robocalling blocking.
The FCC also started allowing carriers to “proactively block illegal robocallers” in November, but a lot of robocalls go through multiple carriers, which makes it nearly impossible to track the source.
Use third-party apps like <a html=”http://www.nomorobo.com/” target=”_blank”>Nomorobo</a>, <a html=”https://hiya.com/” target=”_blank”>Hiya</a>, and <a html=”https://www.robokiller.com/” target=”_blank”>RoboKiller</a>.
Most of these apps will require a fee that can be paid monthly (about $2 to $3) or annually (about $25). In addition to caller ID and personal block lists, they automatically block calls from telemarketers and robocallers, sometimes giving them a taste of their own medicine by responding with bots.
Some of these apps also give the option to make a caller hit a button (0 or 1) to prove they’re not a bot, like some sites do with captchas. There are bots smart enough to get around it just like there are bots that get around captchas, though.
For any phone that isn’t iOS or Android, like landlines or Google Voice, use third-party subscription services like Jolly Roger Telephone Company.
- DreamWorks/I Love You Man
To join Jolly Roger, subscribers have to share their phone number and email address. After you pick a robot, you can send spam numbers to it and receive a recording of the call to your email so you still know what it was about.
But b careful with who you send to the bot, because it doesn’t sound very professional judging by The New York Times‘ description. The Jolly Roger bots apparently give the caller generic “uh-huh” responses and then asks them to repeat the pitch when it’s over.
And if you really want to scam a robocaller, take <a html=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-94xwCWfJG8″ target=”_blank”>David Cogen’s approach</a>: He carries around a recording of static sound with a message that tells your robocaller your number is no longer available. Play on repeat until they hang up.