You’re sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea when the phone rings. You get up and answer it, only to hear a low buzz, then somebody’s voice saying ever so cheerfully, “Hello, may I speak with Mary Contrary?” You, Mary, can be rude and just hang up. Or you can endure a pitch for a special offer/life insurance/bathroom remodel/free vacation/new government program… You sit down and the phone rings again. And again.
Robocalls and telemarketers are the No. 1 complaint the FCC receives from the public. According to an NPR report, people received about 2.5 billion robocalls every month last year. Not only are we besieged by authentic, but unwanted, telemarketers, the number of scam calls also is rising. Why? Because it is profitable.
Particularly nefarious are IRS phone scams. According to The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), more than 10,000 victims collectively paid over $54 million because of phone scams since October 2013. The victims, often elderly or recent immigrants, were told they owed the IRS money. They paid because they were afraid of the IRS. (The IRS will not call to demand immediate payment over the phone by prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer, for example. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to anyone who owes taxes.)
Now there’s a new telemarketing ploy. It’s called neighbor spoofing. You may have seen it. Callers disguise their real phone numbers with a fake phone number that has your area code and prefix. You think it might be a neighbor or a doctor’s office, or someone you know. You pick up and surprise! —you’ve won a trip to somewhere exotic/new credit card/aluminum siding.
While telephone carriers, private tech companies, and the Federal Communications Commission work to develop new systems that can authenticate callers, there are a few small steps you can take to reduce, if not totally eliminate, annoying telemarketing and scam calls.
FOR LAND LINES
The National Do Not Call Registry is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency. By signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry on donotcall.gov you can reduce the number of unwanted sales calls you receive. It’s free.
The FTC claims that most legitimate companies don’t call if your number is on the Registry. If a company is ignoring the Registry, there’s a good chance that it’s a scam. If you get these calls, hang up and file a complaint with the FTC. The issue with Do Not Call is that it works with a fixed list of spamming telemarketers. Telemarketers, however, are constantly changing numbers and finding new ways around the program.
NoMoRobo is a free and ad-free service that uses a feature known as “Simultaneous Ring”. When simultaneous ring is enabled, your phone will ring on more than one number at the same time. The first device to pick it up gets the call and the other phones stop ringing.
How does it work? The Nomorobo number will be the first number to screen the call. If the call is legitimate, the call will go through to your number. If the call is an illegal robocaller, Nomorobo intercepts the call and hangs up for you.
Your phone will ring once letting you know that the robocall has been answered and stopped. If it continues to ring Nomorobo did not identify the call as robo or spam, although wily scammers are constantly working around blocking systems.
NoMoRobo only works on VoIP landlines. Check its website to see if Nomorobo is available on your carrier. But they recently launched an app for mobile phones using the iOS operating system. $1.99 per device, per month. An android version is expected soon.
Anonymous call rejection: *77
Another free service to block robocalls is anonymous call rejection, reports USA Today. “To enable it, just pick up your phone and press ‘*77.’ You should hear three short beeps to let you know it’s activated, and then you can hang up. After that, all calls that come in as Anonymous, Private (a favorite of robocallers), or Blocked won’t get through. You can turn the feature off whenever you want by pressing ‘*87.’ Virtually every phone company has this feature built right into your service, and it’s just sitting there waiting for you.” However, phone scammers are constantly changing the numbers from which they dial so this remedy may be short-lived.
FOR MOBILE PHONES
TrapCall’s technology works by revealing who is behind an anonymous blocked caller ID. When you decline a call with a caller ID of “No Caller ID” or “Private Caller,” or a number you don’t recognize—it could be a wrong number–TrapCall tracks the caller and rings back to you within seconds with the caller’s phone number, where they live, and how they look, at which point you can decide to answer the call. You are able to blacklist unwanted numbers. The app automatically blocks spam and telemarketing robocalls on iPhone; on Android phones they are flagged as spam before you answer.
Available on iPhone and Android
Truecaller also enables you to avoid unwanted calls. You can actively block them; the app will store numbers you have blocked and will block them automatically; and it will automatically block known spammers. Truecaller’s effectiveness is based on the input of its users, like crowdsourcing. Their YouTube video explains the features. Sort of.
Available on iPhone and Android
TrapCall services start at $3.95 a month, while Truecaller charges $1.99 for an ad-free experience.
Should I Answer for Android
Should I Answer? is a free app that displays a phone number rating when an unknown number shows up, and allows you to block numbers. The app rates unknown numbers as POSITIVE, NEUTRAL, NEGATIVE, or UNKNOWN so you can see if a number is worth answering. Each rating is based on reviews in the community database, your phone contacts, and your own ratings.
Hiya for iPhone
The free Hiya app for iPhone is designed to identify and block a variety of robocalls, including telemarketers, debt collectors, scam calls, and spoofers.
Most of the mobile number blocking apps are supported in multiple (hundreds) countries around the world.
If you don’t want to download yet another app, you can manually block a number on most smartphones. On the iPhone, for example, you can look up your recent calls and, at the bottom of the caller information, you have the option to block calls from that number.
Of course, the simplest way to avoid getting caught up in a scam call is to avoid answering your phone when you see an unknown number. Bye bye.
(Header image: Mirror.co.uk/South Beds News Agency/ John O Reilly)