The phone rings. You’ve been waiting to hear back from your doctor’s office, so you pick it up right away and say hello. After a short period of silence, a recording congratulates you on winning a cruise. Unfortunately, it’s just a robocall scam—so you won’t be packing your bags for Fiji quite yet.
If you’ve noticed robocalls and spam are more common than ever, you’re not alone. According to Consumer Reports, 70 percent of Americans don’t answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize because they get so many robocalls. Many people receive one or more robocalls or spam every day.
All of this unwanted contact is more than just annoying—it’s also creating opportunities for scammers to take your personal information, steal money or even identify possible victims to target in future scams.
How to stop robocalls and spam
Can you stop all robocalls? Well, yes and no. Your best bet for preventing robocalls and spam depends on your phone service provider, the type of phone connection you’re using and whether you have robocall-blocking services available to you.
Still, you may not be able to completely block all robocalls and spam. That’s because the scammers behind these illegitimate messages are constantly changing their strategies, using new or spoofed numbers and trying clever tricks to get past authorities’ efforts to block them. Luckily, the technology is getting better. Robust robocall-blocking software and anti-spam services are available.
Here’s a bit more on stopping robocalls and blocking spam.
Landline vs. cell phone
Both landlines and cell phones can get robocalls and spam messages. Caller ID can be helpful for screening calls—if you have a landline phone, using this feature can help you watch for legitimate calls and avoid others. You might see a display message that says “Potential Spam.”
If your phone service includes the call rejection feature, often called “Anonymous Rejection” or “Selective Call Rejection,” you can input the phone numbers of unwanted calls into the rejection list so those calls will be automatically disconnected without ringing your phone.
With a cell phone, both Android and iPhones typically have built-in screening capabilities. Check your platform’s features to see the methods you can use such as installing an app that identifies your spam calls plus calls from numbers recognized as spam by other app users. You usually can also block unwanted callers whose numbers you know.
A service that blocks robocalls on both landlines and cell phones, Nomorobo is fast and easy to set up. The service is free for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) landlines and charges a low monthly fee (currently $2 per device per month) for mobile phones. (On Nomorobo’s website, you can find out if your phone is compatible.) It’s worth a try if you’re tired of robocalls and looking for a service that will take care of the problem for you. Check your landline carrier to see whether they offer Nomorobo.
New FCC standards to fight robocalls
Your phone carrier cooperates with the FCC to fight back against robocalls by double-checking the identities of callers. This may mean fewer robocalls for you as phone providers do the work to stop malicious calls.
The FCC’s recently established framework of new security standards called STIR/SHAKEN validates phone numbers. These standards were mandated at the beginning of 2020.
What to do about robocalls
Ultimately, even if you have services in place to reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive, you may still find yourself winning a lot of free vacations. So what should you do when robocalls and spam strike?
Avoid answering robocalls and responding to spam messages
Don’t communicate with scammers. If you’re able to recognize a robocall, don’t pick up the phone or respond to spam text messages. Rejecting or ignoring any incoming call or spam message labeled “Potential Spam,” “Suspicious Caller” or with a similar moniker can help reduce incoming calls. (In some instances, an incoming call may be incorrectly labeled spam. If you reject or ignore a call, check your voicemail immediately afterward to see if the caller is someone you need to call back.) Avoid pushing buttons, too—even if the message says you can remove yourself from their calling list that way.
For one thing, scammers often use an initial “test” call or message to see if your phone number is active. By answering, you confirm that you’re a real subscriber and a potential scam victim. Your phone number could be sold as part of a list, meaning you could start receiving even more unwanted calls.
In some instances, answering a spam call can give your personal information directly to the scammer. Regardless, communicating with a scammer isn’t a good idea.
Report illegal robocalls
You can report robocalls to the Do Not Call Registry with the FTC by providing information about the call and the phone number. It is quite likely the call is illegal.
There are some exceptions, such as:
- Political campaign calls
- Nonprofit organization calls
- Informational calls (such as confirmations of appointments or local community communications)
Otherwise, if you think the call is illegal, you can file a report. These reports help with prosecuting spam callers, so filing them is one way you can help others avoid being victimized in the future.
Share robocall information
You can also make a difference by sharing information about robocall scams and spam with your friends, family and neighbors. Misconceptions about robocalls can be harmful—let the people you care about know what they can do to protect themselves.