There is nothing more frustrating than hearing the phone ring only to discover it’s an unwanted spam call. Not only does this take precious time away from your day, spam calls and the people behind them are relentless.
From automated messages about political candidates to scammers pretending to be calling from your bank, we’re now all too familiar with these nuisance calls.
And the problem is only getting worse. More than 40.1 billion spam calls were made in the first six months of 2021 alone. That’s over 100 times the size of the US population. To top that, spam texts are also reportedly on the rise with findings revealing over 47 billion were sent during the same period.
So, how to stop spam calls? Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that will stop this overnight. However, there are a number of options to choose from that offer differing levels of protection which this guide will walk you through.
Understanding how phone spammers and scammers operate
First up, a quick primer on how scam and spam callers operate, so you can understand how and why they do what they do.
The different types of nuisance calls
People often mix up and confuse the different types of nuisance calls they receive. This is how we define them:
- Robocallers: Perhaps the most frequent, a recorded message sent to many people simultaneously, that plays when you answer. Can be from a legitimate source, such as a political campaign, or from a scammer, such as a social security fraud call.
- Spam & telemarketing calls: These aren’t usually considered fraud as they are from legitimate organizations, but they’re trying to sell you something you don’t want, ask you survey questions, canvass you for an upcoming election, etc.
- Fraud & scam calls: These are outright fraudulent, where the caller is trying to trick you into something, such as by impersonating an IRS agent to get your account number.
Why am I getting spam, scam and telemarketing calls?
The simple answer is because there is money to be made.
Telemarketing firms are usually legitimate organizations and it’s simply a numbers game for them. If 1 in every 300 people that they call buys what they’re selling, then it can be a profitable (and highly irritating) business model.
The same logic applies to scammers operating phone fraud. While many of us know to hang up straight away when we receive a suspicious robocall or any other type of dubious call, there are unfortunately many people who are a lot more vulnerable to phone scams.
Where do spammers and scammers get my phone number from?
In the case of telemarketers, you may have unwittingly given them the approval to call your phone number when you purchased a product or service and didn’t check the box to say you didn’t want your details being used for marketing purposes.
In the case of scammers (both human operators and robocallers), they will often legally acquire your phone number and other personal information from data brokers.
What is a data broker?
A data broker is a company that collects and sells information on individuals. They collect this information from a host of places, including public government records, social media, and marketing companies, before selling it for profit. Examples of such companies include My Life and Radaris.
The scope of data that is collected by brokers is increasingly alarming and usually goes unnoticed. For example, one data broker company called Acxiom claims to have information about 10% of the world’s population in their database.
In short, the personal information held by data brokers poses a massive security risk. When the information that they hold falls into the wrong hands, individuals face the risk of identity theft or credit card fraud. All without the individual being aware. Not to mention countless unwanted phone calls!
How are scammers calling me from a local number?
This is a growing problem and is called neighborhood spoofing, where scammers are able to mask their actual number with a local number. The scammers have figured out that the average person is more likely to pick up a call if it’s from a local number.
Thankfully, many of the below prevention options have gotten very good at detecting neighborhood spoofing. In fact, this has now become one of the most effective ways for detection software to spot a scam call.
Options to stop spam & other nuisance calls
1. Make some adjustments to how you handle unwanted calls
First things first, you don’t want scammers to know your phone number is active, otherwise, you may start receiving an increase in nuisance calls as your number can be sold on.
Here are some basic tips from the FCC when it comes to how to handle unwanted calls
- Don’t answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers
- Scammers may call from a number with a local area code, so don’t let this lower your guard
- If a recording asks you to hit a number on your keypad, hang up immediately
- If a caller claims to be from a company or government agency, end the call, then call the organization back using the phone number on their website
- Never give away any personal information, such as your social security number or mother’s maiden name
- Do not answer any questions, especially those that can be answered with a “yes”, as scammers might be recording the call and can then edit the recording to make it sound like you’ve agreed to something that you didn’t.
2. Add yourself to the do not call registry (but understand the limits of this)
The FTC operates the National Do Not Call Registry, which telemarketers should abide by. Add yourself to the list here and your number should be removed from telemarketers lists within 31 days.
How does this service work?
Telemarketers are required to cross-reference their call lists with the registry every 31 days and remove any numbers from their lists that they find on the registry.
National Do Not Call Registry – Our Verdict
This should stop legitimate telemarketers who play by the rules.
However, if you’re being plagued by robocalls and scammers, it won’t solve that problem, as they don’t care about the no-call registry.
What’s more, the registry only applies to sales calls, so legitimate organizations such as charities, political parties, and survey companies can still bother you with unwanted calls too.
Protection rating: 1 out of 5
3. Activate built-in features within your phone’s OS
Many Android phones now come with built-in spam protection software. Google provides caller ID & Spam Protection, which will provide caller ID data if a number calls you that is not within your contacts. It will also flag potential spam and scam calls.
Apple provides a spam-killing option with its Silence Unknown Callers feature. This will divert any calls to voicemail from numbers that are not in your contacts or haven’t previously phoned or texted you.
How do these services work?
The Google service is pretty clever. It uses data from its Google My Business directory to display caller ID data, as well as data on scam numbers to flag possible scam calls.
The Apple service is less sophisticated, essentially diverting all numbers not known to you to voicemail.
Built-In Phone OS Features – Our Verdict
While the Google service is innovative in how it uses data from Google My Business, not every business has a Google My Business account, especially many small Mom and Pop stores. What’s more, a business or organization may have lots of different phone numbers, and not all of them are listed on Google My Business. It’s also not entirely clear how it compiles and updates its spam lists.
Apple, on the other hand, will block all unknown calls, but this could come with its own issues, such as genuinely urgent calls getting diverted to voicemail and going unnoticed.
Protection rating: 2.5 out of 5
4. Activate a service provided by your carrier
Each of the big four network providers offers free and/or premium services to block nuisance calls. Here’s a breakdown of what’s available:
- T-Mobile. Top of the class is arguably T-Mobile’s service Scam Shield, owing to the fact it’s offered free to all customers. The iOS and Android app blocks known spam numbers, and also provides caller ID for numbers not in your contacts. Or if you just want to turn on the spam block feature without downloading the app, dial #662#.
- Sprint. The Call Screener service is now free for all customers, due to the merger with T-mobile. Once installed, the mobile app flags or blocks suspected scam calls.
- AT&T. The Call Protect mobile app service offers both a free and paid plan. The free Basic plan blocks known scam numbers, flags potential scam calls and has a personal block list. The Plus plan, at $3.99 a month per line, provides caller ID, reverse number lookup and nuisance call controls that you can personalize.
- Verizon. The Call Filter mobile app also offers a free and paid plan. The free plan, Call Filter, provides spam detection and filtering, while the paid plan, Call Filter Plus, provides caller ID, spam lookup and a personal block list.
How do these services work?
The behind the scenes technology powering these spam call blocking services has come a long way over the last few years. At the heart of this is a technology known as STIR/SHAKEN, which was mandated by the FCC in July 2021. The technology verifies if a call is coming from a real number, enabling it to weed out spoofed robocalls.
Carrier Services – Our Verdict
This is a good starting point as all the major carriers provide some form of scam call blocking for free, so customers may as well install and activate this.
However – these services are far from watertight. For a start, providers have only applied this tech to the IP-based parts of their networks, meaning phone systems operated with older technology are not covered by this. Integration between carriers is also patchy, meaning there are plenty of gaps in the system.
What’s more, it’s unclear how many of the paid plans will cut down on nuisance calls above what’s provided on the free plans. Moreover, paying a carrier close to $50 per year to better protect you from bad actors using their own network can leave a sour taste in the mouth.
Protection rating: 3 out of 5
5. Download a third party app
If the service provided by your carrier doesn’t cut it, then you could consider using a third-party scam call blocker app. Most of these will require a monthly or annual subscription charge (at least the ones that are effective will).
Here are some of our top picks:
- Hiya. This platform powers some of the spam detection services provided by Samsung, AT&T and others. It’s standalone mobile app offers both a free and paid plan, but the benefits of each differ depending on whether you’re using Android or iPhone. Caller ID and spam detection is offered for free on Android, while the paid version provides spam blocking and reverse lookup. Over on the iPhone app, the free version provides spam detection and blocking, and the paid version adds a database of known caller identities. The paid plan is $3.99 per month, with a 7 day free trial.
- RoboKiller. This app uses proprietary data to identify scammers’ numbers then block them. For added delight, its answer bot will answer scam and telemarketer calls to waste their time, and then share the recordings with you for your listening pleasure. The monthly plan costs $4.99 while the annual plan costs $39.99.
- Nomorobo. One of the most affordable spam call blocker apps on the market, Nomorobo blocks known spam numbers. The service is free to use for VoIP landlines and $1.99 per month for mobile users.
- Firewall. While this is currently iPhone only, it provides an innovative approach to blocking spam calls by only letting a whitelist of approved numbers through, instead of blocking a blacklist of known spammers. Legitimate callers not on your whitelist can leave a voicemail which is then transcribed and sent to you via the app. The app also provides burner numbers you can use when you don’t want to reveal your real number on outbound calls. It costs $3.99 per month, with a free 14 day trial.
How do these services work?
Most of these services work by maintaining huge databases of known scammer and robocall numbers which they update daily with new numbers they’ve identified. Whenever you receive an incoming call, the service will check the number against their blacklists to root out and block any known spammers.
Third-Party Apps – Our Verdict
These third-party services offer a more robust approach to spam call blocking compared to the services offered by carriers, thanks to the huge databases of nuisance numbers that they maintain.
However, robocallers and scammers operate like a virus by constantly mutating to find new ways to attack. Therefore, while these services can definitely help to cut down on nuisance calls, they are not foolproof. You are still likely to receive calls from new numbers set up by scammers, before these numbers are added to blacklists.
Protection rating: 4 out of 5
6. Tackle the Root Cause of the Problem
The major shortcoming with all of the above options is that they don’t tackle the root cause of the problem: how scammers and robocallers get your phone number in the first place.
Huge amounts of personal identifiable information (PII), including full names, addresses, and phone numbers are available to legally purchase from data brokers. This is a primary source of data for scammers to build their call lists from.
What’s more, this is how scammers can trick you into believing they’re calling you from your bank or other organization, by having a lot of information about you.
Therefore, in order to stop scammers from getting access to this data, the most effective action you can take is to remove your PII from data brokers. There are two ways to do this:
Option 1: Do it yourself
All data brokers must remove your personal data from their databases if you request this. We’ve created step-by-step guides on how to do this. The problem though is that there are countless data brokers active in the market, so removing all of your data from these platforms, not to mention your family members’ data, is extremely fiddly and time-consuming.
What’s more, this isn’t a one-time activity. Your personal data is continuously being added to data broker platforms, so you need to be constantly monitoring and removing this.
Option 2: Get us to do it for you
Here at DeleteMe, we’re the experts at removing your personal data from the internet. We’ve completed over 29 million data broker opt-out removals since 2010 on behalf of our customers.
As soon as you sign up with us, our team of privacy experts uses sophisticated AI to identify then scrub your personal data from all data broker platforms and other online sources of PII. And once your data is removed, scammers can no longer buy your personal data to then harass you with nuisance calls. We then monitor and remove any new personal data that’s added to these platforms, ensuring your PII stays off the internet.
Our plans start from just $10.75 per month.
What’s the best approach?
As stated at the beginning of the guide, there is no perfect solution.
But as with any problem, it’s always best to treat both the symptoms and the cause. In which case, using your carrier’s free service offering, combined with removing your data from data brokers, could provide a good all-round solution.
Or if the service provided by your carrier isn’t blocking nuisance calls well enough, then subscribing to a third-party app could be your next option, while continuing to ensure your data isn’t available via data brokers.