Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this column neglected to note that calling *77 on your mobile phone may instead connect you with law enforcement.
“Hello! Please don’t hang up… did you know that you could save a bundle on…?
It's a robocall, another automated telemarketer. Nowadays, robocalls make up 50 percent of all phone calls. In 2018 alone, robocallers spammed us with 26.3 billion calls. And it’s only going to get worse: Robocalls are going to become more constant in coming years.
The moment you hear that electronic voice, everything stops. Your pulse quickens; your blood pressure rises. It doesn't matter what you were doing before. Maybe you were laughing at a joke. Maybe you were enjoying lunch. Perhaps you were watching your kid's Little League game.
None of that matters now. You picked up that call, and you regret it. You want to shriek: Don’t call me again. I don’t care who you are. Just go away! Your words would fall on deaf ears. There is no one on the other end, and if you breathe a word, your voice may be recorded for future use.
It’s time to end those robocalls for good. Luckily, you have a whole arsenal of smartphone tools at your disposal. You block numbers, turn on Do Not Disturb mode, use your carrier's tools, or use third–party apps to end this telephonic pestilence.
Here are seven pointers for minimizing, or eradicating those unwanted calls.
1. Reject Anonymous Calls Automatically
Many robocalls come up as “anonymous” on your caller ID, while most businesses and human beings come up as identifiable phone numbers. Chances are, you could terminate all anonymous calls without missing anything important.
Depending on your service, you may have access to Anonymous Call Rejection. Try this on your landline. Make sure your caller ID is activated. Enter the magic number *77, and you will hear three beeps. Hang up, and any call that hides its number will be rejected.
This service varies by carrier, and some carriers charge extra. But it’s a helpful tool for scammers or robocallers who slip through the Do Not Call Registry.
Note: In some jurisdictions, dialing *77 on your mobile phone may connect you with law enforcement. Tap or click here for a list, or check with local or state law enforcement before trying *77.
Dialing *77:Alternatives to dialing 911 on mobile
Enraged by endless robocalls? Help is on the way
2. Join the National Do Not Call Registry List
Millions rejoiced when the FTC created the National Do Not Call Registry – and in a perfect world, signing up would stop telemarketers from calling you. Technically, it's illegal for telemarketers to call you if you are on this list.
But the world isn’t perfect. Scammers don't follow the rules, nor do they care about this list. It's still smart to register your number as an added layer of protection against unwanted calls. Just go to the website donotcall.gov and enter the landline or cellphone number you want on the list.
You can also call 1-888-382-1222 from any phone you want on the list. That's all it takes, and your number stays on the list until you ask for it to be removed or you give up the number.
Once you sign up, the Do Not Call list takes you off for-profit business call lists, but it isn't immediate. Telemarketers update their listings only periodically, so the FTC says it can take up to 31 days.
Also, political organizations, charities and survey takers are still permitted to call you. Businesses you've bought something from or made a payment to in the last 18 months have a right to call. When they call, however, firmly tell them to take you off their list and they have to honor your request, although they might still try to talk you into reconsidering.
3. Use Carrier Tools to Block Unwanted Calls
The four major carriers have tools to identify, filter and prevent suspected nuisance numbers from calling or texting your phone. Most require an extra monthly fee to activate the caller ID service, but network-level blocking is free of charge across all the carriers.
AT&T subscribers can use a free iOS and Android app called AT&T Call Protect. It has automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam warnings. You can manually block unwanted calls.
Verizon recently announced a free call-blocking service that debuts in March. Verizon previously offered a "Caller Filter" service for $2.99 per month per line.
Verizon also has identified 300 million spam and scam phone numbers that it will block through free spam alerting and call-blocking tools also coming in March.
T-Mobile provides two free ways to combat robocallers and spam calls.
First is Scam ID, an automatic system that identifies spam numbers when your phone rings. T-Mobile automatically does this on its network, and there's no app to install or service to turn on.
The second free method is Scam Block. Unlike Scam ID, which simply identifies known spam numbers, Scam Block gives you an option to block those numbers. To turn this on, dial #662# on your T-Mobile handset. To turn it off, dial #632#.
Similar to Verizon's Caller Name ID, T-Mobile has its own paid "Name ID" service, which identifies and provides caller information like the name, location and type of organization. You can block them as needed. This is included in T-Mobile ONE Plus plans. For other T-Mobile plans, it costs $4 a month per line.
Sprint customers can sign up for its "Premium Caller ID" service to protect themselves from robocalls and caller ID spoofers.
This service is $2.99 a month, and it provides a threat level indicator to give customers an idea of how suspicious a call is. It does this by flagging calls with real-time data trends gathered across the U.S.
This service doesn't automatically block known spam calls. Based on the threat level, you can choose to answer the call, block the number or report it to prevent future calls.
They're everywhere: Robocalls aren't stopping and this time they're in Chinese
4. Use the Best Apps to Block Robocalls
Another way to stop nuisance calls on your smartphone is via call–blocking apps. These apps can identify who is calling you and block unwanted calls that show up on a crowd-sourced spam and robocaller list.
Here are the top call blocking apps:
Nomorobo is an iOS and Android app that offers real–time protection from a growing list of robocallers, telemarketers and phone scammers.
Nomorobo lets the phone ring once, then tries to identify the caller. If the number is on the app’s robocaller list, the app will automatically block the call for you.
Nomorobo is free to use for 30 days, and then it costs $1.99 per month or $19.99 for an entire year. To sign up, you will need to provide Nomorobo with information. List the type of phone you have – wireless or landline – and select your carrier. Note: Not all major cell carriers support Nomorobo.
The Truecaller app for iOS and Android lets you find out who's behind that unknown number. Copy and paste the number into the app’s search bar. Truecaller will search the unknown number to find out who it is. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, it's a great resource to avoid answering an unwanted robocall.
Another great feature of Truecaller is its ability to block spam calls. When a pesky telemarketer calls, there will be a big warning in red, telling you that it's a spam call. Just swipe up when this happens to automatically block that caller and add them to the spam list.
The Truecaller app is free for both download and use. However, there is a professional version that can be bought as an in-app purchase for $1.99 per month.
Hiya – Caller ID & Block
The Hiya – Caller ID & Block app is perfect for identifying calls that you want to accept and blocking calls and texts you want to avoid. The Hiya app is available for free on both Apple and Android gadgets with no ads, and it is simple to use. If you had to choose one, this is the best choice, in my opinion.
It allows you to block calls, blacklist unwanted phone numbers and text messages, reverse phone search incoming call information and receive spam alerts. The app is powered by a database of hundreds of millions of phone numbers confirmed to be spam by other users.
Call Control – Call Blocker
The Call Control – Call Blocker app automatically blocks spam calls and calls from other numbers you don't want to hear from. You can block entire area codes (like 888) if you're getting tons of calls you don't want from a particular location. The Call Control app is free and available for both Apple and Android gadgets.
Worried about missing out on important calls? Call Control gives you your own personal Whitelist and Contacts Protection to make sure people you know get through.
The app's users actively report their spammers so its catalog is always up to date.
Call Control will automatically block active spammers, and the reverse lookup allows you to track them to their source. You can add numbers to the Community Blacklist and choose to block specific numbers that won't leave you alone.
What you need to know: How to keep from getting scammed by robocalls
5. Some Phones Block Robocalls Automatically
Did you know that some smartphones already have built–in spam and robocall protection in place? Samsung's flagship Galaxy and Note smartphones have a native feature called Smart Call that automatically screens and flags suspicious numbers.
Google's Android smartphones like the Pixels and the old Nexus and Android One have built-in spam call protection. With this feature, users with Caller ID enabled will get a warning if a suspected spam call or robocall is received.
Aside from ignoring the call, the user has the option to either block the number or whitelist it if the spam flagging is deemed an error. Any blocked number can be unblocked at any time. An option to report the call to Google is available.
Don't pick up: The one thing you should do to stop robocalls
6. Block Individual Phone Numbers
Here's a feature that's available on any iPhone and Android – the ability to block specific numbers. Although this cannot possibly stop every robocall and spammer number, you can at least block the recurring ones.
On an iPhone, open your Phone app, go to your Recents tab, then tap the circular information icon on the right side of the number you want to block. On the next page, tap "Block this Caller" to put the number on your block list.
On Android, you can likewise open your Phone app, navigate to the Recents section, do a long press on the suspicious number then select "Block/report spam." (This may vary, depending on the manufacturer and model of your Android phone.)
7. Set Your Phone on Do Not Disturb
To block every number except your most trusted contacts or favorites, you can turn on your iPhone or Android phone's built-in Do Not Disturb Mode. It's an extreme solution but it will definitely stop all unwanted calls, including robocalls, telemarketing calls and spam calls.
Keep in mind that you will undoubtedly miss some legitimate calls when this mode is on, but unknown callers will always have the option to leave a voice message. You can add any number to your contacts list to let them through in the future.
To customize your Do Not Disturb preferences on an iPhone, go to Settings >> Do Not Disturb. Here, you can turn the mode on, set a Do Not Disturb schedule and set your allowed calls to either all your saved contacts or just your Favorites list. To quickly activate Do Not Disturb, go to your iPhone's Control Center (swipe down from the upper-right corner on iPhone X, swipe up from the bottom for other iPhones) and toggle the Do Not Disturb switch (the icon looks like a moon).
On Android, go to Settings >> Sound (or Sound & Notification in other phones) >> then Tap Do Not Disturb to customize your Do Not Disturb settings.
To activate Do Not Disturb, simply swipe down from the top of your display to access the Quick Menu then tap the Do Not Disturb icon to turn it on. (This may vary, depending on the manufacturer and model of your Android phone.)
8. Common Sense Prevails
This is the simplest solution, and many people try this low–tech approach to robocalls. If you receive a call from an unknown number or one that doesn't show up on caller ID, don't answer. If it's an important call, the person will leave a message and you can get back to them. Millions of people are unencumbered by robocalls, and they don’t give these pests a second thought.
But be advised: If you answer the phone and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop receiving calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify and target live respondents. Once they know the number is active, you may receive more calls in the future.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to stop robocalls, block numbers on your iPhone, Android and even landline