“Do NOT hang up! This is a very important message about your urgent request for a medical-grade orthotic device!”
I heard that message boom out of someone else’s phone at the grocery store and chuckled — because I had just fielded the exact same call earlier that day. Yes, robocalls are on the rise. And the trend is showing no signs of slowing. According to call protection company First Orion, half of all mobile calls are expected to be spam by the end of 2019.
Why is this happening?
Well, for one, the technology to make spam calls is cheaper than ever. Thanks to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a scammer is equipped to make thousands of automated calls. And those calls can pay off, too. The developers of a phone number search service Truecaller reported that scammers averaged $430 per successful phone call in 2017. Not a bad side hustle!
What can you do to stop those annoying calls, or at the very least to ensure that they don’t catch you off-guard?
Add your number to the National Do Not Call list
This won’t help with robocalls, but at least you don’t get any unsolicited calls from legitimate marketers. Go to www.donotcall.gov and check to see whether your number is already on the list (you will need an email address for verification). If your number is already on the list — great! If not, get it added.
Don’t let the scammers fool you
Fraudsters take advantage of your fear. They use big scary agency names to trick you into sharing your Social Security Number or making a “payment” via credit card. Remember and tell everyone you know: the IRS, DMV, and Social Security Administration would never call you to collect a debt. All legitimate communications from those agencies happen by mail first.
Repeat after me: “Just let it go to voicemail!”
If you don’t recognize the caller’s number, don’t pick up. If you decide to answer a call from an unfamiliar number, don’t be too quick to identify yourself. Ask the caller to identify him or herself and state the reason for the call. If it’s a legitimate company and you don’t want to hear from them, it’s okay to ask that they remove you from the list. If the call is a scam, it’s bad enough that they have confirmed your number is in service. Don’t give them any more fodder by sharing your name, city, or any other personal details.
Explore your options for blocking scam calls
The easiest way to block the annoying number is to do it manually. The problem is that the scammer will figure it out quickly and “spoof” a different number for his next call.
If you are looking for a more permanent solution, your carrier may have a robocall-blocking service included with your package (or available for a small fee). You might also look into scam call blocking apps. Here are two popular ones: Hiya is free, and Robokiller is $2.49 per month. The main difference between a carrier service and an app is that the carrier can block the call earlier in the chain, resulting in the scammer receiving a “busy” signal that “indicates” an out-of-service number. The app will just stop your phone from ringing.
Finally, you can use the “do not disturb” feature on your smartphone. Choose the numbers you trust from your contact list. Now, your phone will only allow “preferred” calls to come through (and send everyone else to voicemail). You should know that this method will result in fewest interruptions to your day, but you will need to check your voicemail for any legitimate calls you will have missed.
Don’t stop with your phone!
The fact that a scammer got a hold of your phone number may point to a bigger problem. So, be sure to check your bank statements and credit cards for unauthorized charges. Remember to review any other digital payment methods you use, like PayPal, Venmo, Apple Wallet, etc. Enable two-factor authentication on all payment gateways as an additional deterrent.
Dealing with phone spam — your way
Remember that the phone number you see on your screen may not be real. Call spoofing software allows scammers to hide their real number from you. When in doubt, put the caller on hold and call back using the number on the screen. Or, better yet, get their information and initiate your own call after you confirm a legitimate number.
The most important thing to know about spam and scam phone calls is that no one is immune. Don’t be quick to trust a call from an unfamiliar number — the caller may be “phishing” for information or using your emotions to trick you into handing over your hard-earned money. Stay alert and shield yourself from scammers!