Fed Up With Robocalls? Here’s what you can do right now

Maureen Mahoney
Public Policy Fellow

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Robocalls—those machine-generated telephone solicitations that have an uncanny tendency to interrupt dinner or a nap—are more common than ever. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over three times as many complaints from consumers in 2016 than in 2010 about unwanted calls.

Robocalls aren’t just a nuisance, either. They can actually be quite harmful because scammers are increasingly using them to separate Americans from their money and trick them into handing over personal information.

That’s why Consumers Union has called on phone companies to take more responsibility for stopping these calls. Our End Robocalls Campaign has seen some progress already, but you can help keep the pressure on phone companies to do more by signing our petition asking them to provide free and effective call-blocking tools.

Read on for more tips for fending off unwanted calls.

Sign up for the Do Not Call list. You can register at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222. It’s no panacea, but the federal Do Not Call registry can protect you from most unwanted sales calls from legitimate companies. In addition, regardless of whether you are on the Do Not Call list, companies are legally required to honor your request to opt out of future calls. If you receive unwanted calls from a legitimate company, call its main number and ask to be removed from its call lists. Note, however, that the Do Not Call list won’t protect you from many types of unwanted calls, including political, debt collection, and charity robocalls. And scammers tend to ignore the Do Not Call list altogether.

Don’t engagejust hang up. It’s a good idea to answer calls only from numbers that you recognize, and to let unknown callers go to voicemail. If you answer the phone and find an unwelcome caller (or machine) at the other end, just hang up. Scammers are skilled at duping even the most wary consumers, and they can be verbally abusive if their pitches are resisted. What’s more, interacting with the caller or even just pressing an opt-out number verifies that yours is a working number and can lead to even more unwanted calls. If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, you can always hang up and call back the number on your bill. (But don’t call the number that shows up on your caller ID, as it may be a faked, or spoofed, number.)

Review your phone company’s call-blocking offerings. Several phone companies now offer advanced tools or apps to customers to help block robocalls. These tools can be effective, but may come with a hitch. Consider what kind of information you’re willing to disclose to prevent robocalls, and review the privacy policies before signing up for any of these services.

Nomorobo, a service offered by some telecom providers directly, and available to many home phone users as a third-party offering, may be a good option. It has received high ratings for call-blocking by our volunteer testers, and Nomorobo does not collect your contacts or sell your data. It does, however, collect a lot of information about home phone subscribers’ incoming calls. If you subscribe, please give us feedback.

Phone companies typically also offer services that let you block numbers one-by-one, or that block all anonymous calls. Several of these services even allow you to block all calls except for select numbers that you specify. Be sure to check with your provider for complete details and pricing.

Consider a call-blocking device. Consumers with traditional landlines typically have limited options for blocking unwanted calls. They may want to consider a call-blocking device, which makes it easier to block numbers. The downside: these devices can be expensive, with prices ranging from about $50 to $100. Check out Consumer Reports’ review of some of them, and make sure a device is compatible with your service before purchasing it.

Research mobile apps, but use caution. A growing number of mobile apps claim to be able to identify or even block unwanted calls. Consumer Reports has not yet evaluated them for effectiveness, so we can’t recommend any at this time. (Nomorobo is available as a $1.99/month app for iPhones, but we have not evaluated its mobile version.) Be aware that some of these apps may share data with third parties, so consumers who are particularly concerned about their privacy should exercise caution before downloading. Some of these mobile apps also ask for your contacts, and may upload all of your contacts into their databases to help provide Caller ID information.

Block numbers on your handset. Many smartphones and some home phones allow you to block unwanted calls one-by-one on your handset. Some also have a “Do Not Disturb” option to quiet incoming calls. (Click here for instructions on blocking calls to iPhones, and here for Android.)

Report the call to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Reporting the number is unlikely to stop any calls in the near term, but it may help regulators stop them over the long term. Such complaints give federal agencies the information they need to go after scammers and unscrupulous telemarketers, and reminds policymakers that taking action on this issue is important to consumers. You can file complaints online with the FTC and FCC.

Tell us your best trick to stop robocalls here, and we’ll keep you updated with new developments.

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3 responses to “Fed Up With Robocalls? Here’s what you can do right now”

  1. Max Robson says:

    Many people have complaints about scam calls they receive everyday. Today, we have apps to block spam calls but it is not a better way. Is there any possible way to stop these scammers? It would be great, if any.

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  2. Margie Stephens says:

    My husband and I have only cell phones. He’s long had his set to sound just for those on his contacts (he entered the number) list.

    Set mine on silent yesterday. We’ll see. I have high hopes as I have been getting some robo calls.

  3. John Holt says:

    When I don’t recognize the caller-id number (and mobile phone and unscrupulous callers’ names are not usually available to/for caller-id) or the caller-id name is ‘suspect’, I will ‘answer’ the call but NOT SAY ANYTHING. Many autodialer or robocalls wait to hear a real voice. It is my experience that, if after 5 seconds or so, the ‘caller’ does not receive any ‘acknowledgment’ the call is dropped (and I hear 3 tones indicating a call failure). If it is a real person calling, abhorring a vacuumf, they will generally initiate the ‘conversation’ with “Hello? Joe? Joan?”. I don’t know whether this option will prevent future calls.

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