The robocall apocalypse is here, and there are only a handful of ways to protect yourself from annoying, dangerous scam calls. Find out how to stay safe from scam callers.
How can you avoid robocalls, without accidentally blocking real callers? Is your personal information really in danger? How can you block robocalls and protect your privacy?
Three types of phone calls
Let’s start by breaking down the three different types of “scam” calls. They are all frequently lumped together but are actually entirely distinct. They fall into three categories: spam, fraud, and true robocalls (the most dangerous and prevalent). All three may make use of VoIP (voice over IP) technology, and they’re all on the rise across North America.
Spam calls are when a party contacts you and identifies themself. They may be legitimate entities to which you have given your contact information, or they may have purchased your data.
Most likely, spammers want to inundate you with “offers” and “special deals.” They may be real businesses, political candidates, charities, or they may be illegal spammers.
Fraudulent calls are when an unknown party contacts you and impersonates someone else, for purposes of defrauding you.
You’ve probably had at least one of these, where an unknown voice threatens: “This is the FBI, we will arrest you unless you send us $500 in iTunes gift cards.” They’re not really the FBI, and this is the telephony equivalent of email phishing or 419 scams. Most often, these fraudsters are obvious scams.
Robocalls (or “robo calls” if you’re being technical) are pre-recorded automated phone calls. They’re known as “robocalls” because the voice delivering the message may sound awkward and robotic. They may be malicious, may be legitimate, but they will absolutely be annoying.
It’s a common misconception these are all illegal robocalls; some robocalls, like the spam kind from politicians and charities, are perfectly legal.
You’ve more than likely received this type of call. You may have been left wondering “How did these people get my number?”
The answer is that they bought it from someone selling your data, or they’re using a random number-dialler. If it’s the former—be more selective with where you give out your phone number (if it isn’t already too late). If it’s the latter, then the caller doesn’t know who you are and isn’t targeting you specifically. They’re just hitting thousands of numbers at a time, hoping someone answers.
If you do answer, that tells them that your number is in service, and they’ll call back.
Facts and Figures:
Approximately 48 billion robocalls were made in 2018. Of those, 27 billion were classified as scams or telemarketing calls. The firm numbers aren’t in for 2019, but it’s predicted to be another record year for automated calls.
According to the Washington Post, robocalls and spoofed calls are particularly disruptive for the healthcare industry. In fact, across multiple industries, this seemingly minor inconvenience has cost thousands of dollars in lost time.
Robocalls were the number one consumer complaint received by the FCC in 2019.
Robocalls are only allowed on landlines, unless you give written consent. Even then, robocalls to your landline are only acceptable from charities, debt collection agencies, political campaigns, and surveys. They are never permitted on cell phones unless you expressly consent. Despite this, illegal robocalls persist.
Beat the System
Here are your options to dodge robocalls:
1. Call Blocking on your phone
This method of call blocking relies upon your mobile device itself to address unwanted phone calls one at a time. Each cell phone is a little different, but the feature is typically available from your recent contacts list. Simply tap through to the menu with the option to block the phone number.
If you want to block one specific phone number, this method is your best bet. Keep in mind, this will not protect against spoofed calls or private number calls.
If you’re unfamiliar, “call spoofing” is a practice where callers disguise their number so that it appears local to your number. You answer the call, thinking it’s a neighbour, friend or local service, when in fact the caller might be located thousands of miles away. You may even find yourself answering a call from your own number! Spoofed calls can’t be solved with call blocking, because the caller will simply change their number and call again.
2. Add your name to the “Do Not Call” registry
The National Do Not Call Registry was established in 2003 with the goal of preventing unwanted phone calls. Initially, it provided guidelines for the types of calls that are allowed vs prohibited and was wildly successful. Anyone who wanted to do so was able to add their name to the list. These days, thanks to the rise of VoIP numbers and scam callers, it’s the telephone equivalent of hanging a “no junk mail” notice on your mailbox.
Part of the failure of the Do Not Call List are the loopholes that allow unwanted calls to go through regardless of Do Not Call status. Calls from political candidates and campaigns, charities, and public surveys are typically exempted. Moreover, since the Do Not Call Registry is entirely voluntary, it’s often entirely disregarded by legitimate businesses and scammers alike.
3. Buy call blocking service from your cellular provider
The FCC has urged mobile carriers to solve this problem, with limited success. The scope of the robocall crisis is simply too large. As a stop-gap, most mobile phone carriers now provide additional blocking protection for a fee. AT&T’s Call Protect feature, for example, is a monthly subscription service that costs $4. Other US-based carriers use similar pricing models.
These systems, while convenient, come at a cost that is subject to change at any time. They’re also imperfect, potentially blocking any unknown number. This is dangerous if you’re waiting on a call from a number you’ve never contacted before. Do you want your next landlord or employer mistakenly blocked? What about your children’s school or a local pharmacy?
You can see the problem: the mass blocking of unknown phone numbers has its own risks.
4. Use a mobile app, like Hushed
Download the Hushed for Android or iOS and prevent unwanted calls and texts. When you download Hushed, none of your personal data is requested except for your email address. Hushed uses the absolute minimum of information collection possible to preserve your anonymity.
This ensures that there is no connection between your cell phone number and your Hushed number. With Hushed, you’re never personally identifiable, directly or indirectly.
So you can freely give out your Hushed number, knowing that your real number is safe. This will reduce the overall incidence of robocalls, and add a layer of privacy to your personal life.