Mobile spam calls have been a nuisance for years. I get between four and six robocalls daily, and a quick survey of friends shows that I’m not alone. Every waking day brings with it a new barrage.
Robocallers have upped their game by masking their spam with local, genuine-looking phone numbers. Sometimes their nonsense is amusing — like when you get a threatening voicemail about your impending arrest over owed back taxes — but the vast majority of the time, it’s an unwelcome distraction. It’s all too easy for these scammers to wield the power of the internet and fire off countless calls with ease. And once even just a few people fall for a scam, they’ve made enough profit to cover their trivial expenses.
Estimates put the number of robocalls in 2019 at over 50 billion. Both the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission say they’re doing their best to get a handle on the situation, and yes, there have been significant crackdowns. But real-world feedback indicates that things are getting worse — not better — and it can often feel out of control. The FCC has required that US carriers adopt a technology that will go a long way toward combatting spam calls by next June. But we’re not quite there yet.
So if you’re as sick as I am of pulling a vibrating phone out of your pocket only to see a random, suspicious number, let’s go over the options for fighting back and restoring some sense of peace.
First, I’ll review some definitions since the carriers make important distinctions between these calls — even if they’re all unwelcome and annoying. Here’s how Verizon looks at things:
- Robocallers: Automated, prerecorded phone messages
- Spammers: Unwanted callers that may be calling indiscriminately to a large number of recipients; sometimes includes callers to whom you’ve given consent to contact you
- Fraud calls: An entity likely pretending to be someone they’re not with malicious intent
Option A: Block individual numbers one by one
This is probably a hopeless endeavor if you’re aiming to completely eradicate robocalls, but if there’s a particular number that keeps calling, it’s fairly easy to block it forever from your iPhone or Android phone.
On iOS, just go to the Phone app, then your Recents, tap the blue information icon to the right of the number you want to block, and select “Block this Caller.”
For Android, the process isn’t much different: go to the Recents section of the Phone app, long press on the bothersome number, and choose “Block / report spam.”
Again, this will take a lot of persistent work on your part to keep the spammers away — and it does no good against blocked or private callers.
Option B: Trust (or pay) your carrier to protect you
Most of the major mobile providers have taken steps to insert themselves as a barrier between you and these annoying callers. They’ve done this through behind-the-scenes network improvements, including the recent SHAKEN/STIR technology that has started making it possible for carriers to verify when a call is legitimate and weed out the many spoofed numbers you’re probably getting from your own local area code. In reality, those calls are probably coming from across the globe, but it’s easy for robocallers to impersonate local numbers.
All of the major US carriers offer some level of spam blocking for free as part of your wireless plan.
AT&T: Call Protect
Available for free for all postpaid customers. $3.99 / month for Plus version.
AT&T has a free service, Call Protect, that’s designed to block fraudulent robocalls and likely spam risks before they reach you, and you won’t have to do anything besides install the software on your phone. Call Protect won’t completely stop telemarketer calls, but it will at least display a “nuisance warning” when you receive those. The service also makes it easy to permanently block callers, and you can build a personal block list.
There is also a Call Protect Plus service that offers caller ID, reverse number lookup, and the ability to block or send to voicemail calls by category. These added features cost $3.99 per month, but the main Call Protect service comes free as part of your unlimited plan.
The important caveats to know are that Call Protect is only available to postpaid customers; prepaid customers can’t use it at all. And the “Suspected Spam” feature only works in areas with AT&T HD Voice coverage. Also, the app is unable to block unknown callers altogether.
T-Mobile and Sprint: Scam Shield and Scam Block
Available for free for all postpaid customers. $4 / month for Scam Shield Premium.