How to fight robocalls, spam texts bombarding your phone

Q: My cellphone is suddenly getting bombarded with spam calls. What can I do?

Robocalls and spam text messages are among the top consumer complaint filed, according to the Federal Communications Commission, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

The Federal Trade Commission is attempting to manage this nuisance through the National Do Not Call Registry, which is where everyone should start. But that’s not enough.

Why ‘Do Not Call’ isn’t enough

The Do Not Call list is only going to be honored by legitimate businesses and generally ignored by scammers, who can actually subscribe to the list to gather verified numbers.

You can always file a complaint online or by calling (888) 382-1222 as long as it has been 31 days since you registered. But if it’s a spoofed number or scam organization operating outside the U.S., it won’t do much good.

Businesses (and potentially their affiliates) can also legitimately call you when you provide the number to them, so always be cautious when giving out your number.

The rise of robocalls

The technology to have computers call millions of numbers a day has gotten very cheap and is one of the major contributors to the problem.

The technology can also easily spoof the caller’s number to make it look like it’s from a legitimate organization or a local number. One common tactic is to use the same area code and first three numbers of your phone number, so be particularly suspicious when you see unknown numbers that appear close to your own number.

Screening and blocking apps

The problem has gotten bad enough for a large number of companies, as well as major cellular providers, to come up with various tools to fight it.

Start by checking with your wireless carrier to see if they offer any features that can be turned on to screen, block or at least warn you about unknown incoming calls.

Some carriers charge an additional fee for those services, so you can also turn to free third-party apps such as Truecaller, YouMail or Hiya to help you identify suspicious calls.

None of these apps are perfect, but I’ve used Truecaller and YouMail over the years with pretty decent results. Keep in mind: They are free because they are either serving ads, collecting the contacts in your address book, or both, so make sure you understand what you’re trading in exchange.

Additional tips

Since entirely stopping these calls isn’t likely to happen any time soon, there are a few other things you should get in the habit of doing.

Don’t answer any call you don’t recognize; just let it go to voicemail.

If you do answer and realize it’s a robocall or solicitor, hang up without saying anything. Some scammers will try to get you to say the word “yes” so they can record it and use it for nefarious purposes later. The trick question could be as simple as “Can you hear me?” So start making your default answer “no,” “kind of” or “maybe” to any unknown caller to avoid this scam.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up