I’ll bet at some point last night you got a robo or spam call. Perhaps when you were watching TV or putting the kids to bed.
Land lines, mobile phones, it makes no difference: These calls are so ubiquitous that the Federal Communications Commission cited a study earlier this year estimating that 45% of all calls to cellphones alone this year will be scams.
And 90% of those calls will be “spoofing”—when scammers use phone numbers that make it look like you’re getting a local call—thus making you more trusting and likely to give them money or valuable personal information.
Because scammers seem to operate and adapt faster than lawmakers and regulators who are trying to put them out of business, don’t hold your breath waiting for this problem to go away. Instead, take action. A few weeks ago I asked readers for advice on how to combat this scourge. My inbox filled up immediately. Here are some responses that might help—though some solutions may require a bit of work on your part. I’ve added a few funny ideas at the end.
• “I created a silent ring tone and made that my default. I then recorded instructions on my voice mail to leave a message if you are a legitimate caller. I assign an audible ring tone to everyone in my contacts. Took a lot of time, but it has been worth it.” —Judy S.
• “We have a landline with blocking capabilities. If you have a newer wireless handset phone, read your instructions.” —Arthur P.
• Clare B. offers the advice I’m always giving: “Why answer your phone at all? You know the numbers of those near and dear to you, the rest you can get back to when you feel like it. Mostly robot/scammers don’t leave a message, but if they do, delete it as soon as you recognize it for what it is. You won’t have to engage in any conversation ever.”
For iPhone and Android users
• If you have a iPhone AAPL, -0.49%, Eric R. says:
In Settings, select “Do Not Disturb (DND)”
Schedule the DND from 5:02 a.m. to 5 a.m. (basically, 24 hours)
The trick is to allow calls from “All Contacts”.
By allowing calls from “All Contacts”, only your known contacts will ring.
All others calls go to voice mail.
Not 100% ideal, but it cuts down on a ton of interruptions and lets you focus on people you know.
“I keep my Android phone on ‘Do not disturb.’ This way only phone numbers in my contact list ring. So when it rings, it’s someone i know. Plus I live in North Carolina but still have an Oklahoma area code, so most of the time its easy to see spam since they do not know where I live.”
Apps and blocking services
I think by using features on your landlines and cellphones, you can control the problem pretty well. That being said, at least two people recommended each of the following:
• “I use Nomorobo. Seems to work quite well. Any calls that don’t leave a message, I block.” —Patrick S.
• “My favorite app for blocking robocalls on my iPhone is Number Shield, just $0.99 and no subscription.” —David W.
• “I have used Privacy Star for years. It’s $2.99 a month, but you have unlimited number blocking. It also blocks area codes and has a section for reporting.” -Marc
Finally, want to have some fun with the scammers, or turn the tables?
• Sam S. gives them a taste of their own medicine: “I answer with ‘federal fraud division’ or ‘mortuary,’ he says. “They hang up quick.”
• John has a unique solution, though it would probably bug anyone close by: “I bought a small air horn. When I get a call not from my contact list I’ll answer it with the horn. The robo software doesn’t recognize the tone and drops the call. Your number is added to “Don’t bother list” that is shared by scammers. Then I block the number. Went from getting 10 to 15 calls a day to maybe two a week.”
• Ron’s idea seems extreme: “I answered one by mistake. I told them, ‘I can’t talk now, police are coming, blood’s all over floor,’ then hang up.”
Thanks to all for your terrific feedback.
My next question for you is on a different subject: If you are in or nearing retirement, what’s the one best piece of financial advice you’ve ever gotten about preparing for it? Write to me at: RetireBetterMarketWatch@gmail.com.