Why do you receive robocalls, and how can you block them?

Robocalls today are such an ever-present annoyance that it is easy to become desensitized to them. Why are we subjected to this constant onslaught anyways? This guide will discuss why we receive robocalls, and what we (as consumers) can do to protect ourselves from them.

What is a robocall?

A “robocall” is a phone call that is automatically generated and/or pre-recorded. These calls are often spam. Robocalls are so prevalent that an FCC report projected that approximately half of all phone calls made in the U.S. in 2019 were robocalls. Although many of these calls are spam prohibited by the FTC, some are more innocuous and may be exempt from legal restrictions, as in the case of political advertising. 

Call spoofing.

“Call spoofing” is the act of disguising a number by making it show up as a different number on caller ID. This can result in many confusing situations, such as the reception of calls that appear to be coming from your own phone number. The primary reasons that robocallers spoof numbers are to bypass filters and to make their calls appear innocent. This is often achieved by disguising the call as a local number.

answering robocalls

Who Makes Robocalls?

According to a USA Today report, a significant portion of robocalls originate from within the United States (particularly in California and Florida) although many also come from outside the country. You also may be at higher risk for receiving robocalls depending on what state you reside in. People living in Texas, California, Florida, Georgia and New York seem to be especially popular targets. 

These calls can be so frustrating that it may be tempting to start answering and demand that the callers "take you off their list." However, this is unlikely to help, since many of these calls are illegal spam. They likely have no interest in honoring the Do Not Call Registry, and probably acquired your phone number by purchasing a publicly circulating list. Therefore, even if you can convince them to stop contacting you, another robocaller will probably take their place.

Negative impacts from answering robocalls.

Robocallers may document when you answer in order to determine what times of the day or week may be ideal to call. It is also possible that if you answer, you may get caught up in a scam. Scams (such as phishing) often involve acquiring personal information or money from the target, and it is important to note that in some cases the caller may even pretend to represent your local police force or a federal agency.

However, although the best answer is often to just not answer these calls, that solution is causing widespread issues for both individuals and businesses. The increasing practice of ignoring unfamiliar numbers may cause people to miss important calls, such as those from medical professionals, and cause legitimate business inquiries to get lost amid the scams.

How to stop getting spam calls.

Although on some level, the widespread issue of spam calls can only be effectively addressed through large-scale oversight, there are many steps individuals can take to protect themselves from annoying and dangerous robocalls.

Use call filtering.

Many phone providers offer call filtering options. These will block certain categories of calls or send them straight to voicemail. For example, a filter may block numbers marked as spam, or may divert unknown or non-local numbers, depending on the filter.

spam call blockers

Spam call blockers.

It is also possible to use third-party applications to block spam. However, while these are sometimes effective (depending on the individual app), they often cost money and may even use your information unethically.

National Do Not Call Registry.

There is a National Do Not Call Registry that American citizens can sign up for, and while it is the legal obligation of outbound calling agencies to honor this list, many robocallers are operating illegally to begin with, and likely will not honor the registry. 

Registering should reduce the number of annoying calls overall, but there are exceptions to the regulation. For example, politicians, charities, and businesses with which you've recently been in contact can legally call individuals on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Other steps to prevent robocalls.

In some cases, call filtering and blocking options can be carrier-specific. These can often be found in your phone settings.

Blocking robocalls on Android.

Methods for blocking numbers will vary depending on the specific Android device, and there are usually multiple methods of doing so for each. There are often options for blocking numbers in both the general settings and in your contacts section. 

In order to automatically filter out suspicious calls, there should be a spam filter option in settings. This will likely be found under "Caller ID & Spam" or a similar category. The filter simply needs to be toggled on.

Blocking robocalls on iPhone.

Methods for blocking numbers will vary depending on the specific iPhone device, and there are usually multiple methods of doing so for each. There are often options for blocking numbers in both the general settings and in your contacts section.

Many iterations of the iPhone also offer the option to filter out unknown callers. This can be found in the settings tab under "Caller ID" or a similar category regarding call features. The filter simply needs to be toggled on.

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