There’s nothing more annoying than unwanted calls from strangers and robots that blow up your iPhone throughout the day. Just like spam email in years past, robocall scams are now the bane of smartphone existence, accounting for some 50% of all phone calls. Seriously, ugh!
What are robocalls?
Robocalls are unsolicited communications comprised of recorded messages from a variety of sources, both national and international. From telemarketers to corrupt scams, these computerized calls dial your smartphone at all hours. Just in 2019 alone, U.S. citizens received 54.6 billion spam calls, totaling 14 calls per month per phone owner. That’s insane.
From fake IRS threats to bogus luxurious vacations to get-rich-quick schemes, these drive-by calls aim to sell things you don’t want or need, extract information for identity theft, and frighten you out of your wits. Even more, these calls use deceptive caller IDs and spoofing to falsify area code information. Robocalls can also come across as actual phone numbers that belong to real people who have no clue their phone number is being used to deceive other callers. Robocalls are simply disruptive and a dangerous waste of time.
The FCC takes action
While certain types of robocalls are allowed — like airline flight notifications, appointment reminders, and local public service messages — the government forbids businesses to solicit products and services through phone calls. On June 6, 2019, the FCC unanimously passed a new rule allowing carriers to automatically block illegal and unwanted calls that are not preapproved. Carriers were already allowed to block suspicious calls, but only if subscribers opted in. However, they can now block calls without prior permission.
Still, there’s no guarantee this protection won’t cost you. Not only is this protection not required to be free, automated calls from legitimate sources like your doctor’s office could also get blocked. Meanwhile, credit, banking, and healthcare companies are working to ensure that their own permitted auto-generated calls can still get through.
That said, here are some tips on how to avoid robocalls on your iPhone.
Just don’t answer
If you use your iPhone less for calling and more for other smart features, and if you don’t have kids, family members, or close friends that habitually call, it’s easy to simply turn the ringer off and ignore vibrations until the caller leaves a message — if they leave a message. Make sure your family and friends know to always leave a message if you do not pick up. If you see an unfamiliar, unidentified number listed in your missed calls and the caller has not left a message, just delete the call straight away.
Why not just answer and then hang up? By answering a robocall, your number may be put in line for more interference because it lets the scammers know you will engage. That makes your number more likely to be passed onto a human caller who may try to extract information from you or trick you into parting with your hard-earned cash.
Silence unknown callers
In its continuing effort to enhance security, Apple implemented a feature called Silence Unknown Callers in iOS. It’s designed to protect against calls from scammers and people you don’t know. Here’s how to toggle it on:
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap Phone. It’s located seven entries down from Passwords & Accounts.
- Scroll down and tap Silence Unknown Callers to toggle this feature on (green).
With this setting enabled, iOS uses Siri’s intelligence and deep learning algorithms to allow calls from numbers found in your Contacts, Mail, and Messages apps. All other calls automatically go to voicemail.
Not only does this feature support the FCC’s new STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens) standards, but a checkmark appears next to calls in the Recents list when the carrier verifies those phone numbers — meaning the call is not spoofed.
However, take care not to miss important calls from people not listed in your contacts. Always check your voicemail for calls to ensure you don’t miss a needed communication.
Use separate ringtones
You can assign separate ringtones to specific numbers to easily identify friends and family when they call. Here’s how:
- Open the Phone app.
- Tap Contacts listed at the bottom.
- Tap the contact you want to modify.
- Tap Edit located in the top right corner.
- Scroll down and tap Ringtone. Currently, it reads Default.
- Select the ringtone you want to assign to this contact, custom-made ringtones included. A check appears next to the selected ringtone.
- Tap Done in the upper right corner to assign the ringtone.
- Tap Done in the upper right corner to complete the change.
The ringtone’s name is now displayed next to the contact. This is what you hear when that contact calls.
Block individual phone numbers
Blocking individual numbers on your iPhone is easy. Problem is, it may not solve the robocall problem. Scammers are aware of the block feature and bypass it by using different numbers each time they call. Blocking a number doesn’t hurt, but it won’t help the overall problem of robocalls for the long-term. Here’s how to do it:
- Open the Phone app.
- Tap Recents listed at the bottom.
- Tap the Information icon next to the unknown caller. It resembles an “i” inside a circle.
- On the following screen, scroll down and tap Block This Caller.
- Tap Block Contact on the pop-up window at the bottom.
Do not disturb
Apple’s Do Not Disturb feature, when toggled on, only notifies you about calls from your contacts. All other numbers are delivered silently in the background.
- Open the Settings app.
- Scroll down, and tap Do Not Disturb.
- Tap Allow Calls From listed under Phone.
- Make a selection, like Favorites or All Contacts.
- Tap the Back arrow.
- Tap Do Not Disturb to toggle the feature on. You can also activate it by tapping the Crescent Moon icon in the Control Center.
Join the National Do Not Call registry
While this may not completely filter out all robocalls, there’s no harm in entering your information into the registry. This government-backed list makes calls to your number from any legit telemarketing outfit illegal.
To join, go to the official website and enter the mobile phone number you want to be added. Alternatively, you can call 1-888-382-1222 from any phone number you want on the list. Your number stays on the list until you specifically request removal or change phone numbers. The Do Not Call list takes you off business call lists, but it can take up to a month to go into effect. Political organizations, charities, and pollsters can still call you. Places you’ve done business with over the last 18 months can also legally call you.
You can also file a complaint with the FCC by reporting the time, date, phone number, and a description of the robocall message.
Use your carrier’s resources
Major carriers already identify, filter, and prevent robocalls. In response to the FCC’s new rule, 12 major U.S. phone carriers must implement new technology (STIR and SHAKEN). These technologies are designed to identify robocaller spoofing techniques that make phone numbers appear local. These systems must be in place by June 30, 2021. Small carriers have until June 30, 2022.
As part of the pledge, taken in partnership with 51 U.S. attorneys general, carriers will also offer free anti-robocall tools to users. For now, major carriers offer basic free services and premium services for a monthly fee.
Subscribers can use a free iOS app called AT&T Call Protect. It has automatic fraud blocking and suspected-spam warnings. However, you can manually block unwanted calls by enabling it in your account settings. The premium version is $4 per month.
Verizon offers a free call-blocking service that already identifies 300 million spam and scam phone numbers that it blocks using spam alert and call-blocking tools. The premium version is $3 per month.
T-Mobile provides network-side features that run in the background to combat robocallers and spam calls. Scam ID identifies spam numbers, while Scam Block lets you block those numbers by dialing #662# on your handset (or turn it off by dialing #632#).
T-Mobile also offers a Name ID service for $4 per month, which identifies and provides caller information like the name, location, and type of organization.
Sprint customers can use the free My Sprint platform or sign up for its Premium Caller ID service to protect themselves from robocalls and caller ID spoofing. For $3 a month, this service provides a threat level indicator to give customers an idea of how suspicious a call is. It doesn’t automatically block spam calls, but based on the threat level, you can choose to answer a call, block a number, or report it to prevent future calls.
Use a robocall blocking app
There are many reputable robocall-blocking apps in the App Store. Most offer free basic features alongside premium paid services. Be sure to thoroughly research third-party apps first, as many were discovered to have gathered and monetized user information. Here are just a few of the most popular apps.
RoboKiller meets the call scam challenge with predictive call-blocking technology and around-the-clock protection to control who can and can’t call you. This app adds spammers to your block list automatically before your iPhone even rings. You can reverse the process temporarily if you’re expecting a call from an unknown number. Choose the phone numbers you wish to block, and allow the ones you want to go through. View all missed and blocked calls to see who’s trying to reach you.
Even better, you can give spammers some pushback with Answer Bots. The app records Answer Bot conversations, too, so you can listen to spammers struggle and huff. Want even more fun? Make your own bot with its own script.
Truecaller identifies and blocks spam calls and works with a community-based spam list from over 250 million users. It automatically identifies spam, fraud, and robocalls before you pick up.
This app offers protection from over 1.5 million robocallers, telemarketers, and phone scammers, with over 1,500 new robocallers identified every day. Nomorobo is smart enough to distinguish between good robocalls, like weather alerts, and bad ones, like telemarketers. It does not identify robocalls (which it leaves to you), but it blocks spoofed calls. Its database contains thousands of robocall messages.
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