Scam of the month: How to fight back against robocalls

Don't get sucked in — or ripped off

  • By Paul Brandus,
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Chances are you can’t make it through dinner these days without getting a robocall. Landline, cellphone, it makes no difference: An estimated 48 billion robocalls were made last year alone, says a survey by the AARP Fraud Watch Network — that’s 146 robocalls for every man, woman and child in the United States. And the problem is accelerating: these figures are up 57% from the year before.

While all robocalls are annoying, an estimated two-fifths of them are outright scams. You might think that based on caller ID that it’s someone you know, because the number might have your area code. But it’s not. Scammers use what’s known as “caller ID spoofing” to make it look that way; this makes it more likely that you’ll pick up. Spoofing gives bad guys the upper hand. An AARP survey shows that adults are far more likely to answer a call that appears be from a local area code, an area code where friends or family live, or an area code and telephone exchange that matches their own.

Email fraud red flags

Take a closer look at a phishing email's common components to avoid becoming a victim.

My advice: If you’re not absolutely sure you know the number, do not answer. If you do, chances are you’ll get a robotic voice on the other end (you know what I’m talking about) claiming to be from a company or government agency. Or it could be a live voice, claiming to represent a “charity” and asking you to donate. Remember: they’re just out for your money. Government agencies don’t call you — they write. So again, let me state it simply: Hang up. You can first tell them to “remove this number from your list” and then hang up; sometimes this works. If you’re like me, you were brought up to be polite, but this isn’t the time for that. Don’t get sucked into a conversation don’t answer any questions. Just hang up.

Did I mention that you should just hang up?

Fighting back

Add your phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry. Visit www.donotcall.gov (it’s a federal government website), or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register. You will get fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering your number.

Since most legitimate telemarketers don’t phone numbers on the registry, any calls that you do get are much more likely to be from someone trying to rip you off.

Blocking calls

On a landline, here are some tips:

  • Call your service provider. Ask a customer service representative whether call blocking is an available feature. There might be a monthly fee.
  • You can also block calls on your own. Call *69 to get the number (if you don’t know it), then hang up and call *60, and listen to directions. I do this a lot. It’s very satisfying blocking scammers.
  • Downside: There may be a limit to how many numbers you can block. Here’s where the “don’t answer in the first place” comes in handy.
  • You can also block anonymous numbers. Try calling *77. Callers who block the display of their name and numbers will hear an automated recording that you’re not accepting blocked calls.

On a cellphone, here are some tips, depending on what kind of phone you have:

  • Hit “Settings.”
  • Hit “Phone” or “Phone Settings”
  • Hit “Calls” or “Incoming Calls”
  • Hit “Blocked Callers,” “Call Blocking,” or “Unwanted Calls,” and follow further prompts.
  • On an Android, download the “Call Filter” app and follow instructions
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