How to Deal with Spam Text Messages and Robocalls

Telemarketers have been a thorn in the side of humankind for decades. And while technology offers more options for blocking unwanted calls, it also makes spammers more agile than ever before.

Photo: Arstechnica

If you haven’t noticed, scammers have gotten smart. These days, many use computers to “spoof” the number they appear to be calling from or texting, meaning they can call from thousands upon thousands of different numbers to mask their identity. Often, they’ll use numbers with the same first six digits as your own number, in order to look like someone in your neighborhood. That makes them notoriously hard to block, but there are some things you can try.

iRoboCall War

There are plenty of apps you can use to block phone calls, which typically work by identifying spammy numbers others have already been hit with and preemptively blocking them before it’s your turn. They aren’t perfect, but they offer a reasonable first line of defense against annoyances.

I’ve been a huge fan of Hiya (Android, iOS) as I’ve found its free version does a solid job of keeping the robocalls down. Make sure you’re updating its database at regular intervals (as in, whenever you get an annoying call or two), and make sure you’ve set up the app so that it’s automatically blocking problematic numbers and “neighbor scams,” or spoofed numbers that look a lot like your number, instead of just warning you about them.

If your wireless carrier offers free spam identification and blocking features or apps, there’s no harm in giving them a shot. These features might not work very well, but they’re better than nothing:

  • Verizon ($2.99/mo)
  • AT&T (Free)
  • T-Mobile (Free-$4/mo)
  • Sprint ($2.99/mo)

If you’re an iOS user, you can take the somewhat-extreme step of using Do Not Disturb as a sort-of whitelist for your iPhone. Pull up the Settings app and tap on Do Not Disturb. Flip it on, don’t give it a schedule, and tap the “Allow Calls From” section to select “All Contacts.” You’ve now effectively silenced all phone calls save for those from the people already in your iPhone’s Contacts app. However, you also won’t receive message notifications or app notifications—like your email—which can be problematic.

Don’t reply directly to any spam text message.

Directly replying to a spam text message lets a spammer know that your number is genuine. What happens next? They can sell your phone number to other spammers who might bombard you with promises of free gifts and product offers.

Do treat your personal information like it’s cash.

Spam text messages may lure you into disclosing personal information like how much money you make, how much you owe the bank, your Social Security number, and credit card details. Most legitimate companies do not request personal information like passwords, account details, and other personal details via text messages.

Don’t click on any links in the text message.

Clicking on a link in a spam text message could install malware that can collect information from your phone. It can take you to spoof sites that look real, but are designed to steal your information. It can also lead to unwanted charges on your cell phone bill. Your wireless carrier may charge you for receiving a text message, regardless of whether you requested it.

Do review your cell phone bill regularly.

It’s smart to check your phone bill regularly to make sure it reflects the correct amount. If there are charges that don’t look right, call the phone company and find out if you’re receiving or sending spam messages from your phone.

Do check your phone’s settings

Your phone probably has built-in features to help block unwanted calls and text messages. Type in “block” using your device’s search function.

For Android phones, look for the three dots on the top right-hand corner of your text. Click on it and select “People” and “Options.” Next, select “Block” to stop receiving spam text messages from that number.

For iPhones, click on the “i” in the top right-hand corner of the spam text. Next, click on the number and select “Block.

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