Telemarketing spam is taking over my phone.
March 18, 2019 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I've gotten six calls from some random telemarketer company in the last hour and a half -- they identify themselves as a different company each time, calling for someone else, using randomized numbers. This has been going on for the past 4-5 days. Sometimes there are 20 calls in a day.

Since the numbers are random, blocking them doesn't do anything. I can put the phone on DND but if I'm using it they're still going to come through and interrupt me and then I can't actually get text notifications from anyone because: DND all the time. I have Verizon and an iPhone. What options do I have besides getting a new phone number? My number is already on the do-not-call list and has been for many years. My ideal solution is to block all calls EXCEPT those on my contacts list -- I'm fine checking voicemail every now and then. Is there a way to do that?
posted by curious nu to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Verizon's press release about their free spam blocking service being rolled out this month.
posted by zamboni at 10:04 AM on March 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don’t know the answer to your question about blocking, but I can recommend NEVER PICKING UP A SPAM CALL. If you pick up, your number is put in the “active” category, and is sold to more spammers. Picking up the phone is like feeding the street dog (no offense meant to street dogs).
posted by Grandysaur at 10:05 AM on March 18, 2019 [12 favorites]

Check and see if your email is listed in any of your social media profiles. Mine was listed in FB for some reason. (Have no idea why, but I configured it back in '08). Once I removed it, they dwindled down to nothing. That and using the Verizon spam tool that I pay for, has it down to a manageable level.
posted by littleredwagon at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2019

I don’t know the answer to your question about blocking, but I can recommend NEVER PICKING UP A SPAM CALL.

Which unfortunately will be difficult, because you don't always know which calls are legit and which are spam, because the telemarketers have gotten better about spoofing....

There are a number of apps that promise to screen out suspicious numbers for you. None of them are perfect, but I've had the most success with Youmail - it's free, and somehow manages to catch a handful of the spam attempts to my phone. If there's a number trying to call you that is definitely spam, they intercept the call and play a faked "this number has been disconnected" message. For numbers they're not sure about, they just play a generic "[so and so] is not available, leave a message".

I had this on my phone during a month I was job hunting. It did send a recruiter to the generic "so and so is not available" box once, but I re-set the settings to stop that easily enough. And some spam calls do still sneak through, but much fewer than had been before I got this app.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on March 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

On my phone (Android), calls from my listed contacts show that person's name when a call comes in - I assume it's the same for iPhone? I long ago (as in, during the Pre-Cellphone Age) got in the habit of not answering any anonymous calls unless I'm specifically expecting one; I mute the ring (again, I don't know how iPhones work but maybe turn the phone over or press the power button?) and let the call go to voicemail. Any legitimate caller will leave a message and I can call them back. I freely grant this is making a behavioral change on my part rather than getting technology to handle the spam for me, but in absence of any other option that's all I can do.

I'm hoping Verizon's spam blocking turns out to work well. But in the meantime I've found that the habit of ignoring anonymous calls has measurably improved my quality of life! That said, I know some people that can't stand not answering every call, so to each their own...
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:28 AM on March 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

The press release is kind of vague about what they're offering for free. The current Verizon Call Filter offering, which is basically a Caller ID database, costs an insulting $2.99/line/month. The Call Filter FAQ clarifies things a little:
On 1/17/19, Verizon announced that spam and robocalling features will be offered for free to all customers by end of March.

Free features will include the ability to detect and block spam in the Call Filter app.
All other Call Filter features remain available at the existing $2.99/month price.
Details about enrolling will be available at a later date.
This is basically Verizon going through the motions in response to the FCC's warning about spam calls from late last year. It does not include STIR/SHAKEN, the new caller authentication system being rolled out which should hopefully put an end to the vast majority of calls with fake Caller ID. In this FCC Ex Parte letter from last May, Verizon says they're still working on that:
And to address the challenges presented by Caller ID spoofing, Verizon is committed to deploying the STIR/SHAKEN authentication standard in our networks. We described the investments Verizon is making and the work streams underway to update multiple network elements. We expect to achieve initial operational capability later this year, with the bulk of production anticipated for 2019. We also explained the importance of moving swiftly to have a certificate governance regime in place prior to widespread cross-carrier passing on call authentication tokens. Consistent with the recent NANC report, Verizon supports a “hybrid” governance model for the deployment of STIR/SHAKEN where the Commission endorses a flexible, industry-administered framework.
posted by zamboni at 10:29 AM on March 18, 2019

I'm on android, and set up a "Priority only" rule such that DND is on but calls from numbers in my contacts are allowed to ring. It's easy to turn off if I'm expecting a call from a new vendor or something.
posted by momus_window at 10:30 AM on March 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

For more on the FCC situation with robocalls, see Docket 17-59, In the Matter of Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls.

Verizon has made 5 filings. Their public notice comments are probably the best summary of their position and future plans.
posted by zamboni at 10:41 AM on March 18, 2019

Spam calls are such a huge problem right now for everyone, it isn't just you. I've had good success with Google's spam blocking, I now probably only get 2-3 calls a day from "Private Number" (which I just don't pick up).

Now, Google doesn't block the un-spoofed calls, from political pollsters and folks seeking donations. Those are telemarketing calls but not "scams". To avoid those I just don't pick up unknown numbers (if it's important they will leave a voice mail), and I dismiss the call notification to stop it ringing. You also have a chance with these of telling them to take you off their call list.

To work around that, if the ringing is not acceptable, I would suggest trying momus_window's suggestion of a Do Not Disturb mode with a priority list setting to let your contacts' calls ring, or setting your phone ring tone to silent (but leaving your message notification ring tone). Then you can hear text messages without hearing phone calls.
posted by Lady Li at 11:20 AM on March 18, 2019

On iOS, at least, there's a pretty good filter program called Robokiller.
posted by uberchet at 12:34 PM on March 18, 2019

Pick up but say nothing. They will then assume that the connection is bad and write your number down as not good.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:06 PM on March 18, 2019

Pick up but say nothing. They will then assume that the connection is bad and write your number down as not good.

Not necessarily. Many of the automated ones merely note that the connection is made, and play the message regardless of whether you say anything.

The really bad calls are the automated ones that acually leave a voice message if you don’t pick up.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:17 PM on March 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

There are apps out there that will allow you to block all calls not on your contacts list and route them to your voicemail. I use one called Should I Answer? And it's quite useful: it also keeps a blacklist of known telemarketer/spam callers (when the spammer isn't spoofing their number).
posted by suelac at 3:23 PM on March 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pick up but say nothing. They will then assume that the connection is bad and write your number down as not good.

This is actively bad advice (sorry Jane). Robocallers note not only whether a line was picked up, but for how long before it was hung up. Holding the line open will encourage them to call back. If you're amenable to Android, I can say that google's blocking works really well (I've been using Pixels for the past several years). If not try youmail or one of the other apps others have recommended.
posted by axiom at 6:33 PM on March 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

The biggest problem for me is that my mother is in Assisted Living, and could have an emergency at any time. The latest spoofers use "local" numbers, so I feel like I have to answer every call as it could be something that requires immediate attention regarding Mom. I have an iPhone too, but on AT&T--on AT&T for a while they had an app called Call Protect that was doing a great job of blocking calls before they'd get to me but it seems to be defeated now; however it does identify a lot of calls as "Telemarketer" and "Spam Risk". I have RoboKiller installed, but I can't bring myself to pay $3.99/mo for something that should be solved by the carrier.
posted by clone boulevard at 9:46 PM on March 18, 2019

Reply All went back to the well to explain more about Robocallers this week and they do indeed notice if you pick up and how long. The LONGER you stay on equals MORE calls. First half of the episode is about Momo/Kid's YouTube just FYI.

Previous Reply All on robocalls.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:21 AM on March 19, 2019

I've had decent luck with Hiya (Android). You can flag or block if you want to but it shares a database between all users that can silence incoming calls if the number is previously flagged as spam.
posted by erebora at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2019

I'm on Android using an app called "Calls Blacklist". I actually use that as a WHITElist. If you're not in my contacts, my phone won't ring for you. People still leave me voicemails (which I check via Google Voice), and my text messages aren't affected.

It's super great because it's proactive. I don't have to get a call, answer it, realize it's a spam call, hang up, then go and block the number (which was probably spoofed to begin with). I did have to go in and make contacts for the call box at my apartment, but I only had to do that once, not several times a day.
posted by Zudz at 11:53 AM on March 19, 2019

I'm on an iPhone, but I think these apps may also be on Android.

I have a 3-prong approach for avoiding spam calls:

1) Nomorobo (an app) that gets most of the spam calls that aren't from my area code

2) Hiya (an app) that gets most of the spam calls from my area code

3) A silent ringtone that is my default ringtone. Everyone in my contacts list has a ringtone assigned to them, and if they call me from a new or different phone, they can just leave a message. If I'm waiting for a company or person to give me a call back, I either ask what number they're calling from so I can assign it a ringtone, or temporarily set my default ringtone back to one with sound.
posted by telophase at 2:02 PM on March 19, 2019

+1 for Nomorobo
posted by zerolives at 9:52 AM on March 28, 2019

Verizon has released the update for their Call Filter app that includes free spam filtering.
posted by zamboni at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2019

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