Are you tired of sketchy companies, scammers, telemarketers, and robocallers constantly calling you? While there’s no 100% effective solution, you can get pretty close by keeping your phone number out of their hands, but first, let’s tackle the question of how they got your number in the first place through data brokers.
How data brokers collect your information
Data brokers collect, aggregate, and sell your personal information, including your phone number, with the intent to sell it to interested parties. They can get your information in many ways, by accessing public information like government records or gathering data from loyalty card programs, surveys, and social media. Mobile apps can also share your personal information with data brokers. Even your online browsing habits are valuable to data brokers. Your data profile can be sold to many different buyers, including targeted advertising and marketing companies, as well as government agencies.
How a data broker uses your information
Some data brokers offer personal profiles directly to consumers, and you might be surprised by how much information they have about you. Have you ever tried searching for someone on a “people search” website? These sites let you enter a name and find out all sorts of information about that person. Try searching for yourself or someone you know. You might find out who used to live at your current address, how much money you make, and who your relatives are.
Where do people search sites get their information?
People search sites get their information from public records like court documents and voter registration forms. They usually offer some basic information for free, but if you want more details, you’ll have to sign up for a free trial. And when you do, they’ll probably ask for even more information about you.
The scary thing is that anyone with a computer can access this information, including identity thieves. With just a few key pieces of information, they can call your bank, reset your passcodes, and take over your financial accounts.
Even cyberstalkers and blackmailers can use people search sites to find out more about you. Sure, most sites make users promise not to use the information for illegal purposes, but there’s no real way to enforce that. It’s all based on the honor system.
Taking control: removing your information from data brokers
Don’t worry though; there’s something you can do about it. You can request that data brokers remove your information. But with hundreds of them in the U.S. alone, it can be a daunting task. That’s where removal services come in.
Invest in removal services
A service like OneRep can help you remove personal information, including your phone numbers, from the internet. It has a very clean interface and will scan 196 websites for your information and remove it and keep it removed.
Special for CyberGuy Readers: OneRep offers a free 5-day trial (plus a 30-day money-back guarantee) and then charges a special CyberGuy discount only through the links in this article of $7.49/month for one person on their monthly plan or $13.99/month for your family (up to 6 people) on their annual plan. I recommend the family plan because it works out to only $2.33 per person per month for year-round coverage. It’s an excellent service, and I highly recommend at least trying it out to see what it’s all about.
The persistence of robocalls: why they’re still a problem?
While it’s important to take steps to protect your personal information, such as removing it from data broker sites, there are still other threats to our privacy and security. For example, despite efforts to crack down on robocalls, scammers are constantly finding new ways to evade detection and continue their operations. Furthermore, as technology improves, robocallers are able to use more sophisticated methods, such as “spoofing” their phone numbers to make it appear as though they are calling from a different location or entity.
Moreover, spam callers are becoming so sophisticated that they have started to add conversational speech to their scripts to further convince their unsuspecting victims to go along with their scams. For instance, the caller may stumble on their words, use “umm” a lot, and sometimes even use slang to signal to the listener that the caller is not a robot but an ordinary person but beware! Below you can hear an example of a sneaky robocaller attempting to pass as a human.
While some robocalls can range from harmless reminders, most are malicious scams, leaving many frustrated and vulnerable to fraud. There are steps you can take, however, to put an end to these pesky calls for good.
How to end robocalls
First, add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry. This is a free service that prevents telemarketers from calling you. Once you register your phone number, telemarketers must stop calling you within 31 days.
There are several ways to do this.
- You can call the Registry at 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you wish to include in the “do not call” list.
- Alternatively, visit donotcall.gov and click the “Register Your Phone” button.
- Enter the phone number you want to register
You can register up to three phone numbers at a time. Be sure to provide your email to acknowledge the confirmation and begin eliminating robocalls. Remember that the Do Not Call Registry does not stop all unwanted calls, such as those from political organizations, charities, and debt collectors.
How to individually block numbers
- To block numbers directly from your recent calls list on your iPhone, go to your phone app
- Select Recents
- Tap the “i” icon next to the number and select Block this Caller
- You can also report robocallers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting their website at ftc.gov. Look for the “Report to the FTC” tab.
- Once you click on that, you can select “Report Now”
- Then choose “Report an annoying call”
- Then, you’ll need to fill out an online form with some basic information about the robocall, like the phone number it came from and when it happened. It’s helpful to provide as much information as possible, like what the robocall said or what they were trying to sell.
- Once you’ve filled out the form, you can submit it to the FTC. Alternatively, you can also call their toll-free number at 1-888-382-1222 and follow the prompts to report the robocall. This information can help track down and prosecute those annoying and potentially damaging robocalls.
Settings may vary depending on your Android phone’s manufacturer
To block unknown numbers, do the following:
- Open your Phone app
- Tap the 3 vertical dots
- Go to Settings and select Blocked Numbers
- Turn on Block calls from unknown numbers
- You can also click Block spam and scam calls row > Toggle “On“.
- Then below, turn on “Block spam and scam calls“. This feature uses Hiya to identify spam and scam callers as well as other callers who aren’t in your contacts.
How to “silence” Robocalls
You can also enable the “Silence Unknown Callers” feature if you’re still receiving robocalls. This built-in feature on your iPhone allows your device to automatically silence calls from unknown numbers, including robocalls. When this feature is turned on, your phone will only ring for calls from numbers that are in your contacts list or have been recently called or texted.
- To turn on this feature, you need to go to the Settings app on your iPhone
- Scroll down, tap Phone, and then tap Silence Unknown Callers
Once you enable this feature, you should notice a decrease in the number of unwanted calls you receive, including robocalls. However, remember that this feature may also block calls from legitimate sources, such as businesses or people you still need to add to your contacts. So, ensure you still check your voicemail and missed calls regularly.
Use your wireless carrier’s free spam and robocall-blocking service
Several wireless carriers provide their own free robocall scanning and blocking services. Among them:
iPhone: 4.4 stars (at time of publishing)
Android: 2.9 stars (at time of publishing)
AT&T ActiveArmor app includes a range of security features, such as fraud call blocking, anti-phishing protection, and mobile security software to help protect against malware and viruses. Additionally, ActiveArmor includes identity theft protection and alerts, as well as a secure Wi-Fi VPN service to help keep user data and privacy safe.
Sprint/T-Mobile Scam Shield
iPhone: 4.7 stars (at time of publishing)
Android: 4.6 stars (at time of publishing)
The Scam Shield app labels all potentially dangerous calls as “Scam likely” and opens free controls for several anti-scam protections, including Scam ID, Scam Block, and Caller ID. Additionally, the app also provides you with a second phone number for use instead of your private one, ideal for online shopping and helping you avoid calls from scammers as well as telemarketers
Verizon Call Filter app
iPhone: 4.3 stars (at time of publishing)
Android: 4.6 stars (at time of publishing)
The Call Filter app helps protect you from unwanted calls and lets you decide who can reach you. Call Filter also detects spam and blocks high-risk spam calls by forwarding them to voicemail.
Blocking via Google Voice
Google Voice provides another way to block pesky spam calls and prevent them from going to voicemail. The trick is you need to switch to Google Voice as your main number and stop giving out your old carrier number. With Voice, you can block known spam calls in three ways: by sending calls to voicemail, by treating the call as spam (letting the caller leave voicemail but tagged as spam), or by call blocking (in which case the caller will hear a “Number not in service” message and will not be able to leave voice mail).
The big drawback here is that your Google Voice number now becomes your main number, which you forward to the number from your carrier, and you need to use the Google Voice app as the main calling app on your phone. And there’s still no guarantee that spam callers won’t call your carrier number directly, either because it’s already out there or simply because the robodialers are going through every number combination.
Third-party spam-blocking apps
Several third-party apps can help protect you from scam artists. Among our most recommended include:
iPhone: 4.5 stars (at time of publishing)
Android: 4.3 (at time of publishing)
RoboKiller is an app that claims to reduce 99% of unwanted calls or texts. The app is not free for iPhone and Android users. However, it comes with a 7-day free trial, which might be worth checking out before investing.
iPhone: 4.4 stars (at time of publishing)
Android:4.3 stars (at time of publishing)
Call Control is an app available to Android and iPhone users. The app provides users with tools to block unwanted calls, identify and screen incoming calls, and manage call settings such as call forwarding and voicemail. The app helps you filter out unwanted callers by manually adding them to a blacklist.
iPhone: 4.5 stars (at time of publishing)
Android: 2.2 stars (at time of publishing)
Nomorobo is a spam call blocker and robocall blocker app designed to protect you from unwanted calls. It uses a powerful algorithm that analyzes incoming calls and compares them to a constantly-updated database of known spam numbers. If a call is flagged as spam or robocall, Nomorobo will automatically block it before it reaches your phone.
Pro tip: Do not answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize, especially if they’re from out-of-state or foreign countries. If you answer a robocall, don’t engage with the caller or press any buttons, which may lead to more calls.
Kurt’s key takeaways
Now you are all set to live a life filled with peace and quiet by keeping your personal information away from data brokers. Also, no longer live in fear of robo callers hijacking your phone time by taking proactive steps such as registering with the National Do Not Call Registry, enabling call-blocking features, and using spam-blocking apps can significantly reduce their impact. Remember, staying vigilant and reporting robocalls to the appropriate authorities is crucial in the fight against these persistent scams.
What steps have you taken to protect yourself from unwanted robocalls, and have they been effective? We’d like to hear from you. Let us know by commenting below.
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