Imagine your phone ringing incessantly throughout the day, each call carrying a promise, a pitch, or a peril. Spam calls have become an insidious part of our daily lives, invading our personal space and exploiting the economics of communication in ways that are both astounding and alarming. The scale of this issue is staggering; in 2015, a penalty of $25,000 was slapped on Message Communications Inc. for their persistent violation involving 125,000 minutes of robocalls. Shockingly, these very minutes, which cost the company $25,000, were sold for a meager $875. To put it plainly, for just one cent, a buyer could acquire 28 spam calls.
Now, consider this: even if only one call out of every 10,000 manages to lure a potential customer, generating a lead, and these leads are valued at $7 each, an hour of robocalls can yield a revenue of $1,750. This means the investment effectively doubles, underlining the stark profitability of spam calls. These numbers not only reveal the economic allure behind spam calls but also highlight the pressing need to understand why these intrusive calls persistently plague our phones. In this article, we delve into the reasons behind the inundation of spam calls and explore ways to navigate this ever-growing digital menace.
Types of Spam Calls
Spam calls, like digital pests, come in various forms, each designed to deceive and disrupt. Understanding these types is crucial in the battle against this relentless intrusion. Here’s a breakdown of the most common forms:
Robocalls are automated phone calls that use pre-recorded messages or artificial intelligence to engage with recipients. They are the foot soldiers of spam calls, capable of reaching thousands in mere minutes. These calls often peddle scams or unsolicited offers, bombarding unsuspecting individuals.
Caller ID Spoofing
Spoofing involves falsifying caller ID information, making it appear as though the call is coming from a trusted source. This tactic aims to deceive recipients into answering the call, enhancing the effectiveness of the scam.
Phishing calls are crafted to trick recipients into divulging personal or financial information. These calls often employ social engineering tactics, exploiting trust to gather sensitive data.
Neighbor spoofing is a sneaky tactic where scammers manipulate caller IDs to match the recipient’s area code and prefix, making the call seem local. This method aims to increase the likelihood of the call being answered.
Why are Some Calls Labeled as Spam?
Spam includes all forms of communication, including but not limited to unsolicited spam calls or messages, caller ID spoofing, robocalls, etc. Typically, spam targets large numbers of users for advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc. Generally speaking, there are two types of scam calls.
The first is called the one-ring scam, and it relies heavily on our natural curiosity. This common scam is simple. The phone rang but stopped before you could answer it. This may happen multiple times before you respond. If you do answer the call, the caller will immediately hang up. However, if you call back, you may hear the recorded message. Unfortunately, there are already expensive international fees that can cost you up to $20 in the first minute. Meanwhile, criminals collect all or part of the fee, which is then transferred to more victims using automatic dialers, making millions of calls per day.
The other is called bell and run. Once you pick up the phone, the caller blurts out a time-critical emergency, pretending to represent an agency or organization that can help you or your friend or relative out of trouble. Once the caller is convinced they have your attention, they may hang up abruptly or ask you to call them back. In either case, the goal may be to get you to make long-distance calls or to lure you into giving them money directly or accessing personal information like your bank account or credit card number.
How do Call Spammers Know Your Phone Number?
As you fill out the online form to log into your bank account, you both use your phone number to confirm your online identity. Like your email address, your phone number is one of the most common forms of personal information you use in your daily life.
Scammers obtain your phone number for exactly this reason and illegally obtain your phone number through the following methods.
Claim: the following solutions don’t naturally intend to encourage illegal behaviors but to objectively introduce the current solutions.
Fraudsters buy phone numbers in bulk on the dark web. For example, the phone numbers of 4 million Clubhouse users are sold on the dark web as a dataset. Buying millions of phone numbers on the dark web doesn’t cost scammers much. For example, an American’s basic personal information, including his phone number, costs as little as $8.
Another common method used by scammers is an automatic dialer. The device generates and calls a random phone number.
Publicly Available Information
Your phone number might be publicly listed in directories, social media profiles, or business websites, making it accessible to anyone.
When companies or websites experience data breaches, hackers can access and steal vast amounts of personal information, including phone numbers. This stolen data is often sold on the dark web to spammers and fraudsters.
Online Forms and Surveys
Be cautious when filling out online forms, surveys, or signing up for services online. Some websites might share or sell the information you provide, including your phone number, to third-party marketers.
Some mobile apps request access to your contact list as part of their permissions. If you grant this access, the app developers could potentially misuse the data, including phone numbers, for marketing purposes.
Certain public records, such as property records and voter registration lists, may include your phone number. These records are sometimes accessible by marketing companies.
Scammers often use phishing techniques to trick individuals into providing their phone numbers. This can occur through fake websites, emails, or text messages that appear legitimate and request your contact information.
Contests and Giveaways
When you enter contests, giveaways, or subscribe to newsletters, the organizers might collect and store your phone number for marketing purposes. Sometimes, these lists are sold to third-party marketers.
Call spammers might use social engineering techniques to extract information from individuals directly. They could pose as customer service representatives, conduct surveys, or use other tactics to obtain your phone number and other personal details.
Data Mining and Crawling
Spammers use automated bots to crawl websites and collect publicly available information, including phone numbers, which is then used for unsolicited calls.
Should You Answer Spam Calls?
Your phone is ringing, or more likely, it’s vibrating. You’re looking at the screen, not your mom on the phone. This is not your best friend. This is an unknown number from a distant area code. Or it’s just your area code and a phone number that looks strikingly similar to yours. Alternatively, your cell phone carrier may issue a warning such as “may be a scam”. What happens when you answer a spam caller? Is it better not to answer the robocall or to answer without talking?
The answer seems simple – DON’T answer.
The logic of robocall is simple. If you answer their call, your number will be considered “good” even if you are not deceived. They’ll try again next time because they know someone on the other side might be a victim of fraud. The fewer you answer, the fewer calls you will have. That looks like a good suggestion, but how do you know which call is the robocall? Spam calls are not easy to judge. If you get it wrong, you may miss some normal calls (such as interview calls, potential customer business calls, etc.), and with the advancement of technology, cheating is becoming more and more common. There’s no way to tell if a caller ID that looks familiar or has a name and picture on the screen is real. Some robocalls will even use the voices of people you know as their pre-recorded messages. So be careful when you hit that answer button, and we need to think of other ways to block spam calls.
All Solutions to Block Spam Calls
Spam calls can be frustrating and intrusive, but there are effective strategies to mitigate their impact and protect yourself from falling victim to scams. Here are practical tips to help you deal with spam calls:
1. Check with Your Wireless Carrier
All the big four wireless carriers offer some sort of call blocking feature. Both have a free option and a premium tier. But frankly, all robocall blocking services should be free. This shouldn’t be a way for operators to make money off us.
AT&T Call Protect: AT&T offers Call Protect, a free service designed to stop fraudulent robocalls and possible spam risks from reaching you, without you having to do anything other than install software on your phone. Call Protect won’t completely stop telemarketer calls, but it will at least show a “nuisance warning” when you get them. The service also makes it easy to permanently block callers, and you can build a personal block list. There’s also a Call Protect Plus service that offers caller ID, reverse number lookup, and the ability to block or send calls to voicemail by category. These add-ons cost $3.99 per month, but the main Call Protect service comes free as part of your plan. Prepaid customers can also use Call Protect if they have a phone that supports AT&T HD Voice.
Verizon Wireless Call Filter: The Call Filter app provided by Verizon is automatically enabled for Android users on postpaid plans. The service offers spam detection, spam filters, call logs for blocked or spam calls, allowing calls from specific numbers (iOS only), and the option to report numbers for free. You can pay $3 per month for Caller ID, Spam Lookup, Personal Blacklist, and Spam Risk Meter ($8 per month for three or more lines of service). Call Filter is built into most Android devices out of the box (if you have an Android phone, you may be prompted about it), but it’s also available in the App Store for iOS users.
T-Mobile: Scam Shield and Scam Block: This service is free for all postpaid customers. Scam Shield Premium is $4 per month. T-Mobile’s effort to combat annoying robocalls is called Scam Shield. The free-to-download Scam Shield app bundles all of T-Mobile’s various tools including Scam ID, Scam Block, and Caller ID – so you can easily configure whatever level of protection works for you. Suspicious calls are always flagged by default. Enabling Scam Block will prevent many of them from ringing your phone. T-Mobile’s Caller ID service will often display information about people who are calling you, even if they’re not in your contacts. You can always open Scam Block without the Scam Shield app.
2. Use a Third-Party Blocker App for All Phones, Carriers, and Operating Systems
If your telecommunication carrier isn’t covered in the content above, use a third-party blocker app that can be installed and used on all phones and operating systems like RealCall.
RealCall is capable to block all spam calls, robocalls, and telemarketing calls and messages with unsolicited purposes based on a large database containing a large number of evil caller IDs reported by millions of call victims and reporters.
With RealCall used on your phone, all unnecessary calls and texts can be well isolated with your world being filled with silence and focus.
3. Dial #662# on iPhone
This solution only works on iPhones. To block a number on your iPhone, you can dial #662# and tap the phone icon as you usually do to call someone. This is a simple solution to block a specific number that’s been regarded as “suspicious”.
4. Rely on Your Phone’s Built-in Features
Many Android phones, including those from Samsung and Google, have built-in options to flag suspected spam calls. If you have a Google Pixel device, when a spammer calls you, the entire screen turns red, which is an easy way to ignore the call if you’re on the phone across the room. On Pixel phones, you can also tap the three dots in the upper right corner of the Phone app, then go to Settings > Caller ID & Spam; you can then view the Spam ID and filter spam calls. Other phones will have similar features.
iOS 13 introduces its own app called Silence Unknown Callers, which blocks any caller who isn’t in your contacts list, hasn’t been contacted, or hasn’t texted. Instead, those calls will go directly to voicemail. You can enable it by selecting Settings > Phone > Mute Unknown Callers.
5. Remove Your Information from Data Broker Sites
Blocking spam calls goes beyond just using phone settings; it involves safeguarding your personal information online to minimize the chances of scammers getting hold of your data. One proactive step you can take is to remove your information from data broker sites, which collect and sell personal data.
What Should I Do if I Answered a Spam Call?
If you get a spam call, your best bet is to hang up immediately. Consumers in the UK are not protected from direct marketing calls under privacy laws and may not be marketed to them by phone, text message, email or fax if companies have explicitly opted out. To prevent spammers from calling you in the future, you should sign up for the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), the UK’s official list of numbers that do not want to receive unsolicited sales. If you receive a call from a legitimate company (not a scam call, but a spam call), you can report the call to the Information Commissioner’s Office and block the number.