How to stop robocalls
It’s not easy to find an adult American who hasn’t received a robocall. A 2022 survey of 2,310 Americans revealed that 94% of respondents had received robocalls, 97% received spam email, and 90% were aware of attempts to scam them online. These are all the symptoms of having your contact details and other personal information easily available online.
What are robocalls?
Robocalls aren’t necessarily bad. A robocall is just a pre-recorded or computer-generated audio message that’s broadcast or delivered via autodialing software. This can be used for good or ill: from appointment reminders and flight updates to nuisance telemarketing and ruthless scams.
You can expect to get the occasional legal robocall, like a debt-collection call or a message from a charity to which you’ve donated in the past. The problem is that benign robocalls like these are typically outnumbered by nuisance robocalls (like telemarketing calls) and malicious robocalls (scams).
So over half of the billions of robocalls made each month in the US are at best wasting your time if not attempting to outright defraud you. If your name, number, and other details are doing the rounds on various spam and scam lists, then you can expect the vast majority of robocalls you receive to be of the malicious kind.
More than just a nuisance
Getting so many robocalls is undeniably a nuisance. Even if you reject unknown calls or hang up as soon as you realize it’s a recording, you’re still getting interrupted, distracted, and irritated by systems set up so that someone else can make a quick buck.
The scams that leverage robocalls are particularly dangerous if you fall for them and “falling for them” can be much easier than you might think. You pick up the phone and hear “hello, can you hear me?”, you reflexively answer “yes” and that’s it, you’ve just fallen for at least part of the scam.
In this example, the scammers already have two things from you: they know your phone number is active (expect more calls from them and other scammers) and they have a recording of you saying “yes”, which they can use to make it sound like you’re consenting to all kinds of purchases and arrangements.
Other common tactics include the scammers including options like “dial 1 to speak to a representative” or “dial 9 to unsubscribe”. Interact with the robocall in this way and you could end up with a hefty phone bill. Robocalls are a nuisance, but they’re a nuisance you have to take seriously.
How to stop robocalls (and more) long term
So how can you make sure that these sketchy companies and outright scammers leave you alone long term? There’s no 100% effective solution other than not using a phone at all, but you can get very close by keeping your phone number out of their hands in the first place.
It’s likely that these bad actors are getting your contact information from data brokers, especially people search sites. Data brokers, as the name suggests, are companies that specialize in collecting, aggregating, and sharing or selling your personal information.
Your name and phone number are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the detailed profiles data brokers keep on you, often without your knowledge and certainly without your consent. From arrest records to bankruptcy proceedings and so much more, these companies will sell your most sensitive information to anyone who’s willing to pay.
So what can you do about these scammer-enabling data brokers? Request that they remove your information. This might seem naive and unlikely to work but, thanks to state legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), they’re actually obliged to do so.
As a result, each data broker has to provide an opt-out procedure for you to be able to escape their clutches if you so choose. Many do the bare minimum and nothing more, some go out of their way to make the process as difficult and discouraging as possible. There are guides available to help you negotiate these procedures one by one.
The problem is that, with hundreds of data brokers known to ply their trade in the US alone, it would take you an estimated 304 hours to request the removal of your personal information from all of them, and that’s just the first time. “The first time” because data brokers tend to re-add opted-out profiles after a while, so you have to periodically re-request data removal.
An automated personal information removal service like Incogni is a much more workable solution. Incogni will ferret out the data brokers most likely to hold your personal data and automatically send—and periodically resend—removal requests to get and keep your personal information out of their hands.
It’ll take some time before you begin to notice a decrease in the number of robocalls you receive: spammers and scammers update their databases at various intervals. When it does happen, though, you’ll find yourself also getting less email spam, targeted junk mail, and fewer scams attempts in general.
How to play whack-a-mole with robocalls in the meantime
While you’re waiting for all those data brokers to fall in line and stop sharing your information, there’s a lot you can do to stem the flow of robocalls. You can block repeat offenders’ numbers on your smartphone, block all unknown callers wholesale, or install a call-blocking device on your landline.