Robocalls 101:
How to Block Robocalls

Another day, another spam call. Here’s everything you need to know about how to block robocalls and how to protect your phone number — and get robocall revenge.

There’s likely not a soul around who isn’t deeply familiar with the barrage and harassment of daily or weekly spam calls. Robocalls are a bonafide problem these days — 54 billion spam calls were made in 2020. That’s 25% of all phone calls. In July 2021 alone, 5.74 billion robocalls were made in the U.S. That’s nearly 21 spam calls per American.

Robocalls 101

But robocalls have actually been a part of our lives since at least the 1980s. Remember sitting down to eat dinner with your family and getting a call on your landline, only to pick up and hear some pre-recorded telemarketing message?

Although these robocalls have since moved to our mobile phones and connected devices, that sentiment is, unfortunately, still highly relatable. Who hasn’t wanted to chuck their phone into a trash can at the sight of another unknown number on caller ID?

Every day, more legislation is in the works to help consumers and the FCC fight robocalls, and app-based robocall blockers like RoboKiller empower users to take back their privacy.

Did you know?

In the early 1990s, U.S. senator Fritz Hollings called robocalls “the scourge of modern civilization” and said they “wake us up in the morning, they interrupt our dinner at night, they force the sick and elderly out of bed, they hound us until we want to rip the telephone right out of the wall.”

Hollings was so aggrieved by robocalls that he sponsored the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in 1991 by former president George H. W. Bush. The law helped regulate telemarketing calls, autodialed calls, pre-recorded calls, and unsolicited faxes.

Though robocalls are still a daily occurance, there are some actions you can take to protect yourself and feel empowered to fight back. We’ll cover everything you need to know about robocalls, why you’re getting them, how to prevent robocalls, how to protect your phone number, and the best robocall blocker for robocall revenge.

It’s time to start getting good calls only™.

What is a robocall?

First of all, let’s define the meaning of robocall. As we discussed previously, robocalls have been around since the 1980s, but the ways in which we receive them have shifted as technology has evolved. (They’ve managed to remain just as — if not more — annoying, though.)

What is a robocall?

A robocall is any call you pick up or receive a voice message from — whether on a landline, a mobile phone, or a connected personal device — where you hear a recorded message instead of a live person. The message is usually read by a real person, not a robot, but it has been pre-recorded.

The natural follow-up question is, “what’s a robocaller?” A robocaller is a system or machine that uses automatic dialing to reach your number to deliver this a pre-recorded message.

Occasionally, robocalls are legal and informative; for example, you might receive recorded messages from your doctor about medical notifications, from your child’s school about closures, or from your bank about potential credit card fraud.

But quite often nowadays, robocalls are scams, and they put your digital privacy at risk.

Pro tip

An easy sign of whether a robocall is legitimate is whether it is trying to sell you something. If it is, it’s most likely a scam.

Different kinds of robocalls

It may surprise you to learn that not all robocalls are illegal. However, they must meet specific FTC criteria to be considered legal. Let’s take a look at what’s considered legitimate, and what’s not in the realm of spam calls.

Legal Robocalls

Legal robocalls

Although it’s true that some robocalls are legal, the FTC has placed heavy restrictions on robocalls, and offenders face hefty fines.

To be considered legal, a robocall must:

Identify who is initiating the call. It must also include a contact number and address where the caller can be reached.

Get your permission. In most cases, your legal consent (or “opting-in”) is required for them to be allowed to call you.

Not try to sell you something, unless the company directly received consent from you to do so — permission that you can later revoke.

Honor the National Do Not Call Registry. If you’ve added your number to this list, telemarketers are legally required to respect that.

There are certain robocalls that don't require your consent. These include:

Messages that are purely informational. For example, a robocall service may provide appointment reminders, or messages about school closures or a canceled flight.

Debt collection calls are legal as long as they do not try to sell your services to lower your debt.

Calls from some healthcare providers, such as prescription refill reminders.

Messages from charities. These kinds of organizations can legally call you themselves, but if they hire a robocall service to make robocalls on their behalf, the call is considered illegal unless you are a prior donor or member of that charity. A charity must also include an automated option in the call to allow you to opt out of future calls.

Political calls. Although many people would prefer to block political robocalls, these kinds of robocalls are legal. In fact, Americans received 93 million political robocalls related to the 2020 election.

chartLegal Robocalls

Illegal robocalls

The bulk of the robocalls we receive are illegal. That’s because these robocallers have no intention of following laws or of respecting the Do Not Call list (or your privacy).

They are illegal simply because they have failed to get prior consent from you. Although it doesn’t happen often, there are cases where legally registered companies misinterpret robocall laws and call you.

However, the vast majority of illegal robocalls are knowingly illegal, as well as fraudulent. They want your identity or money — or both.

Here are some key factors that will help you spot an illegal robocall:

It’s trying to sell you something.

It’s asking you for personal or financial information. Never give out sensitive information over the phone unless you have made absolutely certain the call is legitimate.

It’s threatening, intimidating, or confusing you.

It’s demanding something immediate, or saying there are consequences for not immediately taking an action.

It says it’s from the IRS. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information.

It’s tech support wanting to “look at your files.” Legitimate tech companies won’t contact you by phone, email, or text message to tell you there’s a problem with your computer, nor will they send a pop-up warning asking you to call a phone number.

Who’s calling?

Robocallers will often claim to be calling from a legitimate company, government agency, or other organization. And thanks to number spoofing, that organization’s name might even appear on your caller ID.

So how can you identify these imposter scams?

  • If the call exhibits any of the red flags listed above, hang up.
  • Call the organization on their officially listed phone number and ask if they called you.
  • If they didn’t, ask if you can report the scam.

Why am I getting robocalls?

We’ll get to the reasons you’re receiving robocalls, but a better question may actually be, “why do scammers want your phone number?”

Scammers want your phone number because it’s valuable. These digits usually act as a username for many apps and platforms, allow you to reset your account when you forget your password, and enable two-factor authentication for more secure logins. People don’t change their phone numbers often, so once spammers have this information, they’re more likely to use it to reach you compared to other methods of contact.

As for why you’re receiving robocalls at all, there are many ways your phone number can get out there — and many are tied to online exposure. Here are a few reasons your digits might be in the hands of robocallers:

  • It’s public on social media
  • It was overshared via free trials, contests, or online forms
  • It was exposed in a data breach
  • It’s in your email signature
  • It was exposed in a data breach
  • You shared it when purchasing a product, or signing up for loyalty points or discounts
  • You accepted terms and conditions without reading the terms of service

However, the most common reason you’re getting robocalls is because it’s being dialed at random. Autodialing technology allows spam calls to be made in immense volume with little strategy.

What you need to know about protecting your digital privacy.

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What the spoof?

You may have noticed that many robocalls have phone numbers that look suspiciously similar to yours, or even show up as legit companies on caller ID. That’s because of something called spoofing.

Caller ID spoofing is when the actual number that’s calling you is disguised, and instead, a different number shows on your caller ID. Caller ID spoofing works for both phone calls and text messages on your smartphone, and is meant to trick you into answering.

Spoofing technology is one of the biggest hurdles to blocking spam callers. The actual technology is cheap, allowing scammers to place thousands of calls per minute, and it’s nearly untraceable.

Are robocalls dangerous?

In short: Yes!

As you learned above, your phone number is valuable — for scammers, it’s a key that could unlock your private information so they can steal your money, identity, or both. That’s why it’s so critical to know how to protect your phone number. Robocalls are more than just a nuisance; they can lead to devastating outcomes.

Fraud chart

Anyone is susceptible to the dangers of robocalls:

  • Consumer losses to phone fraud hit an all-time high in 2020, representing more than 50% of the $3.3 billion reported losses to digital fraud that year.
  • Reports of identity theft in the U.S. more than doubled in 2020.
  • The amount of money consumers lost to fraud in 2020 was 83% higher than in 2019.
  • 31% of fraud reporters said they were contacted via phone call.
  • Consumers lost $319 million to COVID-19 related fraud.

Pro tip

Don’t engage with a robocall, not even to “opt out” or request to no longer be called. This will flag your number as an active one, and you may actually put yourself at risk for more robocalls, or even spam texts.

What’s being done about robocalls?

The good news is that robocalls are being continually addressed at both governmental and corporate levels — for example, the EU passed its General Data Protection Regulation, two-factor authentication is becoming increasingly standard, and mobile phone privacy laws like an anti-robocall bill are passing in the U.S.

The bad news? Many robocalls still come through.

In 2019, Congress enacted the TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act to give the FCC new tools to fight unwanted and illegal robocalls. But the FCC wanted to take it further.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, the FCC has proposed that all voice service providers implement the STIR/SHAKEN solution in the Internet Protocol (IP) portions of their networks. June 2021 was the deadline for all carriers to be in compliance with the new STIR/SHAKEN regulations.

The acronyms stand for:

Secure Telephony Identity Revisited
Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information using toKENs

STIR/SHAKEN aims to address call spoofing by proposing that calls traveling through phone networks must have their caller ID “signed” as legitimate by originating carriers and validated by other carriers before reaching consumers. This helps deter spoofed calls from ever reaching their end destination, and gives people more confidence that the caller ID information they’re seeing is accurate.

Under the TRACED Act, phone carriers can now block suspect calls using the STIR/SHAKEN call-filtering technology. Here’s what a few of the major providers are doing to ensure you’re getting only good calls:

  • AT&T: The carrier’s Call Protect will display a “V” on your caller ID for calls considered “verified” or legitimate, and block potentially fraudulent calls by giving a busy signal. Spam calls will still come through, but your caller ID will display “Suspected Spam” with a category like “Political,” “Nonprofit,” “Telemarketer,” “Survey,” or “Robocaller.”
  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile’s Scam ID identifies and tags suspicious calls, while Scam Block blocks calls before they ring (customers must activate this service).
  • Verizon: Customers are automatically enrolled in Call Filter, which detects spam and blocks high-risk calls. Call Filter Plus, available for an extra fee, can block unwanted calls.

For extra business protection, RoboKiller Enterprise leverages AI and machine learning to stop spam calls from derailing operations at businesses of all sizes.

Learn more about Robokiller Enterprise

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How to prevent robocalls

While part of learning how to prevent robocalls and how to protect your phone number is educating yourself on mobile phone privacy laws and legislation aimed at protecting consumers, there are some simple, actionable things you can do right now.

The most effective thing you can do is find the best robocall blocker for you. The FTC recommends third-party robocall blocker apps like RoboKiller, which use call data and reports from users, the FTC, and other sources to predict which calls are illegal or likely scams, then intercept them before they ever reach you.

Pro tip

Ensure the spam call blocking app you’re choosing to download is committed to the safety and privacy of your information. Read RoboKiller’s statements on privacy.

Additionally, you can strengthen the blocking features on your personal and work devices. For example, iPhone users can silence unknown callers, which blocks any incoming numbers not saved to your address book.

Here’s how to enable this setting:

  1. Go to “Settings,” then “Phone.”
  2. Toggle “Silence unknown callers” on.
  3. Calls from unknown numbers will not ring when they call. (Note: This function will silence all unknown calls, so if you’re expecting an important call that could come from outside your address book — say, from a doctor, school, or mechanic — you may miss it.)

Consumers can also add their phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry at no cost — although, as discussed earlier, robocallers aren’t known for abiding by the law, so this tactic is often futile. Or, they can ask their phone provider whether it offers call-blocking or call-labeling services.

See more: The FTC’s list of call blocking and labeling tools for consumers

How is Robokiller fighting spam calls?

RoboKiller offers a 90% reduction in spam calls within 30 days.

RoboKiller is the best robocall blocker on the market not only because it’s 99% effective at preventing spam calls and texts before they ever reach you, but also because it’s empowering users to take control into their own hands.

Solutions require the right tools, after all. It’s not enough for us to just block the calls from getting to you — we also help you get robocall revenge™.

Here’s how it works:

Call blocking algorithm

Call blocking algorithm

Unlike other services, Robokiller uses a predictive spam call blocking algorithm that analyzes an incoming spam call before it rings your phone, and identifies whether it’s spam in less than a millisecond.

See how it works

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Answer bots

Answer Bots

Get robocall revenge™ with the help of our Answer Bots — hilarious spam-call-fighting bots with voices like Ice T, Kermit the Frog, and Morgan Freeman — that give scammers a taste of their own medicine by wasting their time.

The more scammers are tied up, the less they can scam others, and the less money they make. So when you enable Answer Bots, you’re not just getting robocall revenge™ for yourself — you’re also protecting others.

Listen to RoboRadio

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Audio fingerprinting

Audio fingerprinting

Our patented audio-fingerprinting technology is what makes RoboKiller more effective than any other service on the market.

We create a record of a robocaller’s unique audio recording and check it in real-time against similar fingerprints in our global database. This means we can shut down any phone scam in seconds for all customers, even if scammers are spoofing their phone number.

Spam call blocking

spam call blocking

A spammer or scammer places an incoming call to you, and RoboKiller intercepts it.

We check our database of more than 600 million known phone scams for any record of the phone number calling you. If it’s recognized as a known scam, we block the call and it never reaches you.

If there’s no record, we analyze the metadata of the phone call to determine if it’s likely spam. If it meets our criteria, we’ll block the call and ask for your feedback.

If the call metadata seems safe, and you’ve enabled call screening, RoboKiller will screen the call and ask the caller to identify themselves. You’ll get a real-time transcription of this interaction and can decide whether you want to answer.

When a call is recognized as spam, we deploy our army of Answer Bots to trick scammers into thinking they’re talking to a real human.

As your Answer Bot is wasting the scammer’s time, we create an audio fingerprint (think “Shazam” for robocalls) of the robocall scam and store it in our global database. This means we can screen, identify, and block any robocall scam, even if the scammer spoofs or changes their phone number.

You can join our community of Spam Patrol and opt to provide additional feedback on the phone scam to help train the algorithm and protect other targets from falling victim to the scam.

It’s time for robocall revenge™

Robocalls may have started in the ’80s, but they’re anything but retro. In fact, they’re only getting worse, and they’re compromising our digital privacy.

Not only are the bulk of robocalls annoying and illegal, but they can also lead to fraud, financial loss, and identity theft. While we can’t eradicate the world from scammers — yet — we can take back our privacy.

Robocall blocker and robocall revenge app RoboKiller is here to support you with the tools you need to fight robocallers, protect your phone number, secure your private information, and get the peace and quiet you deserve.

Here’s a little more about us:

Calls blocked since 2017
Minutes wasted by Answer Bots in 2020
Prevented consumer losses to fraud in 2020
Total lifetime prevented consumer losses to fraud
Drained from spammers by Answer Bots in 2020

Read more: Insights into how we’re helping people live life spam-call-free.

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