Spam calls 101:
How to block spam calls

Another day, another spam call. Here’s everything you need to know about how to block unwanted spam calls, protect your phone number and personal information, and fight back against scammers.

Just about anyone with a cell phone has likely experienced a barrage of spam calls and the invasion of privacy that comes with it. Spam calls are a bona fide problem these days — 78 billion of them were made in 2022, an 8% increase over 2021 and a massive 43% jump from 2020. It’s estimated that the American people lost over $65 billion in 2022, more than double 2021’s $30 billion.

Spam calls have been a part of our lives for decades. Early versions of these intrusive calls first targeted landline users, delivering pre-recorded telemarketing messages that frequently disrupted our daily routines. Although calls like these have since spread to our mobile devices, that sentiment has, unfortunately, only become more familiar over the years.

The good news is that every day, agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) work to help consumers fight spam calls through legislation and education. Combined with spam call blocker apps like Robokiller, these efforts empower people to take back their privacy and protect their money, assets, and identity from cybercriminals.

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 spam calls that he sponsored the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which wasin 1991 by former president George H. W. Bush. The law helped regulate telemarketing calls, autodialed calls, pre-recorded calls, and unsolicited faxes.

Though spam calls are still a daily occurrence for many, there are ways you can keep yourself safe and fight back against the scammers behind them. We’ll cover everything you need to know about spam calls, including why you get them and how to prevent them, as well as tips for keeping your phone number private and which spam call solutions are the most effective.

It’s time to start living life spam-call-free™.

What is a spam call?

First, let’s talk about what makes a spam call. As we mentioned, these nuisances have been around for decades, but the ways in which we receive them have shifted as technology has evolved. Year after year, spammers continue to find new ways to invade our phones.

Robocalls vs. spam calls

Although sometimes used interchangeably, robocalls and spam calls aren’t exactly the same. Robocalls are often spam calls and vice versa, but the terms are not quite synonymous.

A robocall is a call on any medium — like a landline, mobile phone, or other personal device — where you hear a recorded message instead of a live person. Even if the message isn’t necessarily read by a robotic voice, it has been pre-recorded. Robocalls are sent by “robocallers,” which are systems or machines that use automatic dialing to deliver a pre-recorded message to your number.

Occasionally, robocalls are actually legal and informative. For example, you might receive pre-recorded messages about medical situations from your doctor’s office or a warning about potential fraud from your bank.

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 but has been pre-recorded.

In other cases, however, robocalls are illegal spam calls. These are the kinds that you need to protect yourself from, as they can put your digital privacy at risk.

In general, spam calls are unsolicited calls that try to extract information from the recipient. A call doesn’t have to use robotic voices, automated systems, or pre-recorded messages to be considered a spam call — but many of them do.

Although certain types of spam calls are merely annoying, others can be dangerous. Whether it’s a person or a robot on the other end of the line, they’re likely trying to steal something valuable from you, like personal information, money, or your identity.

So, while they often fall in the center of the Venn diagram, not all robocalls are spam calls, and not all spam calls are robocalls. However, it’s important to be on guard when dealing with either of them.

Pro tip #1

A key distinction between legitimate and illegitimate robocalls is the presence of a sales pitch. When the caller tries to sell you something, chances are it’s a scam.

Different kinds of robocalls

There are legal forms of robocalls, but the FTC has placed heavy restrictions on them, and offenders face hefty fines. Robocalls must meet specific FTC criteria to be considered legitimate. Let’s take a look at what makes a robocall legal or illegal.

Legal robocalls

To be considered legal, a robocall must:

Identify who is initiating it. The call must also include a contact number and address where the dialer can be reached.

Have your permission. In the vast majority of cases, your 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 prohibited from calling you; however, this applies to telemarketers only.

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

Purely informational messages. For example, a robocall service may provide appointment reminders, messages about school closures, or alerts about a canceled flight. These calls offer information that may be important to your life.

Debt collection calls, as long as they don’t try to sell you services to lower your debt.

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

Messages from charities. These kinds of organizations can have their staff call you individually and manually, but unless you are a prior donor or member of that charity, they cannot send robocalls. If you’re not already a donor or member of the charity, any robocall you get from them is illegal.

Political calls. Although many people find them irritating, political robocalls are legal. In fact, Americans received 384 million political robocalls in 2022 alone.

Illegal robocalls

Although the above types of robocalls are legal, the bulk of the robocalls we receive are not. That’s because robocallers are generally criminals who have no intention of following laws or respecting the Do Not Call list; invading your privacy is essential to their objective of stealing something from you.

Most robocalls are illegal simply because the spam caller doesn’t have your consent to call you. There are other cases in which legally registered companies misinterpret robocall laws and contact you illegally, but those are less frequent and not nearly as threatening.

The vast majority of illegal robocalls are knowingly illegal as well as fraudulent. They generally aim to steal personal information that can be used to obtain money, assets, or your identity itself.

Here are some warning signs that will help you determine if a robocall is an illegal spam call:

It’s trying to sell you something. If you get a robocall that tries to sell you something, simply hang up the phone.

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

It’s threatening, intimidating, or confusing you. No legitimate business will use these tactics to get information from you, but scammers might.

It’s creating a sense of urgency. Fraudsters try to get you to act quickly so you don’t have time to think twice, often suggesting there would be consequences for not immediately taking action.

It says it’s from the IRS. The IRS does not use robocalls to initiate contact with taxpayers or request personal or financial information.

It claims to be tech support. Legitimate tech support teams will never use robocalls to alert you to a problem with your computer. When in doubt, check with your boss or reach out to your tech support service directly.

Legal robocalls can be annoying at times, but they’re generally harmless. Illegal robocalls, on the other hand, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Keep the above signs in mind to instantly determine if a robocall is legal or illegal.

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 spam calls?

If you’re getting bombarded with spam calls, you probably wonder how scammers get your phone number to begin with.

Your phone number is valuable to spam callers, and they’ll pay to get it. Cybercriminals scour the internet for phone numbers to target with their ploys, buying and selling lists of them off the black market.

In the hands of a scammer, your phone number may be a skeleton key to your personal finances, business assets, and even your identity. It may 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 on your devices. When picked up by a scammer, this can be an incredibly useful tool for them to have.

People don’t change their phone numbers often, so once spammers have this information, they’ll continue to use it to try to contact you or access your accounts. Simply answering a spam phone call is enough to let the scammer know your number is active, which means you could be hearing from them for years to come. You may not be in the habit of changing your phone number, but they are.

How are spam callers getting my number?

So how did scammers get ahold of your number? 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 fall into the hands of scammers:

  • It’s posted on social media
  • It was given away when signing up for a free trial, contest, or mailing list
  • It was exposed in a data breach
  • It’s in your email signature
  • You shared it when purchasing a product or signing up for loyalty points or discounts
  • You accepted terms and conditions without reading terms of service

In some cases, however, your number is simply dialed at random. Autodialing technology allows spam calls to be made in immense volume with little strategy, and everyone’s a target.

What you need to know about protecting your digital privacy.

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What is caller ID spoofing?

You may have noticed that many spam callers have phone numbers that look suspiciously similar to yours or even show up as legitimate companies on your caller ID. That’s because of a common spam technique called caller ID spoofing, or simply spoofing.

Caller ID spoofing is when a caller disguises their number as a different, generally more familiar-looking number. It can be done for both phone calls and text messages, and it’s meant to trick you into answering by earning your trust under false pretenses.

Spoofing technology is one of the biggest hurdles to blocking spam callers. The actual technology is cheap, difficult to trace, and allows individual scammers to place thousands of calls per minute from a variety of numbers.

Stop the spoof!

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

So, how can you protect yourself from these imposter scams?

If the call exhibits any of the red flags we’ve discussed, hang up immediately. Call the organization at their officially listed phone number and ask if they called you. If they didn’t, report the number that called you — you just protected yourself and others from a scam.

Are spam calls dangerous?

In short: Yes!

As you learned above, your phone number is valuable and it’s critical to protect it. Spam calls are more than just a nuisance; they can lead to devastating outcomes for you and your family.

Anyone is susceptible to the dangers of spam calls:

  • According to the FTC, consumers reported nearly $8.8 billion in losses for 2022, but that only paints part of the picture. When accounting for unreported losses, Robokiller estimates scammers stole over $65 billion by phone call in 2022.

    However, Robokiller prevented more than $193 million in losses in 2022, so make sure you’re protected!
  • Year over year, total losses to robocalls more than doubled, from $30+ billion in 2021 to $65+ billion in 2022.
  • Data breaches impacted more than 422 million Americans in 2022, which is the second most all-time for a single year.
  • The amount of loss per scam continues to increase, averaging about $1,500 in 2022 — up from $1,000 in 2021.
  • Losses via business imposters (scammers acting as well-known companies) jumped up from $453 million in 2021 to $660 million in 2022.

Pro tip #2

Don’t engage with a robocall — not even to “opt out” or request to no longer be called. Simply answering your phone and using your voice 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 spam calls?

The good news is, spam calls are being continually addressed by government agencies, voice service providers, and spam-blocking apps like Robokiller. With full cooperation from everyone, we can work toward a spam-free future.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), signed in 1991, was one of the earliest attempts at fighting back against spam calls. The Act helped regulate telemarketing calls, autodialed calls, pre-recorded calls, and unsolicited faxes. However, it couldn’t have predicted how integral mobile devices would become to our culture, so we’ve had to pass new legislation to fight the constantly evolving spam problem.

In 2019, Congress introduced the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED), which gave the FCC new tools to fight unwanted and illegal spam calls. This led to the creation of new legislation that aimed to unify existing efforts to crack down on spam.

One of these new tools is a set of frameworks called STIR/SHAKEN, The acronyms stand for:

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

Voice service providers of all sizes are required to implement STIR/SHAKEN. Although most providers had to be in compliance by mid-2021, certain smaller providers have until June 2023 to comply with the new regulations. Part of being compliant includes having a robocall mitigation plan in place to protect customers from scams and spam.

STIR/SHAKEN aims to crack down on spoofing by requiring phone carriers to authenticate caller ID information before putting calls through to other networks (and, ultimately, 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.

One of the major obstacles in the fight against spam calls is that they often originate overseas, and overseas scammers aren’t concerned with U.S. laws. In 2023, the FTC introduced Project Point of No Entry (PoNE) to combat spam calls from overseas. PoNE aims to restrict gateway providers from routing illegal traffic through other networks.

The bad news, however, is that many spam calls still come through. That’s why it’s critical to learn how to protect yourself and install a comprehensive spam-blocking app.

For extra protection for your business, Robokiller Enterprise is here to help. Robokiller Enterprise leverages machine learning to stop spam calls from derailing operations at companies of all sizes.

Learn more about Robokiller Enterprise

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How to prevent spam calls

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

Download a spam blocker app

The most effective thing you can do in the fight against spam calls is to find the best spam blocker app for you. The FTC recommends reliable spam-blocking apps like Robokiller, which use call data and reports from users, the FTC, and other sources to determine which calls are illegal or likely scams, then intercept them before they ever reach you.

Pro tip #3

Ensure the spam call blocking app you choose is committed to the safety and privacy of your information. Read Robokiller’s statements on privacy.

Silence unknown callers

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 — like from a doctor, school, or mechanic — you may miss it.

Add yourself to the Do Not Call Registry

Consumers can also add their phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry at no cost. Keep in mind, as we discussed earlier, spam callers aren’t known for abiding by the law, so this tactic is often futile as a standalone measure. Additionally, you can ask your phone provider whether it offers call-blocking or call-labeling services.

See more: The FTC’s tips for stopping unwanted robocalls and texts

How does Robokiller fight spam calls?

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 a simple step that empowers you to take control into your own hands.

Here’s how it works:

Call blocking algorithm

Call blocking algorithm

Robokiller uses a predictive spam call blocking algorithm that analyzes incoming calls and identifies whether they’re spam in less than a millisecond — well before they can ring your phone.

See how it works

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Answer bots

Answer Bots

Get spam call revenge with the help of our Answer Bots — hilarious spam-call-fighting bots that turn the tables on spam callers and waste their time.

The more time scammers spend tied up, the less they can scam others, and the less money they can steal. So when you enable Answer Bots, you’re not just getting 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 part of what makes Robokiller the best spam blocker on the market.

We create a record of a spam caller’s unique audio recording and check it in real-time against our global database. Since we can recognize callers by their voices and not just their numbers, we can stop spam calls in seconds, even if the caller is spoofing their phone number.

Spam call blocking: How it works

spam call blocking

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

We check our massive database of phone scam callers for any record of the number calling you. If it’s recognized as a known scammer, we block the call so 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 make sure it doesn’t bother you. Instead, our army of Answer Bots tricks scammers into thinking they’re talking to an actual human.

As your Answer Bot is wasting the scammer’s time, we create an audio fingerprint (like a reverse Shazam for spam calls) of the call and store it in our global database. This allows us to screen, identify, and block any scam call, even if the scammer spoofs or changes their phone number.

Want to help? Join our Spam Patrol community and opt to provide additional feedback to help train the algorithm and protect other targets from falling victim to phone scams.

Get robocall revenge™ with Robokiller

Spam calls may not be new, but they’re anything but retro. In fact, they’re only getting more prevalent, and they threaten our digital privacy every day.

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

Spam call blocker and robocall revenge app Robokiller is here to support you with the tools you need to fight spam callers, protect your private information, and get the peace and quiet you deserve.

Here’s a little more about us:

1+ billion
spam calls blocked
1.5+ billion
phone numbers in our global database
$600+ million
in prevented losses to phone scams
500+ million
minutes of scammers’ time wasted by Answer Bots
12 million
installs nationwide

Experience the benefits of Robokiller yourself when you start your free 7-day trial today.

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