Getting Rid of Robocalls: AARP’s Simple Defenses

One of the benefits of being an old man is membership in AARP and the rewards–sometimes not all that obvious–it entails. Here’s a good one I came across today: avoiding robocalls–4 million an hour in the U.S. with a cost to us of about $10 billion. Old people are especially vulnerable to scams for obvious reasons, but they (we) can be protected.

Here’s what AARP suggests and some of these are simple, free and easy to employ:

Here’s a list of do-it-yourself defenses [employed by the writer] that have dropped the automated and live spam calls received by more than 90 percent.

  • Answer with silence. When you say hello or anything else, automated voice-activated calls launch the robocall recording or transfer you to a call center, where a live operator angles for personal and financial information. But saying nothing usually disconnects these calls within seconds, with no robo-message or callbacks from that phony number. If it is an unsolicited “live” caller, wait for that person to speak to break the silence. If you don’t recognize the voice, hang up.
  • Try a “not in service” recording. Using a portable tape recorder and a microphone attached to a handset, I copied a “this number is not in service” message during a callback to a scammer’s spoofed number. Since it’s cued, I sometimes play that recording — again, saying nothing — when answering calls before they go into voicemail in hopes my number will be removed from spammer calling lists. So far, I have not gotten a single callback from those incoming numbers.
  • Trap ’em with an app. Smartphone users have plenty of options that flag and block some fraudulent calls and text messages. Some services are free; others cost a few bucks per month.

Customers of AT&T can use Call Protect, Verizon Wireless provides Caller Name ID, Sprint offers Premium Caller ID, and T-Mobile has Scam ID and Scam Block. You can also buy apps like YouMail and RoboKiller that will filter calls for a few bucks a month — or for free in the case of Youmail.

Another freebie for virtually every landline user: Press *77 to block “anonymous” and “private” numbers, then deactivate it anytime with *87.

To block individual numbers that get through on an iPhone, open the phone app, tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the spam number that called, scroll down and tap Block This Caller. For Android smartphones, open the phone app and tap the calling number, select Details, then Block Number.

  • Know which calls to avoid. The most common calling cons are pitches that promise to reduce debt and credit card rates or to get you preapproved loans; offer free or low-cost vacations, time-shares, home security systems and medical supplies; or come from government and utility company impostors.
  • A dropped or “one-ring” call is a common ruse to prompt a callback. Beware of area codes 268, 284, 809 and 876, which originate from Caribbean countries with high per-minute phone charges. 

Robocalls tend to be highest on Friday and Tuesday, and the most frequently targeted numbers are in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Birmingham, Ala., and Miami.

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