Have you ever gotten a call from a bot trying to sell you something?

Have you received enough spam calls that you decided to stop answering calls from unknown numbers, or perhaps, you’ve unleashed a torrent of obscenities in response to that gratingly familiar, automated “Hello!”

The answer is likely “Yes” to all three questions as scam calls (illegal, spoofed calls or texts with artificial voices or prerecorded messages) in the U.S. spiked to over 30 billion occurrences last year. It feels downright harassing when your concentration or relaxation is interrupted by a sales call, especially when it’s in the middle of the night! The worst part is that roughly 25% of these calls result in monetary or identity fraud with losses of over $400 per victim recorded in 2017.

It’s an ongoing issue and the solution is anything but straightforward, particularly when you consider that there are bot calls you don’t want to block, like appointment reminders from your doctor’s office.

However, after receiving 30 unwanted calls in one day earlier this summer, I conducted some research, and found the following tips and recommendations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Tips for stopping those potentially dangerous, unwanted calls and texts
• Place all your phone numbers (cellular and landlines) on the Federal Do Not Call Registry
• You may register online or by calling 1-888-382-1222 – it typically takes one minute to register.
• After registering, telemarketers are mandated to stop calling you within 31 days
• It’s worth noting that the registry does not prevent calls from charitable or political organizations

Block unwanted numbers
• This may be a bit of a chore, but if you have repeat offenders, it will be well-worth your time
• For iPhones and Android phones, just scroll through your recent calls and select which numbers to “block” or to report as “scam”

Place your phone in Do Not Disturb mode
• Do Not Disturb will turn off alerts and notifications coming in to your phone for calls and texts and can be especially beneficial at night as it will prevent you from being woken up
• You can identify contacts as Emergency Bypass contacts, so you will get alerts when calls or texts from them come through
• Do Not Disturb is highly customizable – check your settings for a full range of options

Contact your phone carrier to see what services they offer to prevent scam calls
• AT&T and T-Mobile offer free scam ID and scam block services, as well as enhanced call blocking services for less than $5 per month
• Sprint and Verizon offer a premium caller ID service for $3 per month

Add a third-party app like robokiller to your cell phone to further reduce unwanted calls and texts
• It is important to note that iPhone users receive approximately 30% more unwanted calls than Android phone users, primarily because the iPhone operating system makes it more difficult for some spam apps to fully function

What should I do if I receive a call from an unwanted number?

First, to make recognizing a spam call easier, here are some commonly employed red flags:
• “You’ve been specifically selected for this offer…”
• “We’re giving away a free vacation…”
• “This is an urgent message regarding your account, you must contact us immediately…”
• “We’ve identified a problem with your computer and would like to fix the issue for free…”

Try not say anything if you suspect a bot or scammer has called you
• According to the FCC, even saying “yes” or “hello” may identify you as a “hot” target and cause you to be added to more lists (like an active lead)
• Try not to follow any instructions, even “Hit pound to be removed for our call list” because that call to action is most likely social engineering
• Your best bet is to say nothing, hang up and block the number

An important reminder – never provide your personal information
• A scammer will pressure you to confirm personal data points like a portion of your Social Security number, your password, account number or your mother’s maiden name
• A scammer can easily alter the caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from a familiar company or from a local area code
• If you believe the caller may be legitimate, hang up and call the company directly to verify its authenticity

If you’re sure the call was spam, file a complaint with the FCC
• While the commission will not necessarily put an immediate end to your scam calls, filing a complaint is encouraged as it helps to place the scam callers on their radar
• You may file a complaint with the FTC online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP

As we’ve mentioned in previous cybersecurity articles, the criminals are getting more sophisticated every day. The best thing we can do to protect ourselves is to take advantage of the protections available, be on the alert for their tactics and to not take the bait when a call gets through.

Chase D. Conti, CFP®

Senior Investment Analyst

Hall of