Many of us are acutely aware of unwanted calls. Also known as spam calls, these are calls made to your number without your permission for promotional or debt recovery. A sales caller may phone you to convince you to buy their service or upgrade using high-pressure tactics. Or, unwanted calls could come from debt recovery reminding you of a debt hanging over you. These could also be scam calls trying to trick you into giving them money.

There is such disdain for nuisance calls that many people won't even answer unknown callers. As reported by ISPreview using data from HIYA, 94% of people did not answer calls from unknown numbers in 2020.

The sheer awkwardness of unwanted calls means people will ignore an incoming call even in extreme scenarios. For example, in 2021 a hiker got lost for 24 hours on Colorado’s highest mountain. When he received an incoming call from an unrecognised number he ignored it. In this case, it was actually mountain rescue teams that were calling. However, it just goes to show just how much people hate unwanted calls.

Unwanted calls can now even come from robotic autodial machines. These are known as robocalls and are typically used to scam you. This article will explain in further detail what robocalls are and how you can limit your exposure to them.

A robocall is an automated telephone call. Robocalls use a computer program called a predictive dialler or an autodialer. This computer program can be set up to make automatic calls without a person having to dial a number or even speak to the receiver. When you answer a robocall an automated prerecorded message is played.

These are usually fraudulent robocalls designed to scam you. Many of these automated calls even play threatening messages. These are psychologically designed to scare you into handing over financial or personal information. The acceleration in the use of robocalls means that half of all spam call complaints are about robocalls.

However, there are legitimate parties that use robocalls. For example, to save time, many organisations will use automated phone calls to update customers, clients or patients. For example, robocalls can be used as appointment reminders and public service announcements. Banks sometimes even use robocalls to alert you of fraudulent activity or to inform you that your account has been frozen.

However, this just makes things even more confusing and precarious. This is because scammers will pretend to be these organisations. During the global pandemic, scam calls ran rampant. Fake track and trace robocalls were set up to scam people out of their money or gather intel so they could do this later. Not only did this steal money from people, but it also undermined the credibility of the legitimate track and trace system. Robocall scams will also pretend to be your bank in order for them to gain access to your accounts and steal your money. This makes it harder to decipher the legitimate from the illegitimate, and many just decide to ignore or block unknown callers altogether.

How do I block robocalls on a mobile phone?

Most modern mobile phones come preloaded with in-built features allowing you to block calls manually. Whether you use an Android phone or an iPhone, the call blocking process is usually fairly simple. In most cases, you simply press and hold on the number and select block or block contact. Unless you just block all unknown callers immediately, you may have to investigate whether or not it is a spam call.

For example, you could type the area code into an online area code checker. This may help you figure out if the call is from someone you know. For example, you may have family that live in an obscure or low-population area in the UK. If the area code matches that location, it could be a sign that they are the ones phoning. Or, you could type the entire phone number into an online scam checker to see if anything flags up.

However, many automated phone calls will withhold their number. In this case, you will have to contact your phone service provider to get them to trace the call. You could also edit your call settings so that unknown callers are sent directly to your voicemail.

What are the best apps to stop unwanted robocalls?

Depending on how often you use your mobile phone and what you use it for, it may be beneficial to download a dedicated phone app to screen and block calls. For example, if you use it for business and deal with a large volume of calls, it may be worth getting a third-party app.

Truecaller is a useful free option that is available on Android and Apple. It filters out robocalls, spam calls and telemarketing calls. The spam call list is continuously updated by the community reporting of their 320 million plus users. The phone app also has caller ID showing you the identity of an unknown caller.

Robokiller is a robocall blocking app designed to get revenge on scammers and unwanted salesmen. They have an inbuilt tool called robocall revenge. When you get a spam or scam call, it connects with the app's answer bots. These bots then flip the script and waste the time of the time wasters. You can select different pre-recorded funny voices to use to annoy callers and keep them on the phone for as long as possible. You can use voice recordings (voice artists) of people like Ice T, Kermit the Frog, Donald Trump and Morgan Freeman. Or, you can record your own time-wasting message. These interactions are recorded for you to laugh at later or share on the app's RoboRadio for others to listen to.

How do I prevent spam calls on a landline?

The first step in preventing phone scams is to register with the Telephone Preference Service. This adds your phone number to their list of people who do not want to receive sales and marketing calls. It is illegal for telemarketers to phone you for this purpose if you are on the call registry. You can follow this link to register. Although this can block spam calls from sales teams, it does not block robocalls. This is because the law only applies to humans and not computers.

Many network providers also offer services to block spam calls. However, you may have to update your landline to a more modern device. Call blocking services by different networks include:

  • BT Call Protect - Spam calls sent straight to voicemail
  • Sky Talk Shield - Provides robocall protection by blocking robotic calls. Live callers are asked to first identify themselves before being connected.
  • TalkTalk CallSafe - Asks all callers to identify themselves before being put through. Numbers on your approved list are automatically connected. Spam calls are immediately blocked.
  • Virgin Media - Anonymous call rejection feature only costing £3 per month

If you do not want to replace your old phone, you can also use external call-blocking devices. Much like some of the network services, this asks callers to identify themselves first in a recorded audio message. You can then choose to accept or ignore the call. There is an annual fee for this along with the initial price of the device.

How to prevent spam calls

One of the best ways to prevent spam calls in the first place is to limit the exposure of your telephone number. As mentioned, you should register with the TPS. Businesses can be fined up to £500,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office for making illegal calls to people on the TPS register.

You should also guard your contact information closely. Some services require you to consent to your details being given to a third party. If you consent to this, you will likely start being contacted by unwanted callers. This practice is rife when entering online competition so be wary of what you consent to.

You should also be careful how much information you share online. You should never share phone numbers or private information on social media, as scammers use this information to commit identity fraud. Or they could use your phone number to scam call you. You should also contact your network provider and ask them to make you ex-directory. This will take your phone number out of the phone book, further limiting who has access to it.

Everyone knows the annoyance of unwanted calls. So much so that some people will avoid them at all costs. Robocalls are now one of the main types of nuisance calls. These calls are made automatically from a computer playing a pre-recorded message. These can sometimes be legitimate calls, but scammers have infiltrated the system. Many robocall scams mimic legitimate calls in order to make their cons more believable.

Most smartphones allow you to block a number if you receive an unwanted call. If you receive unknown calls from a withheld number, you will have to contact your network provider to find out who it was. There are also a number of apps you can download aimed at stopping unwanted calls. These have spam detection and spam blocking technology. Robokiller even allows you to get your own back on scammers and salespeople by playing funny pre-recorded messages that waste the caller's time.

You can help stop sales calls by signing up for the TPS service. This makes it illegal for salespeople and marketers to phone you. However, the law is only for humans so it does not stop robocalls. Some of the leading telephone networks provide services that filter spam calls.

Failing this, you can also use an external call-blocking device to block unwanted calls. You should also help prevent fraud calls and unwanted calls by guarding your personal information. When signing up for things like online competitions, do not consent to your details being shared with third parties. Also, make your number is ex-directory and keep all personal information like your phone number off of social media.