Cell phones are a fantastic convenience, but they come with unexpected surprises like unwanted phone calls either from spammers or friends. Maybe your cell phone number was recycled and belonged to someone else. Or, your number mistakenly appeared in some directory for business. Regardless of the cause, solutions range from smartphone settings and 3rd party services that can help manage the experience.
Unwanted Call Categories
There are two categories or unwanted calls. In one situation, you don’t know the caller. These calls are often from spammers or robocallers. Over the years, these people have gotten more sophisticated and employ tactics like “neighbor spoofing”. This where caller appears to be from your area code or prefix even if they are dialing from another country. While there are steps you can take, the problem needs to be addressed by the phone companies and call authentication.
The second category is usually situational and involves people you know. Sometimes you have a contact record, but you really don’t want to have those people call you for various reasons. One advantage of using your contacts is you can also filter out people you don’t know.
The Do Not Call Registry
This solution is designed to prevent unsolicited calls from telemarketers. It’s also an easy way to try to block spam calls until stricter enforcement actions go in place. All US residents have to do is register your cell phone number in the National Do Not Call Registry. Your registration is valid for five years and should take effect 31 days after you register. To verify your number is in the Do Not Call Registry, dial 1-888-382-1222.
There is still some confusion about who can still call you. The NDNCR will not stop all telemarketing calls. The FTC provides more information in a FAQ publication. The following groups are still allowed to call:
- Political organizations
- Charities (limitations on people calling on behalf of charities)
- Telephone surveyors so long as they don’t offer to sell anything
- Companies with which you have an existing business relationship
- Companies you agreed in writing to get their calls
Check Your Phone’s Operating System
Regardless of whether you have an Android or iOS phone, there are some built-in options. Both smartphone systems allow you to block calls. The process is pretty much the same although the menu options differ. For example, in the screen snap below, I can find an option to block an individual contact. This works well if you still need to communicate via email. The Block numbers menu option is available on a contact record from the more menu.
Another option is to allow phone calls only from people in your contacts. This option is available from the Do Not Disturb settings panel.
Leveraging Your Cell Phone Carrier
This is one area that has improved over the years. Some cell phone companies have implemented account management features. These allow you to block certain services or phone numbers even down to an individual number. If you haven’t checked in a while, it might be worth calling tech support or using their community forum. For example, Verizon Wireless has a service that allows you to block calls..
It’s important to note that just because you know the number of the caller, that doesn’t mean your cell phone or carrier does. For example, let’s say you wanted to block your ex-boss. Although you know their number, they may block their information so it isn’t passed to your cell carrier. The cell carrier sees them like every other caller who has also blocked Caller ID. In some cases, these services will allow you to block all people like this. The downside to this “all or none” strategy is that some of your friends may have to unblock their number to call you.
Sometimes the carriers will put restrictions on this feature. For example, they may limit the number of blocks or charge a fee. Additionally, some providers don’t offer this feature for prepaid calling plans.
Another area where mobile carriers may offer help is with harassment. Most states have laws defining what is phone harassment or cyberstalking. Your service provider may prefer you file a police report before contacting them. Some may only proceed if a subpoena is issued. As example, ATT has an Annoyance Call Bureau.
To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a way to filter by a group. For example, I may have various contacts grouped or categorized as “coworkers” but I can’t tell the phone just to let those folks in.
Try a Mobile App to Block Calls
If your cellular carrier or phone’s operating system doesn’t allow you to block callers or have an older phone, you can probably find a program in your app store. Ideally, this is a program that doesn’t require you to “jailbreak” your phone. Jailbreaking your phone may cause problems with the manufacturer and impact your warranty so you should consider that option carefully.
Before downloading an app, I would carefully read what other users have posted as sometimes these comments show which phones and carriers people are using. I’d also suggest using a mobile security program to make sure the program isn’t creating new security or privacy problems. Typically, these apps have tiered services meaning you get certain features for free but have to pay for others.
Try a Mobile Security Service
While early versions of these services dealt with viruses, many of them now include some sort of call management feature. One example, which is free, is Webroot’s Secure Anywhere Mobile for Android. The company also offers a premium version with more features.
In the screen snap below you can see where I can block both unknown callers such as those people who block Caller ID or individual numbers.
Manage Your Calls With Google Voice.
This last option should work if your phone or carrier is restrictive. Google Voice is a convenient option if you get a new cell phone number as you can give out your Google Voice number instead. I like to think of the service as a pre-call processor.
Basically, the free service allows you to create different groups of callers with different rules. For example, you could have a group for “friends and family” and have these people ring through to your cell phone and home phone. In contrast, you might have a group called “vendors” that can only reach you at set times and hear a different greeting. In addition, you can have people you don’t know go straight to voicemail.