How to block spam phone calls on your smartphone

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The vast majority of unannounced phone calls I receive on my iPhone are calls I don’t have time for or that are a waste of my time.

Some are truly spam and deserve to be blocked. Others are unsolicited sales calls. some are scams like when somebody spoofs an organization’s number and tries to get money out of you. For example: when scammers call and say an warrant is out for your arrest or a lawsuit has been filed and you need to call to get it taken care of with your credit card number.

That’s really not how any of those things work, by the way.

Blocking numbers of course is another strategy but that’s a one-by-one activity and takes way more time than silencing all calls.

The iPhone also now flags potential junk and spam messages but they still ring. You just get the alert letting you know that they’re probably spam. Every time the phone rings that’s a potential interruption.

The scam callers

I got an urgent voicemail from somebody claiming to be with the IRS and that they had an arrest warrant for me. I remembered this post from Marion Police on the topic:

Nonetheless, I was in a mood to call them back, so I did.

Somebody, in broken English, answered and said they were Officer Dan Smith (or something of that sort) with the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service.

“I’m outside your office to pay my fine,” I jumped in.

“What? This is the criminal division.’

“I know. You called and I’m outside to pay my fine. Can you let me in.”

“What? What’s your name.”

They have caller id, by the way, and already had my name!

“Can you tell me what the crime is and code section,” I proceeded.

“The crime is that you talked to your mom.”

“And what’s the penalty for that?”

“You’ll have to talk to her.”

Seriously, I think I get more spam phone calls than spam emails. I blocked the number.

From the IRS:

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail  a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without  giving  the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Anyway, do people fall victim? According to the IRS in 2017, federal officials know of “over 10,000 victims who have collectively paid over $54 million as a result of phone scams since October 2013.” So an average of $5,400 each! Whoa. So that’s why it sounds like I was calling a call center? I heard other “officers” in the background.

It’s likely a numbers game: The more people they call, the more likely they are to find a victim.

Just to avoid these kind of calls I think it’s worth to block – or rather silence – unknown incoming calls.

How to block spam calls

On your iPhone simply go to settings – phone – silence unknown phone calls.

That’s it. Easy breezy. Now all unknown calls get sent to voicemail and don’t ring. My phone does show me a notification that a phone call has been silenced but it doesn’t give me an audio cue and it also doesn’t keep ringing.

What to consider when you silence unknown phone calls

The biggest thing to consider is that at some point you will receive a phone call that you actually wanted to answer and that will get silenced. In those cases I just call back and apologize for missing the call.

In the majority of cases, few people actually call me unannounced or call me at all. Most meetings nowadays seem to be Zoom meetings or Google Meet meetings or something that I have to call into anyways.

Some are text messages or Slack conversations.

For the most part silencing unknown phone calls has been a wonderful feature for me.