First came robocalls: those pesky and persistent calls purporting to be from charitable organizations, financial institutions, or customer service representatives that have increased exponentially over the past few years. Now robotexts, messages sent to mobile phones using an autodialer, are also proliferating. Hackers have gotten savvier than ever, sending text messages that claim to be from the United States Postal Service (“Are you missing a package?”), the CDC (“Want your free coronavirus test?”), or popular social media accounts (“Click here to reset your password”). The run-up to the 2020 election has also increased the volume of political texts and calls, some of which are legitimate while many are not. Consumer complaints to the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission have surged since 2014, but scammers continue to circumvent the rules. Meanwhile, our phone numbers are everywhere—attached to our social media accounts, offered up to companies we purchase products from—and so are more susceptible to compromise.
Here are some things you can do to stem the tide of unwanted robocalls and robotexts, keeping your identity and your data safe.
- Sign up for the national Do Not Call Registry: Once your number has been listed on the Registry for 30 days, you can begin reporting unwanted calls or texts to the Federal Trade Commission. But this is only the first step toward more comprehensive protection, though—not a surefire way to stop all calls and texts.
- Block unfamiliar or persistent numbers: Do not respond to robocalls or robotexts. Use your phone to block numbers that persist in unwanted communication. Many cell phone carriers rely on this method to identify known problem numbers and display that “UNKNOWN NAME” or “Potential spam” message alongside an unwanted call or text.
- Use your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” setting: If robocalls or robotexts keep coming, use your mobile phone’s “Do Not Disturb” option. Set it to only notify you incoming calls or texts from specific contacts (either Favorites or another group you designate). “Do Not Disturb” also allows you to block communication during certain hours and limit notifications while driving. “Do Not Disturb” works great as away to boost productivity and focus.
- Don’t click links, respond to STOP, or otherwise acknowledge receipt of robotexts: Be careful with suspected robotexts that give you the option to unsubscribe or “respond to STOP” receiving them. Often, doing so only lets hackers know that your number is legitimate and in service. DO NOT click ANY links in an unwanted text. These can often lead you to illicit websites that install malicious software on your device. With robocalls, be careful what you say; even automated robocalls can ask a variety of natural-sounding questions like “Can you hear me?” If you answer “Yes,” that voice signature can be used at a later date to authorize fraudulent charges via telephone. BONUS: This advice matches the number-one rule for preventing email-based ransomware: don’t respond, click a link, or open an attachment from an unknown address.
- Be careful sharing info with apps: Social media accounts often ask to link your phone number to an application. But if other, less frequently used apps ask for such permissions, proceed with caution. The more you share your number, the more likely it is you’ll be targeted with robocalls or robotexts.