10 (Mostly) Free Ways to Stop Robocalls and Spam

How To Protect Yourself In Email and On the Phone

Angry woman customer claiming on the phone
Shawn Stewart

Shawn Stewart

Mr. Stewart has 27 years of experience with hundreds of international, commercial, military, and government IT projects. He holds certifications with ISC2, Cisco, Microsoft, CompTIA, ITIL, Novell, and others. He has a Masters in Cybersecurity, a Bachelors in IT, a Minor in Professional Writing, and is a published author.

Man frowning receiving telemarketing robot call taped voiceThe scams, hacks, and breaches that cost the average person and business the most money come through two of the most commonly used forms of communication. The first, you can probably guess, is email. Spam and other clickbait in email leads to hackers, scammers, and bots gaining access to your files, passwords, and bank account information. The second is social engineering through phone calls and texts. Did you know there are some absolutely free ways (and a few paid options) to protect yourself both in email and on your phone?

RoboCalls

The loss of our privacy is the most annoying of all issues we face in the digital world. Since the breach of Equifax (and a thousand other poorly protected companies) most Americans’ phone numbers have become public knowledge. Add to this the heavy use of robodialers and autocallers and our cell phones are constantly ringing.

Big Government to the Rescue – NOT!

Receiving an unknown incoming call. Scam conceptThe United States created the Do Not Call registry in 2003 as a way to block unwanted telemarketing calls. Anyone with a US phone number can go to the website, add their mobile, home, and office numbers, and legitimate businesses can no longer call you unsolicited. However, there is a laundry list of exclusions, including political campaigns, surveys, and charities. You know, the only people that seem to call you anyway.

#1 – By adding your name to the Do Not Call national registry, you will not receive unsolicited calls from legitimate businesses. You can also report spam callers, which will eventually land them on a global blacklist (Link).

Government Gets It (Somewhat) Right

In 2019, a rare bipartisan bill enacted the Traced Act (Link). Using technology known as STIR/SHAKEN, which sounds straight from a Bond film, calls are rated by their call location and whether their carrier can verify who they are. However, until Cloud-based phone providers, like Google, stop handing out numbers without verification, robocalls will continue. But, it has greatly reduced the number of calls.

What Carriers Are Doing

High angle view of a woman receiving a suspected spam call on her smartphone from an unknown caller. The network provider detects the scam and shows a warning sign to reject the callYou will notice since the implementation of the Traced Act, calls to your mobile look different. The major phone providers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon) now offer basic Spam Blocking services for free as part of your service. This was spelled out in the legislation as required. However, it was not enabled by default as each phone make and model and carrier manage it differently. Most have an app you must download or service you must agree to.

#2 – Enable Free Spam Blockers

AT&T ActiveArmor Mobile Security (Link)
ActiveArmor Mobile Security is AT&T’s application to block unwanted calls. It should be installed by default. If it’s not, click to link to AT&T and follow the instructions. You can also text the suspected Spam number to 7726 (SPAM) for free and AT&T will investigate.

Verizon Call Filter (Link)
Verizon uses Call Filter, which should also already be enabled.

T-Mobile Scam Shield (Link)
T-Mobile’s app is called Spam Shield.

Cricket Call Defense (Link)

#3 – Business owners should pay for Premium Spam Services

Of course, you can “upgrade” each software for better results at an additional monthly cost per line. The free versions should at least help you identify potential spam calls and provide the ability to block them. All apps also include blocking of Spam Texts.

For other carriers like Mint or MetroPCS, check their website and search for either Spam, blocking, or Traced.

#4 – Don’t answer any call from a number you don’t recognize!

Email

Tan terrier is wearing reading glasses and is looking at screen of laptop. Dog has paws on computer. Dog and computer are in studio and isolated on white background.Here’s the bad news. If you do not pay for your email service, your level of Spam filtering is junk. No pun intended. Gmail, Outlook, even Proton Mail have very basic filters in place to identify and block spam, scams, and junk email. The only way to ensure you only receive email from places you want is to use only white lists. This means only email addresses on your list will get through.

I know, I know. That’s not easy and in many cases not even possible. So, what can you do? The only real way to protect yourself depends on how you get your email.

#5 – NEVER UNSUBSCRIBE – Many hackers place the malicious code in the unsubscribe button. Delete the message instead.

#6 – Enable Browser Protections

Web Browsers

If you use a web browser for your email, the best option is to use an Extension or Plug-In that monitors and prevents downloads of unwanted files or blocks access to suspicious websites. Some, like BitDefender, have free extensions available in each browser. They will keep you from accidentally clicking through to a known exploited page.

#7 – Buy legitimate, supported endpoint protection software

Cat working on computer. Cat paws on a laptop keyboard typing text. High quality photoLocal Mail Clients

If you still use Outlook or another program like Microsoft Mail on your computer, you need a local anti-spam software. I do recommend finding an anti-malware software that includes anti-spam in these situations as Microsoft, notoriously, doesn’t offer Microsoft Defender for free unless you are an Office 365 Enterprise-level customer.

Mobile Phone

Same as your computer, if you receive any email on your phone, and who doesn’t these days, you need an application to protect you. While there are no free programs I can recommend because, well, you get what you pay for, there are many that offer discounts for seniors, students, and even first responders. Be prepared to pay between $10 and $20 per year per device for constantly updated protection.

Dog as hacker next to notebook with sunglasses and jacket with hood. concept of programmer, hacker and cyber security. Dog in position like a person. Funny photo. Computer security.BONUS – You may have noticed that browsers tell you of breaches when you visit certain sites. Nearly all email addresses in the world have been compromised in one breach or another unless they are less than a year old. Are you getting hammered by spam? Go to HaveIBeenPwned.com (Link) and drop in your email address. Surprise! You’ve most likely been involved in a breach. It means your email address and password were leaked and sold on the Dark Web. Learn more about the Dark Web here (Link).

#8 – Check if your email or domain has been compromised!

My advice is not convenient or easy. Change your email address. I know, you’ve had it for decades. Everyone has it. But if you get too much email, there’s only one way to fix it. Don’t do what I did and just delete the old one. Keep both running for at least six months because you honestly don’t remember every account tied to it until you need to reset your password and the email goes to an email address you no longer have. Read more about the end of email here (Link).

#9 – Change your email address

When asked to provide information online, think twice. Do you really need to give someone your phone number, email address, full name, and home address? Who knows how they protect or use your information? In many cases, the company sells your information immediately. Do NOT enter sweepstakes or sign up to win anything. If you want to keep a junk email address for this purpose and a different one for legitimate business, go for it. Just don’t use the same password for both.

#10 – Don’t overshare.

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