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How to battle spam on your landline phone

You probably use a cellphone for most (or all) of your calls, assuming you make voice calls at all. However, if you still have a landline, it can be hard to battle the barrage of spam calls that you will inevitably receive. According to a recent report cited in The Washington Post, Americans received 26.3 billion robocalls in 2018, up 46 percent from the previous year.

Unfortunately, landline phones are as vulnerable to spam calls as mobile phones are, especially from (mostly) out-of-country scammers trying to sell you solar panels or vacation homes, convince you that the caller is from the IRS, or bully you into calling back in order to milk your phone bill.

At the very least, this can be enormously annoying, interrupting your work, dinner, or favorite TV show. The more aggressive calls — the ones that threaten you with arrest if you don’t send the “IRS” a check — can be upsetting. And at worst, they can actually succeed when they target more vulnerable relatives and / or friends.

The government has tried to step in with its National Do Not Call Registry, which is supposed to prevent unwanted telemarketers. However, this is essentially a volunteer effort: if you submit your phone number to the registry, legitimate businesses are officially obliged not to send sales calls to your line. And all of those less-than-legitimate businesses that seem to be making the majority of spam calls? Yeah, you can guess how effective the registry is with those.

Get rid of spam

So what can you do? There are a few ways (other than taking the phone off the hook) that you can protect your landline from some scam calls. There are, of course, also a number of methods for stopping spam on your mobile phone.

One of the first pieces of advice that is often given is to simply not answer any calls if you don’t recognize the number that is calling. If the call is legitimate, the caller will leave a message and you can call back. For the most part, this is good advice. However, it may not work in households where you are waiting for important calls from unfamiliar numbers (such as plumbers or medical offices) or for people who feel uncomfortable not answering a phone.

While there are several anti-spam apps out there for mobile phones, there is only a limited number for VoIP landlines (In fact, there are fewer options than there was a few years ago.) One of the most well-known and most effective is called Nomorobo. When you register your number with Nomorobo, your phone rings simultaneously at both your home and through the company’s screening system. If the number is in Nomorobo database as a spam call, the system intercepts the call and hangs up. The application works on most VoIP phones, such as those using Verizon FiOS, Optimum, or Vonage. However, if you’re still on an old-fashioned copper line, you’re out of luck.

Most other anti-spam services that are still available for landlines either have a monthly fee or work more with companies rather than with individuals. There is at least one that purports to help unhappy landline users get back at unwanted and obnoxious callers — the live ones, anyway. The Jolly Roger Telephone Co. lets you trigger one of several scripted robotic voices that it says will frustrate the telemarketer on the other end.

  • Check with your provider to see if it has any anti-spam software available. Many do. Some providers, such as Spectrum Communications, offer third-party solutions such as Nomorobo through their sites.
  • If your carrier doesn’t offer anti-spam software, it may be able to flag you when the person calling is probably a robot or spam caller. Verizon can currently flag spam calls on its phones, but it doesn’t yet have spam-blocking software. According to the company, it will begin providing this service in March.
  • Finally, if the landline is still on an old-fashioned copper line, you can purchase a hardware call blocker. Most come pre-programmed with several-thousand known spam numbers (although it won’t be as up to date as a software-based service), and they make it simple to quickly add new numbers as they come in.

Spam calls can be annoying or even frightening, and while it may not be possible to stop every single one from getting through, you can at least block and / or avoid most of them. Good luck.

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