Stopping Spam Phone Calls

Update Feb 08 2018: This post seems to be getting a decent amount of traffic, so here is an update:

I’m now using RoboKiller (iOS app) for several months, which is a service that blocks known spam numbers. It costs about $2/month and is well worth it. It has definitely reduced the number of spam calls I receive and is also correctly identifying the ones that match my number prefix (XXX-XXX-NNNN) as spam.

For some reason, I get a lot of spam calls on my mobile. They rarely ever leave voicemails and the phone number is always different and always in a different area code. It’s mostly student loan refinancing, cruise trips, and a bunch of other similar bullshit. Googling the numbers yield a lot of people receiving the same calls. I sometimes get one call per hour, several times per day, but always from a different number so the “block number” feature in iOS is useless. Until now, I would just ignore any call that was from a number I didn’t recognize, but this still means an almost daily interruption and it has come to the point where I’d like to do something about it. My options are:

  • change my phone number
    • get a fresh number and discard the old one
    • get a fresh number and port the old number to google voice
  • adjust ios settings to curtail interruptions
  • try to get removed from these lists

The first thing I did was turn off all the “handoff” stuff in iOS/OS X. I’ve realized how annoying it is to have my phone ringing on my Mac, my iPad, and my phone at the same time. This feature is significantly more annoying when any spam call can interrupt you in such a fantastic way. I was excited about this feature when it was announced, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I am seriously considering either porting my number to Google Voice so I can better control inbound calls, but I am hesitant to do this because it feels like Google is getting ready to kill Voice. They haven’t updated the iOS app in forever and I get the vibe that Google has abandoned it. If I did port the number, going forward, I would only give my mobile number to people I actually know. Businesses wouldn’t get it. The other reason I don’t really want to change numbers is that notifying people about number changes is a PITA and a lot of two-factor things are tied into that number.

iOS has a feature called “Do Not Disturb” which I thought would fix this problem. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the right level of customization and it’s pretty much all or nothing. I had intended on only allowing people in my contact list to ring through, but when DnD is enabled, it also silences ALL notifications for any other app. Which means PagerDuty alerts, important alerts, would never alert audibly. So that option is out.

Which brings me to my final act of desperation. Here is what I’m doing for now, which is a pain in the ass to setup, but it works great…

  1. First, either make or buy a “silent ring tone” in the itunes store and set it as your default ring tone
  2. Then, go into your contacts and customize what the actual ringtone should be for each contact (this is the most time consuming part, but you only need to do it once per contact)

Now, any time someone not in your contacts list calls you, it will come through on your phone but there will be no ring/noise or interruption. If someone is in your contact list, it will ring/alert you normally. This probably won’t work for everyone, but most of the people calling me are people in my contact list, so it’s just about perfect. Having to remember to adjust the ringtone anytime I add a new contact is slightly annoying, but worth the tradeoff.


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