It’s a never-ending struggle: you don’t want to talk to salespeople, bill collectors, or your Aunt Agnes, but they all want to talk to you. Back in the days of ubiquitous landlines, you could let the answering machine pick up the call and then just ignore the messages, but today our phones are with us 24/7. There’s no escape from the ever-present risk of electronic intrusion. Although actually there is – not only is it possible to greatly reduce the number of annoyance calls you receive, you can also program your Android smartphone to effortlessly block unwanted numbers from calling you.
In this article, I will show you how to use the National Do Not Call registry to reduce the number of spam and unsolicited calls you receive, and I’ll also show you how to block the calls that get past the DNCR.
The Do Not Call Registry
First things first: before we start blocking numbers locally on your phone, let’s take some steps to add your number to the FTC’s Do Not Call registry. Obviously, this is for those readers based in the United States; if you’re based in another location, check with your government to see if they offer a similar protection against automated spam calls.
Head on over to donotcall.gov, a service offered by the Federal Trade Commission that allows you to register both your landline and mobile phone numbers to stop robocalls. With this service, you can easily register your phone number, verify that your number has been registered onto the FTC’s Do Not Call list, and even report unwanted calls from numbers you don’t recognize. After your number is registered, telemarketers have 31 days to stop calling you. This is a really great service offered by the FTC: companies can get hit with major fines for violating this list and calling numbers that have been registered. It is important to note that you may still receive political calls, charitable calls, debt collection calls, informational calls, and telephone survey calls—this list doesn’t protect against those types of phone calls. You can view more information on the Do Not Call registry right here.
Cynical realism note: if you aren’t getting a lot of spam calls now, then don’t add your number to the registry. Once you’re on the registry, those kinds of calls that are still allowable will have your number appearing in the ‘new files’ listing, and you’ll start getting all kinds of calls. Yes, putting yourself on the registry can (in this limited circumstance) add to your incoming call burden. So be careful of signing up especially with a new number. If you’re getting less than a couple of unwanted calls a week, count your blessings and stay under the radar.
Block Calls from Specific Numbers
Sadly, the registry is not a perfect protection. There are spammers that will violate this list and risk getting fined by the FTC, and as we noted above, there are several other types of phone calls that the list doesn’t even protect against, including over-the-phone surveys. So, from here, we can take additional action against spammers by blocking their calls locally. This won’t stop the first call from getting through, but it will protect you from repeat offenders calling from identical numbers. Let’s take a look.
For these examples, I’m using a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge running Android 7.0. Your phone will have a somewhat different interface, but in general these instructions will work with only minor modifications on any recent Android smartphone version.
We’ll start at the home screen, where I have a shortcut to my phone application. If you don’t have your phone app pinned to your home screen, check inside your app drawer.
Once we’ve launched the phone app, select the offending caller from your Recent Calls menu. Presumably, it’ll be your most recent call, if you’re following these steps directly after a robocall. in my case, I had to scroll a bit through my recent call list to find an unwanted caller. Tap the call to gain three additional options: Call, Message, and Details. Go ahead and select details to gain access to information on the caller.
This caller has tried to call me numerous times, even leaving me a voicemail back in March. It’s time to go ahead and block them: tap the triple-dot menu in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and click “Block number.” Again, depending on your phone model and software version, you may have additional options, or a slightly different menu. Leave us a comment below if you’re having difficulty with a different style of phone. Finally, click OK on the pop-up to block the number. If the suspected number tries to call you again, the call will be sent straight to voicemail, and you’ll receive a notification that a call was blocked from your phone. And remember, if you want to unblock the number for any reason, all you have to do is repeat the above steps and select “Unblock number.”
Block Texts from Specific Numbers
Let’s say your problem isn’t with unwanted phone calls, but from text messages offering you “exclusive offers and deals you won’t get anywhere else!” Well, it’s about time we got rid of those too. In this case, I’m using my same Galaxy S7 edge, but my default texting app has been changed to Textra, a great customizable third-party app you can download on Google Play. I highly recommend it. These instructions may vary if you’re using a different texting app, but every app should offer similar functionality as Textra.
Go ahead and open up your texting application, and select the conversation that you wish to block from your phone. In the upper right-hand corner of your screen, click the drop-down menu to view your options for the conversation, then select that same triple-dot menu from before. Textra offers a blacklist functionality that works the same as your phone applications blocking ability—it stops the text messages you don’t want from reaching you and interrupting your day. Clicking “Blacklist” will return you to the conversation screen, with an animated pop-up to let you know that the number has been successfully added to your blacklist. It’s that simple. And just like with phone calls, numbers can be unregistered from your blacklist as well using the same steps outlined above.
Use Third-Party Apps to Automatically Block Numbers
If the steps above didn’t do enough and you’re still having trouble with those unwanted callers, you can turn to the Play Store for some additional help. There are several applications available for download, but there’s one that we recommend to help you in your quest to escape robocalls: Mr. Number. The app is currently rated at a 4.3 on the Play Store, with most users praising its automated functionality. It’s pretty easy to set up, too, so let’s take a quick look.
Mr. Number will show your call log, with additional context for unsaved numbers in your phone, such as restaurants or other services you may have called. If a phone number has been reported by other users as spam or fraud, it’ll detect the caller automatically and block them from reaching out to you. You can also see reports other Mr. Number users have detailed about these respective callers. If a caller has been misreported as spam, you can use the triple-dot menu to report otherwise, and you can also easily unblock numbers by pressing the “Unblock” button. And if a spammer that hasn’t been blocked automatically successfully reaches you, you can use the app to quickly report them as spam, blocking future calls and helping out your fellow Mr. Number users in the process.
From the same software company as Mr. Number, Hiya takes a slightly different approach to the same functions. Hiya bills itself as the “ultimate call management app” and the feature list is impressive enough to back up that claim. Among other things, Hiya builds an ongoing database from user input. Here’s how that works – John registers with Hiya and submits his number, 719-111-1234. Hiya validates that John does own that number with the usual text-a-code routine. Now if Phil uses a phone spoofing app and pretends to be John calling, another Hiya user will see “Suspected Scammer” in the caller ID field, rather than the faked digits. (Want more information about call spoofing? Check out our guide to spoofing phone numbers.)
In addition, you can file reports on spam or scam numbers, and that information becomes available for all Hiya users.
Hiya is available in a free version which is more than adequate for most users, or a premium edition for $1.25 a month. The main advantages of the premium edition are that it automatically blocks robocallers and spammers for you (instead of making you add them to your block list) and it also provides a higher level of access to information about spam and scam callers.
Want some of these features for your landline phone? Check out this land-line robocall blocker from Amazon.
Just because we live in an always-connected world doesn’t mean you have to accept dealing with unwanted spam and robocalls. Most modern smartphones have the functionality built-in to allow you to disable and block callers that slip through the FTC’s registry. Third-party apps like Mr. Number can help you out too, automatically detecting when a spam call is trying to reach you, and blocking the caller in the process. Setting up this functionality only takes a few minutes out of your day, and once you’re done, you can sit back and enjoy a spam-free life.