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How to Silence Telephone Spammers

How to Silence Telephone Spammers

Spamming works -- that's the sad reality. If no one bought what spammers are selling, they would soon be out of business. Until those easy targets wise up, though, the rest of us need to do what we can to block spammers. Thanks to vigilant ISPs and email handlers, our in-boxes are less cluttered, but phone spam is another story. Illegal telemarketing scams are on the rise. Here are some ways to keep them off your phone.

By Patrick Nelson
04/25/13 5:00 AM PT

We've been seeing a gradual reduction of spam in our email in-boxes due to efforts by ISPs and email providers, new laws and education. However, the same isn't true for junk phone calls and text messages.

Laws provide some protection from marketing intrusions, and it's possible to thwart much of the legally sanctioned bombardment with a few simple steps.

However, it's the illegal variety that's been steadily increasing, and keeping it at bay is a bit more complicated. Here's how to approach the issue.

Step 1: Register

Register your phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry by calling 888-382-1222 from a phone that you'd like to register. The National Do Not Call Registry is operated by the Federal Trade Commission in Washington and limits the legal telemarketing messages that you receive.

Legitimate telemarketing companies remove numbers from their lists within 31 days.

Alternatively, visit the FTC Do Not Call website to register numbers.

Tip: Ignore calls that you receive from callers claiming to be from the Do Not Call list and that offer to place your number on the list.

Step 2: Don't Reply to Texts

Do not answer any junk marketing text messages that you receive and don't text "STOP" when prompted. These messages are sent to randomly generated numbers. You can identify the texts because they are often related to financial services like loans. Free gift card offers have been common recently and are a scam.

Texts from five- and six-digit shortcodes are less likely to be spam and are easier for authorities to track. Google the shortcode for more information on the sender.

Answering the message tells the sender that the number is live, letting the sender know it's worth sending you more messages. Your number becomes more valuable on the black market.

Tip: If you follow texted Web links, you'll be prompted to enter valuable personal data before you'll supposedly be able to receive promised gifts. Receiving a gift can involve numerous conditions, such as applying for credit. You may have to spend money to receive a "gift."

Step 3: Report Spam Texts

Forward a suspicious text message to "SPAM" or "7726" to report it to your phone operator as a spam message. Many mobile operators participate in this industry-wide reporting system.

By reporting the spam you add to the evidence pile that can be used against the spammer.

Tip: You can also report spam messages to the Federal Communications Commission using Form 1088G.

Step 4: Protect Your Privacy

Avoid entering your phone numbers anywhere online, particularly on forms. Use a (212) 777-7777 syntax to progress through a form where the number field is authenticated and where the submit button can't be pressed until a number is entered.

This syntax politely lets the data collector know that you do not wish to share the number, and it will have to email you instead if it really wants to get hold of you. Use your actual area code to avoid authentication traps.

Tip: Do not subscribe to any free ringtone services. Free ringtone services have been known to collect the numbers and spam them.

Step 5: Opt Out

Click on any marketing opt-out check boxes when interacting online to take control.

You're personally better off following a "pull" policy -- meaning you go to websites that interest you and pull the information you want -- rather than a "push" policy that invites marketers to send messages to you by text or email.

Step 6: Block Numbers

Download a spam-blocking app for your smartphone.

Free Mr. Number for Android is available in the Google Play Store and lets you block individual numbers, or send them to voice mail. The service also maintains a list of known spammers.

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Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.


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