Take Control: Spam Calls

Robocall-driven spam/scam calls are out of control. I know, what else is new, but I mean REALLY out of control. Until I developed the system I am about to show you, my phone would ring up to 10 times a day from scam/spam calls at all hours, even after I had implemented my carrier’s spam call protective measures. I was either missing calls I expected because I had all notifications turned off, or I was being driven crazy by the interruptions.

YouMail’s monthly statistics on spam show that we are on track to receive over 50 billion! robocalls this year, even after the mobile carriers implemented mandated technology upgrades designed to reduce this noise. But fear no more, I have found a solution that works for me, and which will hopefully work for you are well. It allows me to achieve my top 3 objectives for phone sanity:

  1. Have all people I know (designated as being in my contacts) ring through to my phone without interruption, or roll to my voicemail if not available.
  2. Have the vast majority of known spam/scam callers be sent a “line disconnected” message without any notification appearing on my phone or me experiencing any interruption.
  3. Have everyone in between (not known spammers and not people I know), be prescreened so that I get a notification on my phone regarding what they are calling for before I pick up. From there I can either accept the call to talk with them or let it roll to voicemail.

Here’s how. Assuming you are using an iPhone, and have access to a Mac (for optional voicemail greeting customization), do the following.

  1. Signup for Robokiller on your phone and follow the installation instructions. I think I have tried almost all the others and Robokiller is the only one I have found that has the combination of screening, responding, and blocking that works for me. There may be others that work but I’ll leave that research up to you. If you are nervous about switching, Robokiller offers a 7-day free trial. After that, you can sign up for their service month to month until you are sure that this works for you, after which you can sign up for a cheaper annual plan.
  2. As part of the Robokiller installation and setup, you will turn on the Silence All Callers feature on your iPhone. This will prevent all callers NOT in your contacts from ringing through — they will be screened by Robokiller first. So if you want someone to ring through without screening, add them to your contacts.
  3. Customize the greeting you want Robokiller to use for known scam/spam callers. While there are many hilarious options to choose from that can be used to give these callers the runaround, I personally prefer just a standard “This line has been disconnected” message. Your choice. Unknown callers (those not in your contacts) who are not known spammers/scammers will not receive these greetings but will instead be prompted to say what their call is about so that you can decide whether you want to talk with them.
  4. In your iPhone Settings / Notifications, turn off all notifications for Robokiller, and all Alerts in Notifications for Phone. Leave on Badges for Phone. This way you will receive no distracting popups on your phone for callers unless it is for a call you might want to receive, however, you can still see when new calls are received (and rejected) from the updated badge count on the Phone app on your iPhone.
  5. Under iPhone Settings / Phone, set incoming calls to Full Screen.
  6. Optional step. Go to Settings / Accessibility / Spoken Content on your Mac (or a friend’s), and download the Apple-provided voices available (select Customize under the list of voices), to select a voice you like. You can hit play for each voice to hear what they sound like. I personally use the Siri voices as they sound the most natural.
  7. Optional step. In Notes on the Mac, type a greeting you want to use for callers. This will be converted to speech using the voice you choose in the prior step. Here is my default greeting: “Hello, you’ve reached Michael’s answering system. Michael is either unavailable at the moment or you are calling from a number we do not recognize. Please leave a detailed message at the tone and Michael will respond as appropriate. Thanks!” Then, update your carrier’s voicemail greeting by playing this message on your Mac using the Text to Speech shortcut (Option-Escape) of the selected text in Notes, while holding your phone up to your Mac’s speaker. My recommendation, do not use your full name in your greeting unless this is your business line. Leave scammers unsure whether they got the right person, while still leaving enough information for legitimate callers to know that they did.

That’s it! Peace, quiet, and sanity have been restored. For the very rare scam caller who does leave a message, you can just manually add their number to Robocaller so that you will never hear from them again. Another nice feature of Robokiller is that you can easily pause their blocking for a period of time directly from their app in case you are expecting a call but do not want it screened.

Enjoy, and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. One word of warning, if you are like me you are likely to still pick up your phone several times a day to check if you have missed important calls, because you have been so conditioned by the interruptions. Trust me, in a few days you will learn to trust your phone’s ringer and these urges will dissipate.

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