It’s a long-time conundrum of the telecommunications era: Why do spammers spam? It should seem like they’d get discouraged by the millions of rejections to their easily transparent attempts. But the motivating factor is that they make it up in volume. If just a few people out of millions respond to a spam attempt in a way that’s profitable to the spammer, they’ll keep at it.
Spam phone calls are the current worst pollution in telecommunications. It’s not always lone scammers either since some companies still violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, such as HSBC Bank. Robocall telemarketing is the other, corporate end of spam calls. The simplest way to deal with a spam call is to find out who called you and then block the number. Of course, dealing with one spam call is barely worth mentioning, but when your number is targeted by spam, that becomes a different problem.
General steps to curtailing spam calls
For high volumes of nuisance phone calls, there are some basic steps you can take:
- List your number with the FCC’s Do Not Call registry
- Set your mobile OS to more restrictive settings
- Use third-party apps that block robocalls
- Check with your cellular service provider for blocking options
The mobile phone industry is very motivated to help you stop nuisance phone calls. This applies to the service carriers, the hardware manufacturers, and the software programmers. If mobile phones become inconvenient to use, all those industries shut down. The problem is that the communications industry has to allow a permissive amount of freedom, which some people and companies unfortunately abuse. Technology companies are at a constant “cold war” with the spammers, in the same way, that we will always fight hackers and email spammers.
Depending on how much time you want to put into this, there are third-party apps that use a “white list” for your phone calls. All calls are blocked by defaults except for the few numbers you allow to call you. You can restrict this to your work, family, social circle, and so on.
As a final solution, you might want to change your number. Your number might be “dirty” if you recently activated it and it was previously widely distributed. You should avoid liberally posting your phone number to the public and avoid answering unknown numbers in the first place, because robocallers will listen for a human voice to answer and mark the number as a “live” target, increasing the spam activity to that number later.
What about number spoofing?
Number spoofing is a new problem that’s prompted telecommunications companies into a new struggle to control spam. Number spoofing can advertise a different number to caller ID, showing you any number, including your own. It gets worse if you happen to have a number which somebody else is using to spoof spam calls.
Why on earth are callers allowed to do this? Number spoofing was a common practice built into the phone system, to allow large companies to show up on caller ID as a common number. Thus the 1-800 number you called for tech support can call you back with the same identification, even though the actual phone may be in a different country.
Phone companies are currently working on a way to end phone spoofing by forcing callers to only use numbers registered with a digital ID. In the meantime, you can report spoofed phone number calls to your service carrier, who have ways of tracing the call with law enforcement’s assistance. This takes some time, but it’s a step you can take until they have this problem fixed.
Spam has been a problem since the first computer network
Even after number spoofing is plugged, spammers will no doubt find a new technology loophole. This problem is so old that it even predates the use of the term “spam” by itself. Prior to email spam, the equivalent of “hackers” for phone systems, known as “phreakers,” were exploiting holes in the telecommunication system. One of the earliest phreakers, John Draper, used a whistle he found in a cereal box to imitate phone company signals, tricking the system into letting him place free long-distance calls.
This just goes to show, the telecommunications infrastructure was never set up to be security-hardened in the first place. Commerce thrives on the principle of convenient communication. Meanwhile, nobody could foresee the ways in which it would be exploited by unscrupulous users.