Two robots playing telephone with tin cans.
Charles Taylor/Shutterstock

The robocall problem keeps getting worse. Nearly half of all calls come from automated systems, and that number is increasing. Tired of answering your phone and talking to robots, scammers, or scammer robots? Just stop answering.

Yes, the FCC is trying to end robocalls by encouraging adoption of solutions like STIR/SHAKEN. But, while the government and phone carriers slowly put together a solution, we’re stuck in robocall hell.

The Case for Ignoring Your Phone

If the idea of ignoring your phone sends you into a fit of cognitive dissonance, then congratulations, you’re a well-adjusted human being and a perfect target for robocallers.

Phones have been around for well over 100 years, and we’ve spent that time developing a complex and universal system of phone etiquette. You answer a call with “hello,” you end a call with “goodbye,” and you politely spend the last three or four minutes of a call repeating “okay, yeah, right, uh-huh.”

But it’s the very first step of phone etiquette that robocallers use to take advantage of us. When you get a call, you answer it. Why? Well, according to Volume 5 of the American Telephone Journal—published in 1902—ignoring a phone call is rude and wastes “some seconds or minutes” of the caller’s “valuable time.”

If only we could bring those 20th-century knuckleheads into modern times, they would know how the tables have turned. Today, nearly half of the calls we receive are from robocallers. Answering the phone is actually a waste of your time.

An angry businessman throwing away his phone.
Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

Phone etiquette needs to evolve to accommodate modern times. Wasting “seconds or minutes” of a person’s time was just as annoying in 1902 as it is now. So if you get a call from a number that you don’t recognize, ignore it. You’re practicing proper phone etiquette.

You wouldn’t be the first person to start ignoring calls. As The Atlantic put it, “telephone culture is disappearing.”

Are we oversimplifying things? Maybe. But consider this: Ignoring robocalls reduces the number of robocalls you receive, other anti-robocall methods don’t work at all, and there are plenty of ways to ensure that you don’t miss important calls from friends, family, or trusted businesses.

Yes, Ignoring Robocalls Leads to Fewer Robocalls

According to the FTC, answering a robocall or interacting with a robocaller by answering questions only leads to more robocalls. Why? Because people who actually answer their phones are more likely to fall for phone scams.

Let’s pretend that you’re a robocall scammer (hopefully, you aren’t). At the end of your long and automated workday, you separate each robocall into three separate categories: “people who ignored the calls,” “people who answered and hung up,” and “people who fell for the scam.”

Who are you going to call back tomorrow? You’re going to call the people that fell for your scam. But you should also call everyone who answered and hung up because every answered call is an opportunity to scam some poor sap.

Some robocall scammers even make money when you don’t ignore their calls. They call and hope you’ll call back. Then, surprise: You’ve called the international equivalent of a 900 number. These scammers essentially get a kickback from international calling fees, so they focus their robots on people that answer or call back unknown numbers.

Will every robocaller leave you alone once you start ignoring their calls? No, robocalling is an automated brute-force scamming method, so scammers have nothing to lose by calling non-answering phones. But, by answering the phone, you’re giving scammers a legitimate reason to robocall you as much as possible.

Other Methods Don’t Work

Ignoring robocalls sounds tedious and ineffective, but until the FCC and phone carriers get their acts together, the patented ignore method is our only hope. And while some blogs and major publications like to suggest some “easier” solutions to avoiding robocalls, these methods don’t do anything to mitigate the problem.

The most common solution for ending robocalls is the famous Do Not Call list. But, in the words of the FCC, only “legitimate telemarketers” (an oxymoron) consult the list before making calls. Robocallers always ignore the Do Not Call list. Why? Because they can spoof their identities and call from any phone number that they desire. Why would they worry about the law?

A screenshot of the national Do Not Call registry homepage.
 FTC

Speaking of the law, another popular robocall solution is to report scammers and unsolicited callers to the FTC. The thing is, reporting a robocall to the FTC is only a useful practice if you’ve fallen for a scam. Robocallers tend to mask their identities with fake phone numbers, and the FTC (or any other branch of government) doesn’t have the resources to investigate every little robocaller on the planet.

If your service provider or some other website suggests you pay to block individual numbers, try to ignore that suggestion. Again, robocallers can call from any phone number. They can change their phone number at any time. Unless you’re paying your service provider to block an ex’s number, you’re just wasting your money.

What If You’re Expecting an Important Call?

In some situations, ignoring your phone is easier said than done. If you’re continually expecting calls from doctors, customers, lawyers, or anyone else that doesn’t know how to send a text message, ignoring calls can do more harm than good. (The IRS almost certainly won’t call you, though—if you get a call from “the IRS,” it’s probably a scam.)

In this situation, the best thing that you can do is try to minimize risk. Add trusted businesses, customers, and professionals to your contact list. Feel free to ask companies for their outgoing phone number, and be sure to check if they use multiple outgoing numbers. And of course, know when you should expect a call from a business or customer. If your physician’s office is closed on Sundays, then you probably don’t have to worry about missing an urgent call on Sundays.

If You’re an iPhone User, Enable Do Not Disturb

A screenshot of the iPhone's Do Not Disturb menu.
Apple

Although carriers and phone manufacturers haven’t come up with a comprehensive anti-robocall solution, Apple has added a Do Not Disturb to iPhones and iPads. The Do Not Disturb feature allows you to choose which numbers can call you. If you’ve set up a detailed contact list, this feature can help you block out scammers without missing out on important calls from your family or your doctor. If you’re ever expecting a call from an unknown number, you can quickly turn off the Do Not Disturb feature until you receive the call that you’re waiting for.

Android also offers a Do Not Disturb mode, of course. You can have your phone not ring for incoming calls and let specific numbers you care about bypass the block.

If You’re Desperate, Download an Anti-Robocall App

We usually don’t endorse extensions or apps that collect a lot of your personal data. These services are typically made by small teams or businesses so they can be a privacy nightmare. But if you’re bad at ignoring the phone, then an anti-robocalling app may be worth the privacy risk.

There are a ton of anti-robocalling apps on Google Play and Apple’s App Store, from Hiya to Robokiller, but they all tend to work the same way. When a user gets a robocall, they mark the call as spam in their anti-robocall app. Once that number is marked as spam by enough users, the app will automatically deny all calls from that number or notify users when an incoming phone call might be a robocall.

Sounds good, right? Well, these apps should only be used as a supplement to ignoring unknown calls. As we’ve mentioned multiple times, robocallers can spoof any number that they wish. They can spoof made up numbers, or they can spoof legitimate numbers. They can even spoof your phone number.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew Heinzman writes for How-To Geek and Review Geek. Like a jack-of-all-trades, he handles the writing and image editing for a mess of tech news articles, daily deals, product reviews, and complicated explainers.
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