While it may not feel like it, the number of robocalls has dropped below its peak in 2019. In March 2021, there were nearly 5 billion robocalls. Last month, there were 3.9 billion calls, according to YouMail's Robocall Index. That's still a lot of calls.
You may have registered on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry and maybe you know regulations exist that limit the ways debt collectors and companies selling things can pester you on your cell phone. But even if you have these safeguards in place, the calls keep coming. So how do telemarketers get your phone number anyway? You might be surprised.
1. You overshare your number
Anytime you fill out a form and give out your phone number – whether it’s a contest entry, a warranty registration, a signup form for an online service, what you include on your social networking profile – you’re opening yourself up for solicitations. Or, think about how many retailers have your number because you want loyalty points to score discounts or in-store credit.
Even putting your phone number in your email signature can put you at risk. As can giving your number to your dentist for appointment reminders or favorite food delivery service to get a "convenient" text notification. Even using two-factor authentication (which we hope you do!) can require you to give up your phone number.
If you enter your number on a form or online, there's a chance that your number will end up in someone else's hands.
3. Big data has killed privacy
We live in an age where computers are so smart and fast they can crawl the web and look at billions of data points instantly. In a blink they can look at everything you like, post, or tweet. They can mine census data and other public records, such as how much you paid for your house and whether or not it was ever foreclosed upon. Just search for yourself on PeekYou – you’ll be amazed at the number of companies that claim to have information about your family, income, phone number and much, much more. (Check out our guide to removing yourself from people search services.)
Again, the more information you share online, the easier it’s going to be for someone to get your mobile number.
4. Technology can dial zillions of random numbers like it’s nothing
We’ve all received calls that don’t have another human on the other end. Not only is the call robodialed, but the process of finding your number is automated as well. Dialing devices can figure out and call all possible phone number combinations, including unlisted and mobile numbers.
5. Automatic Number Identification can sabotage you
When you call 800, 888, and 900 numbers your phone number can be captured by a system called "Automatic Number Identification" or ANI. ANI automatically identifies and stores your number and matches it with other online digital markers associated with you.
6. The credit bureaus give away your information
Before you get mad at them for spilling so much of your personal information, remember – you’re the one who agreed to sign up for that department-store credit card so as to receive 25% off.
7. Charities take all the fun out of being philanthropic
Some charities hire third-party telemarketing companies to collect funds on their behalf. Telemarketers keep a percentage of whatever they collect, turning over the rest of your donation to the charity. However, the telemarketers also keep your personal information, from which they can profit exponentially as they sell and resell it to other telemarketing companies.
What to do about it
And, while some telemarketers don’t heed it, many do – register your number on the National Do Not Call Registry (Do Not Call registrations never expire). Note that if you give your cell phone number to a business, they can call you for up to 180 days after even if you’re on the Do Not Call Registry
[Editor's note: Canada has its own Do Not Call registry]
Use a burner or alternate number if you absolutely must sign up for a loyalty program or contest. And there’s simply no reason you need to post your phone number on Facebook or other online profiles. The people who you want to hear from already have your number or can email you to get it.
Also, make sure spam call blocking is turned on and consider using an app that identifies spammers when they call. I like Call Control for Android, Hiya or Truecaller for iOS, and Nomorobo for your landline phone. Alternately, get a Google Voice number. It has a good screener and you can block numbers.
Finally, don't answer calls from numbers you don't recognize. A real person will leave a message or call you back. And don't get taken in by numbers that look familiar. Increasingly, scammers are using a trick called number spoofing to fake a number with the same area code and exchange as your phone number.
Updated on 5/13/2022 with current state of robocalling and new ways to stop telemarketers from getting your number.
[woman screaming into phone via BigStockPhoto]
For the past 20+ years, Techlicious founder Suzanne Kantra has been exploring and writing about the world’s most exciting and important science and technology issues. Prior to Techlicious, Suzanne was the Technology Editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and the Senior Technology Editor for Popular Science. Suzanne has been featured on CNN, CBS, and NBC.
From lyn buerger on July 01, 2013 :: 10:58 am
The do not call registry is a joke. Assuming you keep records and report them and assuming anything is done about it all they have to do is re-route they call through another number and keep on keeping on.
I’m anxiously awaiting the way to block robo calls and thanks to our fed.gov. and their $50,000. reward we have two systems coming. on is http://www.nomorobo.com and hopefully it won’t cost much and will work.
Do Not Call Registry
From Nancy on July 01, 2013 :: 11:24 am
I have a land line. Signing up for the Do Not Call Registry is a total waste of time and effort. I even left messages about the constant solicitors on their site. Energy, home improvement, and carpet cleaner calls are endless. These robocallers (and also live people) call at lunch, dinner time, and about 7 pm. Unfortunately there is no caller ID number on who is calling when you answer the phone. The phone company passes the buck and tells you to sign up on Do Not Call.
However, when you sign up with a reputable online site for a merchandise sale, if you do not fill in your phone number you cannot go to the next step in ordering. Phone numbers are required entries. So you are stuck with giving out your phone number.
If you must sign up, don't tell them everything
From Mary on July 01, 2013 :: 4:52 pm
Whenever a phone number is demanded on a site I deliberately sign up for, I simply use a phone number I had like 20 years ago. This rarely fails to go through. It does piss me off to no end that websites ask for your snail mail address when all you want to do is receive some online newsletter. I would prefer to forego receiving something of relatively little value than to hand out this much personal information all the time.
By the way, Mozilla has a plug-in called “Mask Me” or something like that which allows you to put a fake email address in one of these online forms; you get any messages from them in your actual originating email address initially but then you can block them. This much is free; I think it costs money if you want to use it to create fake phone numbers.
The Automatic Number Identification data mininig thing mentioned in number 5 above is really creepy. This sort of thing should be illegal and it should be easier to block such things from a non-smartphone cell phone. Back when all we had was caller-id on the landline, I just didn’t answer any number I didn’t recognize or let it go to the answering machine. Now I almost never answer the cell phone because I only use it for emergencies anyway. But then, I always hated the telephone. Most people aren’t so stubborn.
just don't answer
From jimmy kraktov on May 27, 2014 :: 11:44 pm
My entire working life was retail sales. The telephone made me lots of money over the years but when I finished work I rarely used my phone at home. I paid a small fee every month for almost 40 years to keep my number unlisted. Before I had caller ID all I could do, and always did, was hang up on anyone I didn’t know when the phone rang. I have an old cellphone in my car that’s ready to use in an emergency. I now have, for a home phone, a magicJack connected to my computer. Any call I get is shown on my TV screen. If it’s not in my list of contacts or a number doesn’t appear I simply don’t answer. One click on the interface on screen and the phone stops ringing and my peace and privacy is maintained. I’ve always been amazed by the number of people I know who scramble to answer a ringing phone. Like there’s some rule that says you have to. Afraid they’ll miss out on something important. That’s what voicemail is for. Putting my info on the “Do Not Call” list has reduced, but not fully eliminated robocalls, but again, if the phone rings, I have never felt the need to answer. It’s about all one can do to keep from being pestered, and it works. I take full advantage of my ‘voicemail’ feature. These days there is no reason anyone has to talk on the phone with strangers, or even people you know, while you’re busy doing something else.
From Jenifer on November 11, 2019 :: 2:58 am
please dont give out your old number or a fake number. chances are SOMEONE has that number and they will now be getting spam called. Im sure they dont appreciate that.
I signed up for a
From Debbie on May 29, 2018 :: 10:49 am
I signed up for a Google Voice account and use it for store loyalty cards, contests, and anything requiring you to provide a telephone number. There’s an app you can use and you can set up the notifications in case you actually do win the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes (can we do lunch? Lol). I also always make up a fake email address for websites, especially those that require you provide one before you can even see what they have. Most never require you to verify email so I just make up anything since they have no way of immediately figuring out its fake, and most of the time it is naughty and includes a suggestion about what they can do.
I suggest being careful about what apps you use, like Facebook Messenger and other social media sites and those like the ebates app because their permissions are SERIOUSLY EXTREME AND FRIGHTENING. Use your computer and a browser login. Just my opinion but our privacy is too important to throw away just to save a few bucks on a pack of toilet paper!
From steve on April 02, 2019 :: 6:13 pm
hi for me google voice gave or sold my number to a couple others and now they periodically robo me .. luckily i never answer and it is kept to a minimum
From James Carlson on July 24, 2019 :: 1:41 pm
I could be missing out on the greatest toilet paper available in this country. You never know. I had the same opinion as you once. Sad to say, I could have received a free pack of black padded socks. These are the same kind of socks that those fellows up at the TSA use—the guys at the airports? Their socks are thickly padded, super comfortable, and you value that sort of thing when you’re on your feet all day. I mean those TSA guys, not me. I’m just really lazy and I love those thick, padded socks. But I was too concerned about my privacy. Not anymore though. You get those free phone calls from folks that just want ask you a couple questions, that’s just a great excuse to meet someone new. I don’t have any kids to come and visit me, and I’ve pretty much outlived all my friends, so it’s nice to have someone call every once in awhile. I talked to one guy for about 2 hours almost, and he finally just got to be all rude and such, and started yelling at me, can you believe it? He said he’s never been on a phone for two hours with someone before they said “I can’t buy anything I’m afraid, because all my money is strictly managed by the State health board ‘cause of the breathing problems I’ve got and all” like somehow that’s my fault! We were having a nice conversation, too! Nobody ever calls me twice so it’s not like I don’t have to introduce my self ‘cause he is a stranger and all, and you would think that some of those folks would give me a call back or something, but they never do. I even had one young lady I told that I’d be willing to be her pen pal, but she must have thought I said something different ‘cause all of a sudden she was like, “oh we’re not allowed to do that,” like I’d asked her on a date. Do they still call them that—you know, dates? ‘Cause that’s another thing, you know, sometimes folks just use different words when they talk, and the other person doesn’t want to be rude and say, “I’m sorry but I’m unfamiliar with that term, and don’t know what you’re talking about,” even though I would have been perfectly willing to explain myself had they only asked, but they never do. I will say this much though, it doesn’t matter what language you speak nor what terminology that you’re used to using on the telephone, I can tell you from experience that when ever you say “blow job” everybody knows exactly what you’re talking about.
The Do Not Call Registry is a waste of time !!
From errol schlemmer on February 11, 2020 :: 12:22 pm
The Do Not Call Registry is a TOTAL JOKE !! Don`t waste your time with it !!!
I signed up several years ago, and I`m absolutely INUNDATED with all kinds of robocalls, and telemarketers !!
The Do Not Call Registry works, just not for what you want
From Josh Kirschner on February 12, 2020 :: 5:52 pm
The Do Not Call List does prevent “legitimate” marketers from calling you if you’re on the list. And, it gives the FTC a legal mechanism to go after those who violate it. How many calls have you gotten from real companies, as opposed to scam robocalls, since you’ve been on it?
But the Do Not Call Registry is not going to do anything to prevent those who actively choose to violate the law from calling you. To block those robocalls, you should explore our recommended spam call blocking solutions.
From Mona on December 04, 2020 :: 5:51 pm
I m the best mom, send me more pictures WhatsApp or please call me now:
Four two five - seven seven three - four zero nine four
Use fake everything, avoid all social media
From Fake name on October 28, 2020 :: 10:08 am
When you’re ordering legit items online you only have to give the legit address where you want physical items sent. For downloads fake everything should pretty much cover you. In those cases where a legit email is required for authentication use an email that you’ve setup for spam filtering…a throw away that doesn’t matter if you get bombarded with spam, scams, etc.
Then stop using spy services like social media entirely. Your mood and privacy will sharply improve. Plus you’ll have lots more free time for Life itself.
It may be that preventing real or robo assholes from getting to your voicemail or text is impossible so long as you have a working phone number. If it really bugs you turn on block numbers without caller ID, switch back to a landline with a digital voice recorder in your home (not a service at another number).
Dare to live life without a phone period.
nomorobo.com doesn't work
From Guest on November 25, 2013 :: 5:50 pm
nomorobo.com doesn’t work. It increase junk calls ten fold! People do you want a free solution(the only one you should be using)? Login online on the computer to your phone providers website. They have a place where you can block numbers. I haven’t had a spam call since! Of course you pay for your phone and phone bills, but that’s beside the point. This blocking solution provided by your phone service is free of charge ! If you don’t believe me, go look at your phone provider for yourself.
That's not accurate
From Josh Kirschner on November 26, 2013 :: 1:43 pm
Not sure what you’re basing your comments on. Nomorobo.com won’t increase junk calls at all, and should reduce them by a fair amount if it works as promised.
The problem with using your phone company’s blocking is that you must manually enter every number you want to block. And, unless you know in advance what spammers are going to call, you’re not going to have much luck with that.
From L, Marulli on July 22, 2019 :: 8:52 am
nomorobo calls does work!! have been using them, & they block a lot of the numbers, unfortunately, they are using a lot of our home digits! this is why they can get by!! nomorobo calls does work!
From Lee Magri on September 21, 2019 :: 5:51 pm
listing the numbers with our provider does not work for me since I get about 1 doz calls a day, & fill it up in 3 days, they only allow 32 calls, when you make room for the new callers, the numbers are now free, & unblocked to call again!!!
From Joe on March 27, 2018 :: 9:23 am
Here’s my phone number go ahead and call me.
From Bob on January 19, 2019 :: 1:15 am
Here is my number please text me I am soo very lonely
Check out Tom May.
From James Feeney on June 24, 2019 :: 9:12 pm
Check out Tom May on Youtube. Oh he exacts sweet revenge on the poor unsuspecting telemarketer. It’s absolutely precious. It will give you some very evil ideas. Kids, don’t try this at home.
Do Not Call Registry
From Mike on November 05, 2019 :: 8:34 pm
Some telemarketers literally get their call lists from the Fo Not Call Registry. There is a current horrible crime where seniors are called by a Robo call telling them their Social Security number and account is being cancelled and an arrest wRrent is being issued. They are using a variety of 800 and 844 numbers. They are getting their call lists from the Do Not Call Regustry.
They almost certainly aren't getting the numbers from there
From Josh Kirschner on November 06, 2019 :: 8:19 pm
Access to the Do Not Call Registry requires registration and certification with the FTC. I find it highly unlikely that scammers would choose to go that path when they have robodialers that can automatically dial much bigger lists of number from other sources, or simply dial EVERY possible number, since the cost of doing so is so low. The fact that am 800 or 844 number shows up means nothing. Scammers routinely spoof numbers to give the appearance they are calling from someone who they are not.
They are getting them from Do not Call list
From Patrick on May 14, 2022 :: 3:24 pm
I have multiple numbers the one I put on Do Not Call registry immediately got flooded with telemarketing sales calls! My other numbers get a few here and there. But number on registry gets Sales calls and sales text messages all day ! Anyone with half a brain can figure that one out!