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7 Ways Telemarketers Get Your Cell Phone Number

by on April 06, 2018
in Phones and Mobile, Tips & How-Tos, Privacy :: 70 comments

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If you’re in the shrinking pool of people who still have a landline, you’re most likely inundated with calls from telemarketers.

But your cell phone is different, right? 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.

That kind of thinking isn’t grounded in reality and, unfortunately, a growing number of telemarketing companies don’t care about lists and legislation and will harass you with unwanted calls and texts on your mobile phone anyway. In fact, a recent study by YouMail, a free robocall blocker provider, recently estimated 30.7 billion robocalls in 2017—those lacking a human being on the other end. The FTC recorded more than 7 million robocall complaints in 2017, up from 5.3 million in 2016.

But 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-step authentication services (which we hope you do!) requires 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. 

2. You accept Terms of Use without reading or understanding them

A growing number of mobile apps—things like flashlight utilities or games—are really only interested in harvesting your personal information and selling it. So make sure you read the Terms of Use or Terms of Service. And check to see what apps want to access when you install them.

3. Big data has killed privacy

In case you don’t know what “big data” is, here’s a brief primer.

Basically, 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, pin 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 Pipl.com—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 recording automated, oftentimes so is the process of finding your number. Automatic dialing devices can figure out and call all possible phone number combinations, including unlisted and mobile numbers.

5. Automatic Number Identification can also 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. (See the big data section above.)

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

Don’t you hate it when you give $10 to some charity that’s been hounding you only to have it double down on trying to get even more money from you? The few bucks you gave it are completely eaten up in its marketing efforts to get deeper access to your wallet.

Blame the third-party telemarketing companies the charities hire 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

First, be smart about accepting Terms of Use when it comes to apps you’re downloading onto your smartphone. Does a flashlight utility really need access to your call logs?

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, so don't fall for the current scam that prompts you to re-register). 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 which can be found HERE]

Even better, use a fake 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 your Google profile. The people who you want to hear from already have your number.

Also, make sure to install on your phone an app that will block numbers from texting and calling you. And use an app that identifies spammers when they call. We like Nomorobo, which is available for iOS, Android, and 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.

This post was updated on 4/6/2018.

[woman screaming into phone via Shutterstock]



Discussion loading

The 'Do Not Call List' Does Not Work

From Peter on November 28, 2018 :: 4:50 pm

The ‘Do Not Call List’ does not work, and is a waste of tax payer dollars.

Reply

It does work, just not for everything

From Josh Kirschner on November 28, 2018 :: 6:09 pm

The Do Not Call List does work in that it prevents “legitimate” marketers from calling you if you’re on it. And, it gives the FTC a legal mechanism to go after those who violate it. But it obviously does little to proactively prevent those who choose to violate the law from calling you. To do that, you should explore our recommended spam call blocking solutions.

Reply

All of these ways are bs.

From Patrick on January 25, 2019 :: 12:27 pm

Bought my 11 year old a phone when they started middle school (@ 6 months ago). He has 3 numbers in his contacts, Mom, Dad, and Grandma. He does not have a gmail account so cannot download anything to the phone so no worries about opting in to anything. After having the phone for a month he started getting the telemarketers and robots calls concerning his cars expiring warranty, or his Hilton Hoors or Marriot Rewards number, you know the same ones we all get, but he is 11. Has no online profiles anywhere, no data up in the cloud, the number has never been shared with anyone outside of family (all within a mile of him). Yet his number is out there. It is a far more nefarious reason that everyone knows your number and it is not your fault like this BS article wants you to believe. It is the cell phone company workers who are downloading active cell phone numbers and selling them. They are also selling the numbers that are not being used so that the robocalls can spoof a local number hoping that you will pick up. And the FTC is allowing this practice.

Reply

I think you're misunderstanding the article

From Josh Kirschner on January 25, 2019 :: 1:10 pm

We never implied that it is always “your fault” that you receive robocalls (though sometimes it is). I think we were pretty clear in #4 that simply random dialing numbers is a big part of this, especially for the robocallers you describe, who tend not to be as concerned about things like “the Law” when dialing numbers. Similarly, there is no need for the robocallers to buy lists of numbers from the phone company or anyone else - why pay money for something when you can use autodialers to dial millions of numbers for essentially no cost? And they don’t care if they’re spoofing an active number or not - I’ve received calls from angry people about me calling them and had to explain to them that, no, I didn’t call them and what number spoofing is all about.

The FTC is not allowing this practice - it is illegal and they have prosecuted many people for illegal robocalls. However, they (and the FCC) haven’t done enough to pressure the phone carriers to fix the issue by blocking these spoofed calls once and for all. Fortunately, that is starting to change. You can learn more about the FCC’s latest robocall blocking efforts to see what will be rolling out in 2019.

Reply

Nothing works

From Melete on March 13, 2019 :: 11:33 am

NoMoRobo is good, but limited: it allows the first ring to come through, jangling you out of concentrating on your work or, if you happen to be sleeping, jangling you awake. Yesterday over a dozen local exchange spoofing calls came in, starting before 7 in the morning. Each one had to be manually entered in NoMoRobo’s website. Like I have nothing else to do with my time?

I have suggested to NoMoRobo that they should allow people to block an entire exchange—none of my contacts, for example, are in the exchange the spoofers are campaigning from this week. They said they couldn’t do that. Right.

The National Do Not Call List is another waste of time. It does exactly nothing to stop the B*****ds from calling you. Most are probably offshore anyway, and so even if the government were doing anything about the problem, they would be untouchable anyway.

About the only solution, for consumers, is simply not to have a phone. Get a cheap by-the-minute flip phone and use it only for emergencies. Business and personal acquaintances will have to contact you by email.

As for merchants who demand your phone number? Lie. This, though it sounds unethical, is no more unethical than what they will do with your number: sell it or use it to pester you with their own ads. Have a fake number in your mind and use it to fill in the blanks.

Reply

And in response to those who object to giving fake numbers...

From Melete on March 13, 2019 :: 12:13 pm

Yes, it’s true that if you give nosy retailers and other pests a fake number that you made up on the fly, you’re probably subjecting some other innocent phone customer to extra robo-hassle. A solution is to fill in the blank with a number associated with the questioner who is trying to harvest your phone number. For example, Safeway (which demands a phone number so you can get a card that will extract the fair market price for most goods at their store) thinks my home phone number is, oddly enough, the same as the number for their local corporate offices. Get on your cell phone, look up the business, and enter the business’s phone number in the blank.

Reply

Get Hiya

From Josh Kirschner on March 13, 2019 :: 5:19 pm

Manually blocking spoofed numbers is pointless. But there are apps out there that let you block an entire exchange, which is especially useful for the common “neighborhood spoofing” technique.The app we recommend for that is Hiya (free for exchange blocking, $2.99 a month for other features). You can learn more about Hiya and other solutions for blocking spam in our stories How to Block Calls on an Android Phone and How to Block Calls on an iPhone.

Reply

Some Spammers that called me

From Paul on May 23, 2019 :: 8:42 pm

Figured I would put a list of scammers that called me and a couple of my friends. That way robots could pick them up and call them.
843-485-xxxx

Reply

We've edited the numbers out of your list

From Josh Kirschner on May 24, 2019 :: 9:01 am

I get your frustration with spam calls, but posting the numbers here isn’t the right approach. There’s a good chances these numbers are spoofed, meaning that you’re simply posting someone innocent’s number up here.

Reply

What do you do about your cell phone provider?

From James Feeney on June 24, 2019 :: 10:21 pm

I had a pay as you go flip cell phone. I could put 15$ a month on it, andkeep the phone active to be used in case of emergencies. I kept it in my car. I discovered that when I got near the time where the money ran out, an it was time to pay another $15.00, they would send me 100s of text messages telling me that my account was low. When I turned on my phone, I watched in horror as all my money drained down in seconds, as all those text messages telling me I was low on money automatically came downloadding in, and now they wanted another $15.00. The only way I could stop this behavior was to block all text messaging to the phone. However now I couldn’t see my current balance. The various kinds of BS that the cell phone company pulled on me caused me to give my cell phone away, and now I DON’T HAVE ONE. Yeah, that’s right, I choose not to have one of those pains in the tuckus. Here the robocaller was the cell phone company it’s self (Verison).

Reply

That shouldn't happen

From Josh Kirschner on June 25, 2019 :: 11:03 am

I’m a little confused by your situation. Texts from your carrier shouldn’t count towards your limit. If that happened, you should have talked to Verizon about it to get it resolved. Note also that Verizon’s $15 plan was eliminated a while ago. If you were still on it, you were likely grandfathered in. All Verizon’s current plans include unlimited text.

Reply

Constant Spoofed Calls

From J. Winkler on December 18, 2019 :: 10:46 am

Quite a few people as well as myself are receiving calls from an Organized Stalking Network also known as “gang stalking” or “group stalking.” They spoof numbers and utilize false alias in order to dupe others. The calls are originating from the handlers who live at [Personal information removed by moderator]. These strange, obsessed, and childish individuals have committed shameless crimes against good people. The two handlers are A 68 year old woman who’s name [Personal information removed by moderator] and her 44 year old son [Personal information removed by moderator] These two individuals have stolen inheritances, forgery of wills and property deeds, and tax fraud. They’ve stolen from their own families and former friends who only meant them well. This Mother and Son duo support their lifestyle by defrauding money from family members, former friends and even neighbors. They engage in Identity theft, the purchasing of copper from copper thieves who strip it from abandoned homes in Detroit, and other fraudulent transactions. The carnality,debauchery, hedonistic, and illegal activity that goes on within this three bedroom home along the cul-de-sac on Ridgedale is nothing short of astonishing. They have even went as far as having people set up and murdered due to their insatiable covetous appetite that is from jealousy and envy of those having something they covet and desire. They’ve spent their entire adult lives sabotaging others such as their own family members, former friends who’ve managed to see through the nothings they really are and even people who’ve never had any contact or dealings with. From this Mother and Son duo is where the spoofing of numbers and fraudulent spam calls are originating. The Mother and Son duo utilize the ties they have with Police, City state and National Government, and Military to set up and sabotage people they’ve become obsessed with due to their bitter envy and jealousy. These Two individuals are envious and jealous of others and try desperately to bring others down due to their own insecurities from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.The two cowards hide behind their cowardly organized stalking group who drive up and down the street all day in front of people’s homes watching and following them all day because they have no lives and envy those that do. These people are being paid by a few crooked law enforcement, military personnel and those who work for the government. They have secret money funneled in and the people are paid with gift cards, vouchers, public housing, and etc. I would like to add that the shameless behavior of a chosen few does not represent the brave men and women in blue and those who serve our country.

Reply

I got telemarketers under control now

From callbob on March 18, 2020 :: 3:11 pm

Don’t give out your number to any business or organization PERIOD. Many business registration forms include a phone number field and some DEMAND you fill it in. I fill it in with a fake number.

I change the last 2 digits or end with 1234. Simple as that and screw em if they dont like it.

Next, and, maybe most important thing I do to block unwanted calls is simply set my default ringtone to “silent”.

Then I assign a default ringtone to my default group in my contacts list. I use an app called talking ringtone maker to make custom ringtones.

I made a ringtone that says “someone from your contact list is calling” - this plays when just any one from my contact list calls.

Then for further fun I created a group for local business and another family. When these people call the default ringtone “for that group” plays.

I made talking ringtones for each group that just says the name of the group like this - a family member is calling or a local business is calling.

Sounds complicated but it is not, you just have to figure out how to find group settings and make groups. In group settings I change the default ringtone for each group, save settings and it is done.

Now anyone - spam caller or telemarketers call and my phone simply makes no noise and they don’t bother me. I can see a list of who called in the recent callers list if I want.

The only issue with this is now if I am selling something on Craigslist I don’t know if a buyer is calling. I say in the ad leave a message or text me. I prefer text replies for ads I’m running. Works well.

Life is much better now, it is almost weird no longer getting all those telemarketers calling day and night though.

~

Reply

Hiya call blocking app

From danleywolfe on May 15, 2020 :: 11:53 pm

My situation got so bad I purchased Hiya premium call blocking app. It allows you to block area codes and six digit NPA-NXX “neighborhood” prefixes.  I blocked around 200 area codes and a number of NPA-NXX “neighborhood” prefixes. This blocks 99% of the junk robocalls that I was receiving.

Reply

Hiya is a good solution, but 200 area codes?

From Josh Kirschner on May 16, 2020 :: 1:37 am

Hiya is a great call blocking app. I also like Call Control, which actually will prevent blocked calls from going to voicemail (you can read my review here). But 200 area codes? That’s crazy. You’re blocking half the country from calling you!

Reply

lala

From Roro on October 28, 2020 :: 3:11 pm

email me

Reply

Add my number to get

From Shari on January 06, 2021 :: 2:43 am

Add my number to get spam calls constantly.
954-997-3583

Reply

+447776486077

From Rafael Ramos on March 21, 2021 :: 12:07 pm

I want telemarketers to call me. I have plans for them smile

Reply

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