RoboCall Spam

A weirdly ineradicable nuisance.

Below is a screen capture of my most recent voicemail messages:

The astute among you will have guessed that they are spam calls. I have gotten at least 34 such calls, almost all of them from the 844 area code with a handful from an 888 area code, since January 24. All but one of them are ostensibly from a Brian at Main Street Financial offering debt consolidation loans. Another is from a Dave Simone of an unspecified financial institution offering a similar loan.

I have blocked many of these numbers but, given how many possible numbers exist in the 844 exchange, this is a Quixotic task. So, practically speaking, this means that I have to either put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode,* rendering it considerably less useful as a phone, or endure constant calls from these idiots. I have chosen the former.

Apparently, this is a rather widespread issue and not relegated to these two area codes.

My mobile number is, of course, obn the FCC’s Do No Call registry, but that’s completely ineffectual. Ostensibly, the FCC has this as its “top consumer protection priority” and has for the last twenty years or so. They have done nothing to actually stop it. Nor have the cell phone companies.

Amusingly—or maddeningly—FCC put out a press release just yesterday touting their efforts in tamping down robocalls and spoofed calls coming from overseas. But I got at least seven yesterday and one so far today.

*UPDATE: Actually, as a matter of general practice, I use my iPhone’s Silence Unknown Callers setting, which means that the phone rings once and then the call goes to voicemail. This is still mildly annoying, in that it interrupts streaming and buzzes my Fitbit watch but allows me to use the phone. Alas, I occasionally need to turn that feature off when I’m expecting a call from an unknown number and have to remember to reactivate it.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Anecdotal: I’m getting significantly fewer of these types of calls than I did a year ago

  2. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: It’s cyclical for me. I go long periods just getting the occasional spam call and then all of a sudden get a surge of them. It’s just amazing that we have not figured out how to stamp out this practice, through a combination of technology and harsh punishments—I would not oppose drawing and quartering for the first offense—despite some two decades of public outrage.

  3. Grumpy realist says:

    Yet another reason for me to grimly hold on to my phone number from a thinly populated state I moved away from over 15 years ago. Anything showing up with that area code is spam.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Grumpy realist: I don’t answer calls from numbers not in my address book unless I’m expecting a call from an unknown number in a certain window. But that doesn’t stop the calls from coming in.

  5. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    Same here. I can go months without one, then they come in constantly.

    As for punishment, how’s this:

    Get the people who set up the spam call center and place each one in a deep sewer. Each has one phone. there’s nothing else. No water, no food, and it’s cold (say 10 C). Next, they’ll be allowed out once they get a call telling them so.

    Of course, most of the calls they get will be spam. They must answer the phone each time it rings. And they must figure out how to get the caller to hang up, lest the call letting them out come while the line is busy.

  6. Andy says:

    What carrier do you have?

    Most have optional and free spam call prevention features that you can add to your line/account either via your account dashboard or via an app. I’ve found these work pretty well but are not perfect.

    Looks like you have an iPhone – if you go to Settings->Phone->Call Blocking & Identification there may be also an option there from your carrier to silence junk/spam callers.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Thanks but, alas, I have that enabled along with Business ID.

  8. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    In that case, I’d check to see what other options your carrier offers. If you have a postpaid account with one of the big three, they each have free and paid options for scam call blocking/filtering.

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I don’t get many voicemail robo messages, 3 or 4 last year. Then again, I’m retired, lived in a foreign country* for 8 years, and don’t own a home (or have credit card balances).

    *You’ve never lived until you’ve gotten spam text messages from pornography/prostitution service providers complete with sample photographs. 😐

  10. Jen says:

    We’ve had good luck using Nomorobo

    So frustrating to have a useful tool overrun by these scammers.

  11. Bill Jempty says:

    @Jen: I have nomorobo for my landline, yes I still have one of those things, but I didn’t think you can use that for cellphones.

  12. Michael Cain says:

    When we (collectively) chose IP technology for the US public data network and from 4G on for cellular service, we were deciding between flexibility (which IP is enormously good at) and security (which IP is enormously bad at). Trust me as someone who did technology intelligence and evaluation professionally that we made the right decision.

  13. Matt says:

    @MarkedMan: Same I was getting blasted daily for a while but that ended after the FCC crack down. I still get the occasional spam call every few days with a week or two break between clusters.

    I find the whole concept fairly infuriating. I’m not going to buy anything off a phone call let alone give my CC (if I had one) to some random dude telling me they’ll lower my interest rates…..

    @James Joyner: It’s harder to catch than you realize as all it takes is one person with a little hardware and an internet connection to do this. I imagine even if they were somehow able to outright arrest 20% of the assholes there would still be plenty left to spam us.

    @Grumpy realist: Ignoring the calls from my phone’s area code was my modus operandi during the “dark ages” when I was getting up to 12 spam calls a day. The few legit phone calls were easy to pick out as their numbers were already in my phone or they left a voicemail/sent a text.

  14. Jen says:

    @Bill Jempty: Yes, it’s now available for cell phones and can stop/reduce spam texts as well.

  15. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: My preference would be for telephone companies or the FTC to just DDoS the spammers.

    There’s almost always some phone number they want you to call back, or website they want you to go to… just beat the shit out of it until it is unusable and hosting costs are through the roof.

    Drawing and quartering is also fine though.

  16. Kazzy says:

    How do regulations in this area interact with the 1st Amendment? Sincere question. I’m not defending these by any means but when do you cross over from, “Hey man… it’s free speech,” to “Yea, we can outlaw that” in this area?

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: It looks like Verizon (our current carrier) ostensibly offers a free option that you can’t actually sign up for and a $9.99/month/line option that you can.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Kazzy: SCOTUS has been friendly to reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner that aren’t content-specific. And doubly so for commercial speech. I’d expect this one would be a no-brainer, since these calls are invariably for scam services.

  19. Tony W says:

    Every time I turn on the “block calls from unknown callers” feature, I forget I am waiting on a call from somebody new in my life – some vendor, or city employee – and off they go to voice mail.

    On a side note, of late I am getting more SPAM e-mail as well – with a twist. They are sending recurring meeting invitations instead of e-mails, so their SPAM ends up on my calendar each day. I have had to create complex Outlook rules to basically reject any calendar invite that comes from a non-contact, and even some of those get through.

    These folks will do anything to avoid actually working for a living I guess….