We humans sit at the top of the food chain, but it wasn’t always like this. Millions of years ago, we were just another animal scurrying along the plains trying to avoid contact with predators. But using our big brains and opposable thumbs, we climbed our way out of being prey and into the role of predator. Though some scientists actually classify us in the middle of the food chain based on our continued intake of plant-based foods, others maintain that we are indeed apex predators. Hey, just because we still order the occasional sensible garden salad topped with balsamic vinaigrette and a light crack of pepper doesn’t mean we couldn’t still harpoon a great white shark and make it into a nice pâté if the mood struck. (By the way, don’t actually do that; great whites are classified as vulnerable by conservationists.) The point is mankind has used intellect to make up for its shortcomings. As problems have arisen in our lives, we’ve come up with clever solutions. The same phenomenon occurs even with problems of our own making — take robocalls for example.

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When bad weather left us cold, we created fire. When dark nights slowed our productivity, we invented light bulbs. When COVID-19 threatened our very existence, we developed several vaccines in record time. And now that robocallers endanger our personal information, our bank accounts, and our sanity, we have come up with solutions and continue to iterate every year.

So where do we stand in 2021? The number of robocalls has been in flux all year. After a meteoric rise during the first half of the year, we’ve seen the numbers fall back the last couple of months. The worst of robocalls — scams and telemarketing spam — account for more than half (62 percent) of the nearly 4 billion robocalls placed in May of 2021. Cities in the South continue to receive the worst of it, per capita. Calls suspected as fake fraud alert scams (3 million calls placed), carpet cleaning spam (2.7 million calls), interest rate scams (2.3 million calls), and health insurance spam (2.3 million calls) were among the top offenders in May.

With all the fraud and spam out there, what are the best deterrents right now in 2021?

1. Be Skeptical

Generally speaking, when you engage with unknown callers, your greatest ally is probably a healthy dose of skepticism. Don’t answer unknown calls, don’t trust calls just because they appear to be from a local number, and don’t interact with anything suspicious at all. And under no circumstance should you share your personal information unless you are absolutely positive of who you’re talking to. The caller ID that comes with your phone isn’t reliable. The FCC is taking steps toward remedying that, but as Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” so too can your skepticism prevent phone spam and scam.

2. Cell Phone Updates

Short of relying on your instincts, your phone manufacturer pushes out operating system updates that enhance its ability to block malicious callers. Over the years, Apple has pushed excellent features to its phone to assist in the prevention of unwanted calls. With iOS 13 and later, you can silence unknown callers. Though your iPhone won’t ring, those calls are sent to your voicemail, and will appear in your recent calls list. On both iPhone and Android, you can also block calls from your contacts list or recent calls. So as new robocall blocking and general security measures are added to your OS, be sure your phone is always up to date.

3. Carrier Updates

As mentioned, the FCC has long been hard at work cleaning up carrier networks of nefarious call spoofing operations. Call spoofing is when the caller disguises his or her own number with a fake number. Robocall perpetrators often use phone numbers that appear local to the recipient, in both area code and prefix (the first three numbers). Sometimes they use a number that resembles something from an important source: your bank, the IRS, or the FBI, to name a few. Long story short, forthcoming STIR/SHAKEN protocols are being used by carriers to ensure the accuracy of the caller IDs you receive. When you are able to place more trust in the accuracy of the caller ID, it’s harder for you to be deceived. It’s no silver bullet, mind you, but it’s a good start.

4. Screen Calls With Voicemail

Along the same lines as exercising skepticism is the act of screening all incoming calls that you don’t recognize. One tried-and-true tactic the fraudsters use is to create panic and confusion on incoming calls. One moment, you’re going about your business, the next moment, it appears the IRS is calling, and that feeling of doom overtakes you as you consider whether you might have filled out your tax returns incorrectly. Maybe you just changed accountants and this call is coming at just the right time that you’d believe it if you were told something was amiss. That’s all the bad guys are looking for: plausibility. So, rather than engage with that landmine, let the call go to your voicemail, listen to their message, and if it sounds plausible, call them back — not at the number they left but at a direct line that you know is legit. If you call and they have no idea what you’re talking about, you just dodged a bullet.

5. Third-Party Protection

The final frontier of protection takes most of the thinking out of it. A third-party app — like say, I don’t know … YouMail — can slot into your mobile operating system seamlessly. That’s one of the reasons to keep your phone’s OS up to date: Apple and Google play nice with apps like YouMail to handle all the tedious work of preventing spam and scams that they’d rather not take on themselves. Once registered for free, we use our extensive database of known bad numbers to give you caller ID that is far superior to whatever came pre-packed on your phone.

YouMail protects more than 350 million phone numbers, has answered more than 10 billion calls, and blocked more than a billion robocalls in real time. In addition to base protection, we prevent our users from future robocall attacks by playing a “number out of service” message to attackers. Your number is then discarded from their lists, saving you from future attacks.

Follow all five of these tips, and you’ll soon forget robocalling was a problem you ever had to deal with. It’s sort of like going from prey to the top of the food chain. So, little mouse, let’s turn you into a lion.

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