January 2019 | Posted By Nell Schiffer

At best, they’re annoying as all get-out. At worst, you end up falling for them. Either way, with phone services gone mobile, scam callers are finding us wherever we go. As stated in this recent AARP Bulletin, “5 Ways to Stop Spam Calls,” American homes are receiving about 4 million robocalls every hour.

That much ringing sure is one big headache. Although I can’t promise to eliminate those pesky calls completely, I can offer several tips for managing them.

Silence Is Golden

You can start by reading the AARP Bulletin I referenced above. One simple tip requires no action at all, just a little habit change. The author suggests answering your phone with several seconds of silence when you first pick up. You may even want to let the other party say “Hello?” first.

While this may seem harsh, the reality is, if it’s a real person trying to reach you, the pause shouldn’t impede the conversation. If it’s a voice-activated robocall, the silence should not only cause them to disconnect and move on, it could trick them into assuming the number is invalid, which might also discourage them from trying to call back.

Pros and Cons of the Cold Shoulder

Should you simply skip answering the phone at all, assuming anyone who matters will leave a message? It’s an easy way to avoid speaking with anyone you shouldn’t. Especially if you find it hard to hang up on an unwelcome call once you’ve answered it, this might still be your best bet. But recognize that, unlike the silent treatment above, reaching your voicemail confirms that your number is indeed in service. This can set you up for repeat attempts and increased robocall volume in the future.

Who’s There?

With most phones offering CallerID, you may be able to identify unwelcome calls on your own. For example, the AARP Bulletin notes, “Beware of area codes 268, 284, 809 and 876, which originate from Caribbean countries.” If the caller’s number is similar to your own, that’s another red flag. For example, say your phone number were 123-456-7890. Any unfamiliar call supposedly from the same 123-456 prefix is likely bogus.

The AARP Bulletin also suggests several free services and apps to help you further identify, flag and block spam calls on your cell phone and landlines alike.

Tough Love About Phone Etiquette

If you do end up answering a spam call despite your best efforts, your top concern should be ensuring you don’t fall into any traps once they get you on the line. The instant you recognize the caller may be illegitimate, go silent. Don’t ask or answer any questions. Don’t even explain why you’d rather not speak with them. Just hang up. Immediately. If the caller was claiming to be from an institution you do business with, such as your bank, you can always call that institution directly to report and ask about the suspicious call. This is similar to the advice I offered on email phishing.

The time has come for us to reframe phone etiquette! The old way called for being immediately pleasant and engaging when a stranger called. The new way? Let the stranger say “hello” first. Although Miss Manners may not approve, answering a stranger’s call with a couple seconds of silence may reduce these calls for good. If you have additional ideas, we are always here to discuss.