How to Handle Calls from Numbers You Don’t Know

“Hi, I’m from the Warranty Center, I’m calling about your auto warranty”

If you’re like me or millions of other people, you may get several of these types of phone calls per week. It’s annoying and it interrupts your work or your time with family or friends. Here’s what you need to know about them.

The Case for *Never* Answering a Call From a Number You Don’t Know

Someone advised me recently to quit answering calls from any number that isn’t in my phone – just let those calls go to voicemail. This thought never really occurred to me before. It’s just human nature to answer a ringing phone.

But, the reasons to leave the call unanswered are pretty straightforward.

If you aren’t already expecting a call, and you get a call from a number that you don’t recognize, then one of the following is probably true:

  1. The call is from someone you don’t want to talk to at all or
  2. The call is from someone you do want to talk to, but, you weren’t expecting the call. You’re now talking to someone important at a time when you didn’t expect to.

In #1, as a best case, you wasted your time and interrupted what you were doing. We’ve covered previously the “death by a thousand cuts” problem of allowing too many tiny distractions into your day in another blog post.

In #2, you may now find yourself flatfooted talking to someone who you want to talk to, but, whom you were not expecting to hear from. This is a recipe for a “why did I say that?” moment.

If you just send the call to voicemail, the person you want to talk to will almost always leave a message and you can return the call prepared to talk to them. In the case of the person you don’t want to talk to, they will almost never leave a message in the first place.

How To Stop Getting Calls From Telemarketers Entirely

With that out of the way, you probably also want to reduce the number of times your phone rings unnecessarily in the first place.

To stop “legitimate” telemarketers, register your phone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry at The FTC can fine telemarketers who continue to call you after the 31 day registration window. You can easily file a complaint online. Legitimate companies who use telemarketing will usually stop calling you once you are on this registry.

Little known bonus fact: Even if you were not on the call registry, you may still file a complaint if you received a telemarketing call that is a recording (or “robocall”).

To stop bill collectors from calling you, you can ask them to never to call you again and that specific bill collector is obligated to stop calling you. If they don’t stop, consider asking for their address and sending them a cease & desist letter. Note that this does nothing to eliminate any legitimate debt you may owe and could actually increase your chances of getting sued if you cutoff contact with the collector. If you are being contacted repeatedly by a bill collector for a debt you don’t feel you should or can pay, you should seek legal advice from an attorney.

To stop getting calls from the same phone number over and over, you can block a specific phone number from calling your phone. Instructions on doing this are below:

To block a number from calling your iPhone:

  1. Go to the Phone app and go the “Recents” tab.
  2. Click the small “i” on the right side of the number you want to block.
  3. Scroll down until you see “Block this Caller”, tap Block this Caller.
  4. You will see a prompt that says “You will not receive phone calls, messages, or FaceTime from people on the block list”. Tap Block Contact.
  5. That’s it!

To block a number from calling your Android phone:

  1. Go to your Phone app and go to your Call Log.
  2. Scroll through your Call Log until you see the number you want to block, select the number.
  3. Hit More on the 3-dot menu in the upper right cornet.
  4. Choose Add to reject list.
  5. That’s it!

There’s an App for That

Does all this phone number blocking seem too slow? It is. And, a single scammer often uses many, many different phone numbers, so, blocking one number doesn’t do much. You could block numbers all day every day of your life and still not block them all.

There are a number of apps out there that crowdsource the telemarketer and scam information from millions of other users, meaning that you can use blocking data from other users and curated by a company that is in the business of blocking this kind of thing.

You might consider Hiya as an app for caller spam identification and call blocking. There are a variety of similar choices on the App Store and Google Play. All these apps will require access to your phone number and to your Contacts, so, be aware of that going in.

Hiya app for call blocking

Spotting a Scam

Alright, despite everything above, you’ve ended up on the phone with someone from an unknown number and you aren’t sure what to do. Here are a few things to be aware of:

  • Never give out personal information over the phone – social security number, birthdate, etc. Maybe the caller claims to be with the IRS, your credit card company, or similar. If you think this is credible, you may offer to call them back at a verified number that you look up through Google or other legitimate source. Don’t take their word for what that number is.
  • Never give out bank account information over the phone. So, you’ve ended up on the phone with someone you actually want to send money to. Never give out your bank info. Many scammers will push for bank account info will either steer you away from or refuse credit card payment. Once they have your bank information, they can transfer your cash offshore or other places where it can’t be recovered. Credit card fraud is somewhat more difficult. As a payor, you should always use your credit card (not debit card) for payments to someone you don’t know extremely well as it offers you great fraud protection (and for other reasons as well as I cover in this post). But, unless you are absolutely sure you aren’t being scammed, best to not pay or buy anything unexpected on a surprise call from an unknown caller.
  • You may get phone calls claiming to raise money for something like your local Police Department or a charity. Often, the telemarketing firm behind the call is keeping a large part (sometimes 30-50%) of your donation. These callers are often “legitimate” and sanctioned by that entity. But, the caller will often represent themselves as being “with XYZ Charity” instead of a commissioned telemarketing firm. So, the donator may not realize that a large portion of their donation is going to a for-profit telemarketing business. If you have a cause you want to donate to, considering donating directly. Then, the cause you are supporting receives 100% of your donation instead of just a portion and you aren’t funding telemarketing businesses.
  • Be wary of giving money anytime that you can’t verify that the goods & services being “sold” to you were actually delivered. A popular scam is “we want to send a bunch of orphans to a concert” or “we want to send a bunch of magazines to U.S. troops in the Middle East”. There are many cases where companies selling these kinds of “donations” may never actually deliver the good or service. Some of them are actually legitimate, but, it’s hard to ever know the difference. Consider getting some deeper verification beyond the charming person on the other end of the call and don’t make a decision on the spot.
  • Most of all, be very wary if you are pushed to make a decision quickly. This is true for scams of all kinds. Usually, any kind of scammer will push you to make a quick decision right then and there.  If you are being pushed to make a decision right now, take a step away and think about it. If they aren’t willing to let you take a day and think it over, it’s a huge red flag.

Trey Sharp is an entrepreneur & author in Huntsville, AL. Trey is the former owner/CEO of a Huntsville-based technology company, Sharp Communication, which was sold to Mobile Communications America in 2018. In 2016, Trey co-founded technology startup Tango Tango where he served as CEO for nearly 2 years. Trey still serves as an active board member and shareholder in the company. Trey also serves as an active Board Member for Urban Engine, an entrepreneurial nonprofit in Huntsville, AL dedicated to spurring the growth of startups in North Alabama. Trey is married to Claire Sharp and the couple has 4 children. Trey earned his Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 2002.