If you're sick of cold callers interrupting your evenings, then you may be tempted to use a technological solution to limit this unwanted annoyance. There are a number of different options available to you. In this guide, we'll look at how they work and what they can do.
Most of the major landline phone providers now offer a free service to reduce the number of nuisance calls that you receive. Here’s what’s on offer from the biggest providers:
BT’s Call Protect automatically diverts calls that BT believe to be from nuisance callers to customers' junk voicemail boxes and also allows people to compile a personal blacklist of numbers they wish to block. You can then supplement this by also sending all calls from certain types of numbers (international, withheld and unavailable) to the voicemail service.
Call Protect is a much more powerful tool than some of BT’s other call features, such as Choose to Refuse, which only lets you block 10 specific numbers, and Anonymous Call Rejection, which just stops calls from people who have withheld their number. And while you have to pay for both of these (£5.50 and £6.50 per month, respectively), Call Protect is free. So if you’ve not signed up for it you should do so, especially if you’re wasting money on the other two inferior options.
Sky customers can benefit from Sky Talk Shield, the networks personalised call screening service. This works in a similar way to TrueCall’s call blocking system, which is used in the company’s call blocker and in some BT home phones.
Talk Shield intercepts and blocks calls from ‘robots’ and automated callers, while live callers to your phone are asked to identify themselves. When you then answer the phone, you’ll hear a recording of this – you can then accept the call, add the caller to your Star or Block List or send them to voicemail.
Callers on your Star List, such as your friends and family, will get straight through every time, while numbers you block will never bother you again.
TalkTalk’s free call blocking feature is called CallSafe. It works in a similar way to Sky’s Talk Shield, asking callers to record their name so you can decide whether you want to talk to them. Calls from frequently dialled numbers or those on your approved list are automatically connected, while those on your blocked list or in CallSafe’s database of unwanted calls are automatically blocked.
Virgin doesn’t have anything as advanced as the three other big phone providers. Instead, its customers have to rely on its more limited anonymous caller-rejection feature, which only blocks calls from withheld numbers. And you have to pay £3 per month for this.
Increasing numbers of home phones now come with some call blocking technology, although these range in sophistication.
The cheapest call blocking phones often will only block specific numbers. This is of limited value, especially if they will only block a small number of callers as thousands of numbers are used to make these calls and they change regularly.
A more useful form of blocking lets you block numbers from a specific range, for example all calls beginning 08, or calls by type, such as all calls from withheld or international numbers. But while effective, this can be quite blunt and could easily block a call from a friend on holiday overseas, or a call from your bank or hospital if they withhold their number. It’s therefore helpful if blocked calls are transferred to your answering machine so genuine callers can still reach you.
Some of the most advanced home phones even use a virtual secretary to screen your calls (in the same way as Sky Talk Shield and TalkTalk’s CallSafe).
It's worth noting that call blocking phones and standalone devices (see below), will only work if you have caller ID. Some phone providers charge for this service.
If you don't want to replace your home phone and your provider can’t block the nuisance calls you receive, then another option is to buy a separate call blocker and plug it in to your existing device.
These usually work in the same way as the call blockers built into phones, in that they have a ‘black list' of numbers or number types, and stop any incoming calls from them. But the TrueCall call blockers are a little different, using the same technology licensed to some BT phones and embraced by Sky and TalkTalk, to screen out unwanted callers.
All modern smartphones let you block specific callers. If you have an Android or iPhone handset you can add numbers to a blocked list, reject unknown callers altogether or set a ‘do not disturb’ mode that only allows calls from certain numbers.
To block specific numbers simply go to your list of recent callers (open the Phone app, then hit the Recents tab at the bottom).
Click the i symbol next to the unwanted number, scroll down and tap Block this Caller, then confirm your decision. You won't be bothered with any calls, texts or FaceTime calls from that number.
Alternatively, go to the Settings app, scroll down and tap Phone. Tap Blocked Contacts, and you'll see your list of blocked callers. Hit Add New and pick further numbers to block from your contacts list. You would need to add the nuisance caller to your contacts list for this method to work, however.
If you have iOS 13 or later, to stop calls from people you don’t know you can turn on a feature called Silence Unknown Callers. This is also done in Settings app. Go to Settings > Phone, scroll down, then select Silence Unknown Callers.
This blocks phone numbers that you've never been in contact with, don’t have saved in your contacts list and haven't received their number another type of way, such as through emails. Calls from unknown numbers are silenced and sent to your voicemail, and appear in your recent calls list. If you make an emergency call, this is suspended so you can receive any calls for 24 hours.
You can also set up an third party app to filter and detect spam calls. Go to the App Store and download an app that detects and blocks spam calls. Always be wary when downloading third party apps, and don't agree to any terms and conditions that feel unusual.
To allow the app to block spam calls, go to Settings > Phone > Call Blocking & Identification. Turn the app on or off under Allow These Apps to Block Calls and Provide Caller ID. When you receive a call, your device compares the number with the list of numbers in the third-party app. Your phone will then show an identifying label chosen by the app, such as 'Spam' or 'Telemarketing'. If it's spam, the app may block the call automatically.
Whether you answered the call or ignored it, all calls are registered in the recent tab of Android's Phone app. Launch the app by pressing the Phone icon, touch the Clock symbol to show your call history, then navigate to the number you want to block. Touching it will bring up a short menu, enabling you to choose to block it.
Once you’ve blocked a number it will appear in your blocked numbers list, accessible by tapping the three dots at the top right of the phone screen and choosing Settings > Blocked numbers. You can also manually add a number you wish to block within the Blocked numbers page.
Smartphone owners are not limited to the pre-installed call blocking options available through their Android and iPhones. Instead, they can download third-party apps that offer far greater call blocking options.
One such app is TrueCaller (no relation to the similarly named TrueCall). This has access to a huge directory of numbers, which is added to daily by the community of millions of app users, and helps to identify who’s calling you when your phone rings. You can then decide whether to accept the call and can also use the app to build up your own block list.
One final word on apps. If you want to stop people from contacting you through apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger, then you’ll need to block those in the app itself – blocking them in your phone won’t usually be enough.