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Protecting older loved ones from scam phone calls

Dear Savvy Senior: What tools can you recommend to help protect trusting seniors from scam calls? My 74-year-old mother gets tons of unwanted telemarketing and robocalls on her cell and home phones and has been duped out of hundreds of dollars. — Frustrated Daughter

Dear Frustrated: It’s a great question! Scammers are always looking for new ways to dupe people out of money, and in the U.S., phone calls remain the primary way swindlers hook older victims.

The Federal Trade Commission recently found that 24% of adults over age 60 who reported losing money to a scam in 2021 said it started with a phone call – the largest percentage of any method, including email, text and snail mail.

To help protect your mom from the onslaught of robocall scams, telemarketing and spam calls, here are some tips and tools you both can employ.

Register numbers

If your mom hasn’t already done so, a good first step in limiting at least some unwanted calls is to make sure her home and cell phone numbers are registered with the National Do Not Call Registry. While this won’t stop fraudulent scam calls, it will stop unwanted calls from legitimate businesses who are trying to sell her something. To sign up, call 888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register, or you can do it online at DoNotCall.gov.

Cellphone protection

Most wireless providers today offer good tools for stopping scam calls and texts. For example, AT&T has the ActiveArmor Mobile Security app; Verizon provides the Call Filter app; and T-Mobile offers the Scam Shield app.

To activate these tools, download the spam-blocking app from your mom’s carrier on her phone, which you can do at Apple’s App Store and Google Play. These apps are free to use, but most carriers will also offer upgraded serv­ices that you can get for a small monthly fee.

If your mom uses a regional or small wireless carrier that doesn’t offer scam/robocall protection, you can use a free third-party app. Truecaller (Truecaller.com), Call Control (CallControl.com), Hiya (Hiya.com) and YouMail (YouMail.com) are all good options to consider.

Built-in call blockers

Many smartphones today also offer built-in tools that can block spam calls. If your mom uses a newer iPhone (iOS 13 or newer), she can completely silence all unknown callers who aren’t in her contacts list in her phone settings.

Silencing all unknown callers is an extreme solution that will definitely stop all unwanted calls, but your mom will also miss some legitimate calls too. However, unknown callers do have the option to leave a voice message and their calls will appear in her recent calls list. And she can add any number to her contact list to let them through in the future.

If your mom owns a new Android phone, she can also block spam calls in the phone settings. Or, if she owns a Samsung Galaxy phone, she can use “Smart Call,” which flags suspected spam calls and allows her to block and report them.

She can also block specific recurring spam call numbers on iPhones and Android phones manually.

Landline protection

To stop scam calls on your mom’s home phone, set up the “anonymous call rejection” option. This is a free feature available from most telephone companies, though some may charge a fee. It lets you screen calls with blocked caller-ID information — a favorite tactic of telemarketers. To set it up, most phones simply require dialing *77 from your landline, but be aware that different phone services may have different procedures.

Call your mom’s telephone service provider to find out if they offer this tool, and if so, what you need to do to enable it. If they don’t, find out what other call-blocking options they offer.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.

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