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How to answer the question: whose telephone number is this?

It happens all the time. The phone rings, and we instinctively reach out to pick up, only to hear a spam message or, even worse, a live caller. We know taking the call is not smart and that we could save the hassle by taking a moment to ask whose telephone number is this before answering. If it’s a US-based number calling you, you’ll want to use an American phone lookup, like

Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Phone manufacturers, service providers, and scammers all play their part in making you want to answer the phone. Their methods include:

  • Attention-grabbing phone settings. Manufacturers allow incoming calls to create increasing ring tone volumes, flashing lights, and vibrations, sometimes all at once. This makes the phone hard to ignore.
  • The profit motives of phone service carriers. Some charge their customers for caller ID services. Those who do not pay have to deal with uncertainty and inconvenience.
  • Scammers’ ability to exploit technology. They send billions of calls a year, meaning that your phone is almost certain to light up with a fake call at some point during the day. Scams are getting more sophisticated too. Among other tricks, fake callers can clone numbers from legitimate companies or use local numbers.

Knowing this, dealing with spam and scam calls might seem hopeless. It’s not. Here are three easy and free things you can do to fight back:

1. Change your phone settings


“Do not disturb” is your friend. Most smartphones let you put a filter in place to limit or silence unknown calls, text messages, or other interruptions during certain times of the day. iPhone users should also check that the “Silence Unknown Callers” tab is toggled, while Android users can use the Blocked numbers, Unknown function. Using these features means you can limit spam while letting trusted contacts through. You can even allow callers who make multiple calls from the same number. That way, you won’t miss calls from people outside your contacts.

2. Set up, and use voicemail

As phones have become more powerful and useful, their basic features have been overlooked. Many people prefer to communicate via text message, WhatsApp, or other services, ignoring voicemail. But a functioning inbox is an excellent way of filtering spam calls. The secret is to encourage others to use it. Set up your voicemail, if you haven’t already, and record a personal message, rather than the standard one which comes with the system. Tell callers that you monitor the system and that you will call back. Then do it!

3. Register for free services

Legitimate telephone marketers must work within the law. For example, in the USA, they should exclude numbers registered with the National Do Not Call Registry. Signing up is free and can help you limit calls on home, office, or mobile phones. Companies can be fined heavily if they ignore the list. For example, the Federal Communications Commission fined a Texas-based company an eye-watering $225 million for making approximately 1 billion illegally spoofed robocalls. They won’t make that mistake again.