Saturday, October 20, 2018

Still Life with Robin: They're Doing a Number on Us

Photo by AlMare
via Wikimedia Creative Commons

by Peggy Robin

Back in the dawn of the cell phone era, your cell phone number was hardly available to anyone except those you truly trusted to use it responsibly. Your land line was another story: unless you paid extra to the phone company to be “unlisted,” you were “in the book,” meaning your number was out there for anyone who wanted to sell you something, whenever they wanted to call. And that was invariably as you and your family were sitting down at the dinner table.  

Then came the National Do Not Call Registry -- and that helped for a while. Best of all, your cell phone number was automatically on that list. It had to be…. When people called you on your cell phone, back in those days, it cost YOU money to pick up.

How times have changed! Many of us don’t even have land lines anymore. And our cell phone numbers have ended up all over the place, and they ring all the time. Even if you have a system that blocks most unwanted calls, your phone may still sound a weak little half-ring before it cuts off. It’s so annoying. But robocalls and boiler room operations are now only part of the problem. These days the junk text seems to have overtaken the junk phone call as the constant little irritant of our age. And the not-so-amusing irony of so many of  the junk/scam texts I get is that they’re promising me, if I click on the link, that I can protect my financial accounts from scammers and identity thieves. Yeah, right….

Now, it’s easy enough to delete these texts. And I do, I do. But I really want to do more than that. I want to put in a “block this number” command on each and every one of them, so they can’t text me again. Well, they can, but they’ll need to spoof a different number to do it. Still, I like to feel I’m doing something to protect myself. The trouble is, on my iPhone, it’s a multi-step process. Let’s say I hear that subtle bzz-bzz telling me I have received a text message on my phone. And let’s say it’s from some shady business that says they can sign me up for an account to protect me from scammers. Here are all the steps I have to take to make sure I never get another text from that same number:

  1. Tap “text messages” to see all my messages.
  2. Tap that particular text message. It now shows a blank icon for the sender and below that, there’s a phone number in teeny, tiny type.
  3. I try to get my nice big fingertip centered over that tiny phone number to tap on it and take me to the screen with that sender’s information. About half the time I miss and get something else and have to go back.
  4. OK, now I’m on the screen with details about the sender. Next I have to click on a little circle with an “i” in the middle to bring up even more information.
  5. And that reveals the > symbol, which I need to tap so that….
  6. ….I can scroll down the page and see the magic words: “Block this caller.”
  7. Tap on that and I’m done!
Bingo, no more texts or calls from that number…..except that by the time I’m finished with all of this, my phone is going “bzz-bzz” again and a new junk text has come in. “Pay off your bills with an instant infusion of cash. Apply today [link]. And here we go again….

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.


  1. Peggy, if your provider is Verizon you cannot subscribe to Nomorobo because Verizon does not want to be a party to Nomorobo. And I think I know why. We recently had to have our cable extended into the kitchen. Verizon must have called us a half dozen time in the day before and the morning of the installation. All robo calls reminding me that I had an appointment with them and when it was. "Be sure you are home, our guy is coming today." "Our guy will be there in two hours, our guy has one call ahead of your our guy is on his way, half hour, 10 minutes." Aaaaaargh!

    I don’t move too fast and I got really tired of it.

    1. Nomorobo does NOT block robocalls from doctor’s offices, or from big companies that use automated appointment reminders. If you do business with a company or professional office and you have voluntarily provided them with your phone number, then they are allowed to robocall you and their call center number will not be blocked by any call-blocking service.

      But I did stop using Nomorobo because I was afraid it was still blocking some calls that I wanted to receive. I now use the controls on my iPhone and in my home landline hardware to block junk phone calls. It’s more cumbersome but at least I feel I have more control over who gets through. I do occasionally end up with business contacts that I want to talk to, having to leave me a message to get in contact with me, and that probably annoys them – but at least they’re not being automatically blocked by an overly aggressive third-party screening program.

      Any method used to deal with the problem of spam phone calls and texts will lead to frustration for the user, in one form or another. As you say, Aaaaaargh!