How to beat those annoying fake numbers

A woman eating a salad goes to answer her phone and realizes it's a fake number.

Sick of spam calls? Here’s how you can fight them off.

Have you ever answered a call from a number within your area code only for it to end up being a robocall? Do you ever get calls from telemarketers using a phone number only a few digits away from your own? Odds are you have, because these are both examples of one of the most popular techniques call centers and scam artists use to trick you into picking up your phone.

How caller ID spoofing works

Caller ID spoofing is a technique used to manipulate the information displayed on a smartphone’s caller ID system, making it appear as if the call is coming from a different number than the actual source. This is accomplished by using specialized software or services that exploit the vulnerabilities in the telephone network. For example, if a scammer is working from a call center based in another country, they could use a service to have their caller ID display that their number is actually from a victim’s local area, making it far more likely for that victim to answer.

How you can protect yourself

Since caller ID spoofing is such a common problem, there are luckily a few defenses you can easily employ.

Built-in defenses on your smartphone

Since this is such a prevalent issue, both the iOS and Android platforms are doing their best to stay on top of it. If you’re an Apple user, your phone should automatically display that incoming calls are from an “Unknown Caller” when the caller’s number is blocked, and from “Spam Likely” when it’s from a telemarketer. On top of that, iOS  gives you the option to automatically block all incoming calls from unknown numbers directly from the settings app. On the Android side of things, your best course of action is going to be individually blocking unknown numbers as they come in.

Third party apps

There are a lot of options when it comes to caller ID spoofing protection apps, so we’ve picked out three of the most popular ones to help you choose the one that best fits your needs.


Price: Free with a paid ad-free version
Carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, StraightTalk
Features: Uses their database and AI to identify spam, fraud, and robocalls


Price: Free with a premium version
Carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, StraightTalk
Features: Keeps a database of fraudulent numbers


Price: Completely free for a single line
Carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile
Features: Keeps a database of fraudulent numbers

Your carriers

Believe it or not, the cell carries themselves also do a lot of behind the scenes work to provide protection against fake numbers. In the past few years, many of the big telecom companies have implemented the STIR/SHAKEN protocol (short for Secure Telephone Identity Revisited Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs). This new tech can verify and authenticate caller identities through caller ID spoofers.

The only problem is that once something like this starts being widely adopted, perpetrators are usually quick to find a way around it. So while it’s not 100% effective as of now, the technology is improving.

By utilizing a combination of built-in smartphone features, third-party apps, and the efforts of your telecommunications provider, you can empower yourself to better identify and avoid annoying fake numbers. And in the meantime? Let them leave a voicemail. If it’s something important (and real), they’ll let you know.

Clare Stouffer
  • Clare Stouffer
  • Gen employee
Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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