Stopping cellphone spam calls and texts

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Ever wanted to toss your cellphone in the trash or out the window because of all those spam calls?

The problem hasn’t gone away, but evolved into something more annoying.

They’re spam text messages that vary from fake gift cards to erotic invites. It’s an issue because many of us use our cellphone not just to make calls, but also to check email, pay bills and many other tasks.

A cellphone is a computer that fits into the palms of our hands. It’s our lifeline, but it can be invaded by spam calls and messages that just don’t stop.

The calls can include car warranties, credit card offers and real estate buyers offering to buy homes, especially rental properties.

IT customer service consultant Elizabeth Hunter told FOX13, “I pay for my phone to use it for my purposes, not for people to call and waste my time.”

Industrial lighting specialist Bryan Duffle said he’s tried to block the calls, but “can’t tell if it works any better.”

If those unwanted calls have you shaking your head, brace yourself for the spam texts.

If you glance at your phone screen, you may see fake offers or inappropriate texts.

“It’s troubling to get those,” Duffle said. “You could be in a business meeting. Someone may be looking over your shoulder and you have no idea who’s seeing it.”

FOX13 asked Duffle, Hunter and Nyrone Hawkins, three complete strangers, to tell us how the spam messages annoy them.

Hawkins said the messages could range from a fake FedEx package to seedier messages that “could get a married man in a little bit of trouble.”

“My wife and I kind of compare notes, and she gets similar text messages,” he said.

We asked FOX13 consumer advisor Clark Howard to explain what’s happening.

“They’re not a mistake,” he said of the spam messages. “They’re crooks trying to get you to respond.”

The Federal Trade Commission said it got nearly 335,000 complaints about scam texts in 2020. That’s more than double the previous year.

“Don’t be offended by them,” Howard said. “It’s just the next strategy and crooks trying to get in your wallet.”

FOX13 wondered if an app might help. We gave Hunter, Hawkins and Duffle three different apps to try.

We selected “Hiya,” “Nomorobo Robocall Blocking” and “RoboKiller: Spam Call Blocker.” All of these apps are rated as some of the best, according to a Feb. 2021 article on Mashable, a popular news and entertainment website.

All of the apps promise to block spam calls, but could they stop spam texts?

Our consumers put them to the test. Two weeks later, they gave their reviews.

Hunter used Hiya, marketed as a caller ID app with a spam call blocker.

A spokesman for the app said its technology doesn’t stop spam texts. Hunter said in her opinion, the app was too intrusive.

“I did not like I had to give the app so much access to my phone,” she said. “They need access to my contacts, to my call forwarding.”

Hawkins used Nomorobo. He said the spam calls stopped, but he still received texts from email addresses.

Duffle used RoboKiller and said it blocked the spam calls, but he kept getting text messages.

“So it doesn’t seem to block those,” he said.

For now, it seems the scammers are one step ahead of the technology, and out of the reach of government regulators.

Clark Howard said, “If you get those kinds of texts, just ignore them. Delete them.”

Hunter said she still worries that crooks may be targeting her.

“They’re trying to steal money and Social Security numbers and people’s identity,” she said. “So it’s something bigger than just annoying.”

FOX13 emailed the three app companies for comments on why their apps don’t stop texts from email addresses.

Two responded, saying the technology only stops spam calls.

Nomorobo said the technology can stop calls and texts, but not from email addresses. A spokesperson said that requires a more advanced algorithm that would block some messages, but not all of them.

If you get one of these messages from an email address, the FTC suggests you forward it to 7726. It will be designated as spam by your cell phone provider.