Calls From Unknown Numbers: How To Know If They're Safe

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Our interconnected digital world means that we are constantly exposed to being contacted in a myriad of ways by random strangers. Whether it’s through your phone or through social media accounts, once you are online, for better or worse you are an accessible agent.

While this is sometimes a good thing - for example, through LinkedIn an unknown contact may send a message with a potential business opportunity - consumers should be cautious of who they interact with and how.

In this blog, we will discuss the notion of ‘the unknown caller’, including what happens if you receive a call from an unknown number, whether it’s dangerous, and what you should do next.

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What does ‘unknown caller’ mean?

When your phone displays "unknown caller," it typically means that the caller's information isn't available or hasn't been shared with you. This can happen for several reasons:

  1. Caller ID blocking: The caller may have intentionally blocked their number from being displayed by using *67 before dialing.
  2. Network issues: Sometimes, network issues can prevent the caller's information from being transmitted correctly.
  3. International calls: Calls from international numbers or those using different telecommunication standards may appear as "unknown."
  4. VoIP and Internet calls: Calls made through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services may not always transmit caller ID information properly.
  5. Spam or scam: Some telemarketers and spammers hide their numbers to prevent call blocking.

Why do unknown numbers keep calling me?

If you find yourself receiving frequent calls from unknown numbers, you're not alone. There are several common reasons why this might be happening:

Telemarketing and robocalls: Telemarketers and automated systems (robocalls) are a significant source of unknown calls. These calls are often made by businesses trying to sell products or services. The widespread use of auto-dialers allows these companies to make a large number of calls in a short amount of time.

Scams and fraud: Scammers often use unknown numbers to conceal their identity and trick people into answering. Common scams include:

  • Phishing scams: Attempting to extract personal information like credit card numbers or social security numbers.
  • Tech support scams: Claiming to be from a reputable company like Microsoft, warning you of a non-existent issue with your computer.
  • IRS scams: Threatening you with legal action for unpaid taxes.

Spoofing: Caller ID spoofing is a technique used by scammers to make it appear as though their calls are coming from a legitimate or familiar number. This can make it more likely for you to answer the call.

Debt collectors: If you owe money, debt collectors might use various numbers to try to reach you. Sometimes, they use different numbers or blocked IDs to increase the chances of you answering.

Wrong numbers: Sometimes, unknown calls are simply the result of dialing mistakes. People might accidentally dial the wrong number or misremember a contact's number.

Surveys and political calls: Organizations conducting surveys or political campaigns also make frequent calls to random numbers to gather information or promote a candidate.

Call from an unknown number - should I call them back?

Generally, it is not advisable to return calls from unknown numbers unless you are sure of the caller's identity. There are several reasons for this:

  • Scams and fraud: If the unknown call is indeed a scammer, returning the call could lead to further attempts to defraud you or compromise your personal information.
  • Premium-rate numbers: Furthermore, some scammers use premium-rate numbers, leading to exorbitant charges on your phone bill if you call back.
  • Phishing attempts: A fraudulent phone call from an unknown number may be a social engineering phishing attempt. Scammers might try to extract personal information from you if you engage in conversation.

Unknown number call: Is it safe to answer?

Answering calls from unknown numbers can be risky. Here’s what you should consider:

Assess the risk of unknown number calls

  • Potential scams: Be aware that answering can expose you to scams, phishing attempts, or unwanted solicitations.
  • Robocalls: If the call is from a robocall, answering may lead to more frequent spam calls.

Set up call screening

  • Use call screening services: Some phone services offer call screening, which can help block or filter unknown callers.
  • Set up ‘Do Not Disturb’: Screen calls - but with exceptions for contacts or known numbers.

Is ‘No Caller ID’ Spam?

Although ‘No Caller ID’ calls can be concerning, there may be legitimate reasons that you are receiving them:

  • Privacy concerns: Some individuals, such as doctors, lawyers, or other professionals, may block their caller ID to maintain privacy.
  • Business calls: Certain businesses use systems that automatically block caller ID information.
  • Emergency services: Some emergency services might use "No Caller ID" to protect the privacy of their operations.

However, while not all ‘No Caller ID’ calls are spam, a significant number of them are associated with telemarketing, scams, or robocalls. There are several clues that can help you identify whether or not ‘No Caller ID’ calls may be spam or scams:

  • Repeated calls: Frequent calls from "No Caller ID" are often a red flag for telemarketing or scam activity.
  • Suspicious content: If the caller requests personal information, payment, or immediate action, it's likely a scam.
  • **Generic messages: Calls that do not address you by name and deliver generic messages are often spam.

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An unknown number keeps calling: What should I do about it?

When you receive a call from an unknown number, there are several steps you can take to handle the situation safely:

Step 1: Do not answer immediately

  • Screen the call: If the call is important, the caller will likely leave a voicemail or send a follow-up message.
  • Use ‘Caller ID’ apps: Apps like Truecaller or Hiya can help identify unknown callers by cross-referencing phone numbers with their database.

Step 2: Check for voicemail

  • Listen to voicemail: If the caller leaves a message, you can determine if the call is important or urgent.
  • Transcription Services: Some phones offer voicemail transcription, allowing you to read the message instead of listening to it.

Step 3: Research the number

  • Google the number: A quick internet search can sometimes reveal the identity of the caller if others have reported it.
  • Reverse phone lookup: Services like Whitepages or Spokeo can help you identify unknown numbers for a fee.

Step 4: Block the number

Most smartphones have features that allow you to block specific numbers. This can reduce the frequency of calls from repeat offenders.

Step 5: Use call screening apps

Apps like Truecaller, Hiya, and others can identify and block spam calls. These apps often have large databases of known spam numbers.

Step 6: Register with the National Do Not Call Registry

In the U.S., you can register your number with the National Do Not Call Registry. While this won’t stop all unwanted calls, it can reduce the number of telemarketing calls.

Step 7: Report scams

If you receive a scam call, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or your country’s equivalent consumer protection agency.

Step 8: Awareness

Stay informed about common scams and phishing techniques to recognize and avoid them. Websites like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offer resources and updates on prevalent scams.

By understanding the reasons behind unknown calls and taking proactive steps to manage them, you can reduce the annoyance and potential risks associated with these calls.

Calls from unknown numbers? Some cybersecurity tips you can take

Consumers can use a variety of cybersecurity tools to help manage and block calls from unknown numbers. These tools leverage caller identification, spam filtering, SMS blocking, automated call answering (to waste scammers’ time), and reporting features to enhance phone security and privacy.

Additionally, ReasonLabs offers cybersecurity measures for mobile devices that can help you stay protected online and on your phone:

  • RAV VPN: RAV VPN allows users to safely connect to Wi-Fi and surf the web from anywhere in the world. It provides real-time protection and 24/7 defense against unsafe networks.
  • FamilyKeeper: FamilyKeeper parental control app monitors social media for offensive language and blocks inappropriate apps, limiting the risks of being contacted by unknown or unwanted contacts.
  • Safer Web DNS Filtering: Safer Web filters all your internet content according to your needs! With Safer Web, you can control your device's internet connection and choose what to block: advertising, trackers, malicious sites, data and privacy leaks, adult and inappropriate content for children, and much more.

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For more information on other ways to enhance cybersecurity across all of your devices, visit