What Are ‘Robocalls’ And What Should You Do If You Get One?

Your phone rings and you answer, expecting your dentist. But instead, you hear an automated message and realise you’ve just been robocalled…again. So how do you stop these nuisance callers and protect yourself from scams?

Robocalls are the work of scammers. The computerised calls play a pre-recorded message in the hopes that you will follow the instructions and allow them access to your phone, computer or bank account. 

Scammers are the pirates of the digital world, so it’s impossible to keep them out completely. We’ll outline the practical steps you can take, but your other best defence is knowing what to look for when you answer an unfamiliar number

So, what does a robocall sound like?

These are the common hallmarks of a robocall:

  • An authentic-looking Australian number
  • Pretending to be from the government, a business or a bank
  • Asking you to visit a website to confirm a delivery, tax issue, unauthorised transaction or refund
  • Telling you how to claim a prize you’ve won
  • Indicating the situation is an emergency and you may lose vital services like power or internet
  • Threatening legal consequences if you don’t take action

Some robocalls are easy to spot a mile away, adopting fake accents or naming companies that don’t exist in Australia. But others sound genuine and can trick even savvy phone users. 

How do scammers get phone numbers?

While telemarketers are required to check your number with the Do Not Call Registry, scammers don’t have the same scruples. They can get your information from data breaches or have it shared by other companies. Most often, it’s simply random dialling. 

What should you do when you get a robocall?

  • If you’re unsure, hang up. It’s ok to be rude in this instance. You can call the business back to confirm it was legitimate.
  • Never, under any circumstances, send money. 
  • You can report the call to the ATO Scamwatch hotline on 1800 008 540.

If you’ve been scammed into giving away money or have suspicious activity on your account, you can ask for assistance from IDCARE. IDCARE is Australia and New Zealand’s not-for-profit national identity and cyber support service. 

How can you stop robocalls from coming in?

There aren’t any catch-all solutions for blocking robocalls, but you can take steps to reduce the number coming in. 

1. Block the number immediately.

You won’t receive any more calls from the number. 

On iPhone: after you’ve hung up, go to Recents and find the number. Tap the information icon 🛈 next to the number, scroll down and tap Block this Caller.

On Android: after you’ve hung up, go to Recents, tap the call you want to block and tap Block or Report Spam.

2. Join the Do Not Call Register.

This should stop most telemarketers (the scrupulous ones, anyway), but it won’t stop scammers. You can register your number at www.donotcall.gov.au or on 1300 792 958.

3. Use an anti-spam app.

There are apps that filter out robocalls, but do some homework to make sure it’s legitimate.

Keeping your data safe

Scammers use other means to trick you into giving them money or personal information like passwords. 

Text and email are the most common, where scammers will pretend to be a bank, a postal service, a toll company or a lottery. The goal is to get you to click a link where you’ll input your bank details and password, or enter your personal information for scammers to use for identity theft.

Here are some ways to stay alert to scams and keep your data safe: 

On the phone (calls and texts)

  • Don’t answer a call if you don’t know who it is. Let it go to voicemail and then check any numbers or details with the company’s official website.
  • Don’t click links from texts or emails. A legitimate business will never ask you to pay a bill or verify your identity in this way.
  • Use a business’s secure online portal rather than any links sent via text.

On the computer

  • Check the sender’s address. Most often you can identify a scam if it’s coming from an address that doesn’t match the business (for example, rather than [email protected], it says [email protected]).
  • Look for basic spelling errors and use of terms like “customer” rather than your name.
  • Don’t ever let anyone take control of your computer.
  • Don’t download any attachments. 
  • Use strong passwords.

Australia also has a free Scamwatch Alert Service run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that will send updates on new scams if you subscribe.