There was a golden period for a few years where many of us didn’t really have to deal with telemarketers and spam phone calls. We made the shift from making our calls mostly on landlines to mostly on cellphones, and cellphone numbers, being unlisted, are harder for an unscrupulous company to get a hold of. But it was only a matter of time before the telemarketers and spammers caught up with technology, and many of us are once again menaced by unwanted calls. Luckily, we can fight back with even newer technology: a very helpful app called Truecaller, which has been in the press lately for adding a new widget and more features.
If you use your cellphone often, you’ve likely been hit with some annoying, unwanted phone calls. The phone displays a number, not a number you recognize, but that’s not so odd; there are plenty of people who might call you that aren’t in your contacts list, whether it’s your dentist or the DMV or even a friend whose phone died and had to borrow someone else’s. Either way, it doesn’t make sense to risk missing an important call. So you answer it, and hear something like: “This is an important message about your credit card. There is no problem with your credit card,” or, even worse, “Do you want to go on a free cruise?” You hang up, frustrated and annoyed.
Smartphones can do lots of things, but out of the box, they’re not set up to identify all incoming calls the way Caller ID does. Without a helpful third-party app, all your phone can do is match it with an entry in your contacts list, and if it can’t, it’s limited to simply displaying the number and possibly the state. There are a few different apps that replicate the Caller ID experience, telling you who’s listed as the owner of the number — Current Caller ID is good, as is WhosCall, both for Android —but Truecaller has an interesting crowdsourcing element that adds to its usefulness, as well as some new features.
Given that a whole bunch of people together can get an independent smartwatch made on Kickstarter, it was only a matter of time before the same idea was used for caller ID and spam blocking. Truecaller maintains a huge database of names, numbers, and, most importantly, unwanted spam callers, all contributed by people just like you. If a spammer calls a Truecaller user in Idaho, Miami, or Dubai, and that user marks it as spam, suddenly every single other Truecaller user is aware that that number could be bad news.
Once installed, the app replaces your phone’s usual incoming call screen with its own, and searches its huge database for matches. The caller doesn’t have to be unwanted; maybe it really is the dentist. Hopefully the dentist’s number is already in the Truecaller database so it can give you that information. But if it’s a spammer, your incoming call screen will turn red, and show an image of a shifty-looking fedora and sunglasses, warning you that this number has been identified as spam.
The newest feature, available for iOS devices like the iPhone, puts Truecaller right in your notifications window. It’s pretty easy: copy any number you’re curious about (usually this can be done by pressing and holding on a number) and then swipe down from the top of the screen, the way you would if you’re looking for missed calls or text messages or emails. In that screen, right under the time and weather, Truecaller will have automatically searched its database and given you an answer to the question: who or what does this number belong to?
Truecaller is available on both major platforms, iOS and Android, and is free on both. Keep in mind that it will ask you for your name and number before you can use the app, which will add you to their database. Not everyone wants that, but if you’re getting lots of unwanted phone calls, it may be a decent trade-off.