How to Fend Off Unwelcome CallersS

Creepy stalkers, annoying telemarketers, jilted lovers: The list of people whose calls you don't want can get long. And you might feel short on options for keeping their profane digits from polluting your sacred caller ID. You're not.

First off, if you're in a serious situation—we're talking restraining orders and assault charges—your best bet is to call your carrier (or 9-1-1, if you haven't already). Every major service provider deals with extreme issues on a case-by-case basis. But if you situation threatens your patience more than your physical well-being, parental control features are your dearest friend. Yeah, you'll probably have to pay a bit, but what you save on aspirin and liquor will more than make you whole. What follows are your options for blocking calls on every major mobile carrier.

AT&T

For five bucks per month, AT&T offers a feature called Smart Limits. It's intended to allow parents to limit how much their little Sally and Timmy can text, call, and surf the web, but it also provides the option to block certain numbers.

The process is easy: After adding the feature to your monthly plan, an extra little option will appear when you log in to your AT&T account. You'll be able to add up to 15 numbers which'll be unable to call or text you. The block is effective the instant you add the numbers—and you can edit things whenever you want to.

There is one downside to Smart Limits, though: It can't block some phone-specific features. So someone could still try contacting you via BlackBerry Push-to-Talk or attempt initiating iPhone FaceTime calls.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile's parental control feature, Family Allowances, is also five bucks a month. It allows you to block up to ten numbers at a time, and, just like AT&T's Smart Limits, you manage your list on the T-Mobile website.

The weakness of the Family Allowances feature is that calls from numbers on your "Never Allow" list can go through when you're roaming.

If it's just text messages that are annoying you, T-Mobile does offer a free—but extremely limited—Message Blocking option. It can only be used to either block all text messages or to filter out ones originating from email addresses.

Verizon

Verizon offers a great and free way to keep unwanted calls and texts away: Spam Controls. The feature allows you to block calls, texts, and picture messages from up to five numbers by either logging on to the Verizon Wireless site or by calling up customer support.

If you need to block more numbers than that, then you can add Verizon's Usage Controls feature for an extra five bones a month. That'll give you the ability to block up to 20 numbers.

Sprint

If you're a Sprint customer who is desperately looking for a way to block specific phone numbers, I don't have good news for you just yet.

After consulting with various representatives I discovered that Sprint briefly offered a way of blocking calls but got rid of it because there were "too many glitches." If you can hold out for another month, though, you might be OK: A Sprint representative said that the feature should finally re-launch in early November. There aren't too many details about the feature aside from an unconfirmed suggestion that it will be free and allow you to block up to 50 numbers.

While currently lacking when it comes to blocking calls, Sprint does offer one of the simplest ways to block text messages. All you have to do is send a message to short code 9999 containing the word "block" followed by whatever email address, short code, or phone number you wish to block. If you change your mind about that person, just send the same sort of message with "allow" in place of "block".

Solutions Not Reliant On Carriers

There are also ways to defend against annoying calls that don't require any help from the carriers. In most cases they're messy and not entirely satisfying, but they do the trick in a pinch: You can set silent ringers for specific phonebook entries, third-party applications for Blackberry, Android, and iOS. Or you could be clever and do it yourself: Lifehacker has some very powerful tips on how to use Google Voice to keep those evil rings at bay.

How about you? Got any tricks? We'd love to hear about 'em in the comments.

Original imagery by contributing artist Walter C. Baumann