The US has a robocall problem. These are the calls made to your phone that deliver a prerecorded message that often wants you to do something. Sometimes it’s a message from a candidate running for office. Or a call from your bank advertising a new service. More worrisome are the scammy robocalls — posing, say, as the “IRS” — that intend to scam people out of their money. On Wednesday,giving carriers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile the authority to block some of these robocalls by default, and allowing customers to block calls from unknown numbers.
It’ll be some time before Pai’s proposal becomes official — assuming it does — and even longer before carriers can implement the changes.
Not every automated solicitation call counts as illegal. Calls from political campaigns, debt collectors and charities are all permissible. What’s not allowed are the calls from the fake IRS agents or the companies that claim you won a free vacation to the Bahamas.
While it’s not possible to entirely end robocalls from reaching your phone, there are some steps you can take to reduce the number of calls you receive.
According to the FCC, there are some easy steps you can take to help reduce robocalls:
- Don’t answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers.
- Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
- If someone calls you and claims to be with XYZ company, hang up and call the company yourself. Use the company’s website to find an official number.
- If you do answer a call and hear a recording such as “Hello, can you hear me?”, just hang up.
- The same goes for a call where you’re asked to press a number before being connected to a representative.
When you answer a call and interact with the voice prompt or by pressing a number, it lets the spammer know your number is real. They can then sell your number to another company, or begin targeting your number more frequently.
Arguably, Google’s Call Screen feature goes against the FCC’s advice, as not only do you answer the robocall, but there’s interaction with the caller from your phone number, which will likely lead to more calls to your number. Even though Google’s Call Screen feature is incredibly fun and entertaining to use, unless you know the phone number is legit — it’s best just to not answer.
If you find yourself receiving a lot of spam text messages, you can forward the message to the number 7726 (spells SPAM). It won’t block the number from texting you right away, but it will allow your carrier to look into where it came from and put an end to it.
Check with your provider
Phone companies know how frustrating robocalls are for their customers and have taken steps to help users block annoying calls on their systems. For example, AT&T’s Call Protect app is available for Android and iOS users. When the app is installed and set up, AT&T will attempt to block fraudulent calls, warn of suspected spam calls, and allow you to block unwanted calls from a specific number for free. Verizon’s Call Filter app is free for basic spam detection, spam filter, and the ability to block numbers.
Both carriers offer a premium version of their apps that have more advanced call monitoring features, such as reverse number lookup, but those require a monthly subscription.
Check with your service provider to see if similar functions are available.
Use an app!
If your provider doesn’t offer an app or service to cut back on robocalls, or it’s just too expensive, there are plenty of third-party apps available.
You want to find an app that works on your device, offers automatic call blocking and spam alerts for suspicious calls and has the ability to easily report a number if a call slips through.
Hiya is a free app I have used on Android and iOS for some time now with success. It’s the same company that powers AT&T’s Call Protect app, as well as Samsung’s built-in call block and spam protection service. Samsung Galaxy users can enable the built-in service in the Phone app under Settings > Caller ID and Spam Protection. Setup is painless, and it offers an easy way to report a number.
Nomorobo is the service that Verizon uses for its Fios users, but it also has a phone app. The service is free for VoIP users and costs $1.99 per month for mobile users. Additional services that offer similar capabilities include YouMail and RoboKiller.
Another option is to sign up for a free Google Voice phone number. Instead of giving out your real number for random services, you could then use your Google Voice number — and once the robocalls start coming in, use the block feature. Just know that blocking calls may end up being a lot of work, as robocallers are constantly spoofing different phone numbers.
None of the above solutions are perfect, and likely won’t be until carriers integrate the technology required check for caller ID spoofing, so right now you have to do some extra work to keep the number of robocalls you receive to a minimum. Between being proactive with unknown calls to your number, and using a service (paid or free), you can reduce the number of unwanted calls and spam you receive on your phone.
Originally published July 13, 2018.