As you may have noticed, there are a lot of things out there that divide us into opposing factions. Despite that, we are all united in this: We would rather do just about anything in the world than answer those annoying robocalls.
How irritating are these terrible things! They are inconvenient, sometimes scammy, and always increasing in number. The phone calls that start with a recorded message that urges immediate action. They try to lock you into a vacation that you never applied for, or to trick you into giving information to, “the IRS.”
A stunning 58 billion robocalls were made just in 2019, according to YouMail. Fortunately, the top tech companies and the US government are fighting back. As they work, there are measures you can take right now.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Traced Act into law, a bipartisan law that gives government agencies and law enforcement more power to target the perpetrators to reduce the calls.
The Traced Act gives law enforcement more time to go after suspected criminal activity. The penalties are stiffer, and phone companies must validate calls and determine if the phone number that is calling you is legitimate. Also, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given carriers permission to more aggressively block spam calls.
In the wireless industry, carriers are using SHAKEN/STIR technology to identify and block spam calls. This is being used between providers, not just each provider on its own network. For the Apple crowd, iOS 13 has a feature that blocks all unknown callers from ever ringing your phone. Also, Google announced that its Call Screen feature could send calls to Google Assistant without allowing your phone to ring.
Of course, this won’t eliminate the annoying calls right away. Legislation and technological advances will take time to work their way into our lives and devices. Also, not every solicitation call is an illegal one. Charities, political campaigns, and debt collectors are permitted to call. But the fake IRS agents and people claiming you won a trip to a tropical island are illegal.
Of course, there’s no way to eliminate 100% of robocalls from interrupting your day. But there are some steps you can take to avoid getting caught in their spider web.
Here Are Some Best Practices:
The FCC says there are some simple things you can do to cut down on these calls.
- If the number is not one you recognize, don’t answer the call.
- The caller may not be local, even if the number is.
- The prerecorded message may ask a yes or no question. You should not respond.
- Legitimate companies have their contact information readily available, most of the time online. When someone calls from an unknown phone number and claims to be from a company, do not respond and go look up the company’s genuine phone number.
- Hang up if you hear a recording or someone asking, “can you hear me?”
- If you hear, “To be connected to a representative, press _,” end the call.
If you pick up the phone and hear a voice prompt asking you to press a button, doing so verifies your phone number. This caller can now target you, as well as sell your number to others.
When Google first launched the Call Screen feature, the screener would intercept the call and interact with the caller. This seems contrary to the FCC’s advice. However, Google added new features to Call Screen for its Pixel phones. The goal is to stop the unwanted calls from reaching you and interrupting you with a phone ring. Google Assistant will interact with the caller. If it is a legitimate call, it will route the call to your phone using the usual caller information.
Apple’s iOS 13 features Silence Unknown Callers, which adds the option to route calls from unknown numbers straight to voicemail. When the feature is enabled, Siri will allow calls from numbers found in Contacts, Mail, and Messages. Anything else is routed to voicemail. The caller can leave a message once the voicemail message beeps.
This can be a sticking point. We can get an important call and not store the number on our contact list. This could lead to missing some important calls. But this is an option if you are at your wits’ end and will do anything to slow down the robocall avalanche.
Have the spammers started bombarding you with text messages? Forward the message to SPAM, or 7726. This will enable your carrier to investigate where the message came from. If it’s from a spammer, they can cut them off.
See What Your Provider Can Do
There are four major wireless carriers in the U.S., and all of them have some sort of call-blocking mechanism. Some are free, and others aren’t.
- For AT&T Customers, the Call Protect app can be used on Android or Apple phones. There are free and premium versions. The app blocks calls from what it deems “likely fraudsters” can label suspected telemarketers. The app also has a block list you can add numbers to. The paid version costs $3.99 per month. With it, you can get caller ID for unknown numbers and get additional security features outside of the robocall universe.
- Call Filter is automatically enabled for Verizon customers with Android phones. The features include spam detection, a spam filter, and a “report number” option, all for free. You can pay $2.99 – $7.99 a month (depending on how many lines are on your plan) for caller ID, spam lookup, and a personal block and spam list. Most Android devices have Call Filter built into them (and you are usually prompted during the activation process). The App Store also has this app for iOS users.
- T-Mobile provides Scam ID for free, and it features Scam Block. The caller ID can alert you to a possible spam call, while Scam Block will not allow the call to make your phone ring. The Block feature must be activated. You can do so in the Scam Block app or by dialing #662# from your phone. Another option is Name ID, which shows the names of callers. That feature costs $4 per month.
- Finally, Sprint has a free robocall solution with Call Screener Basic. The free version will flag potential spam calls with “spam caller.” and will block the calls it deems the highest risk. A business caller ID is also available. The Premium version has additional robocall labels, caller ID, text message name display, and other features you can read about here. It costs $3 per month.
If you use another provider, ask what is available for you to use to block these calls.
In the event your provider has zero or unaffordable options to stop robocalls, there are plenty of third-party apps available. The features you want are automatic call blocking, spam alerts for suspicious calls, ease of reporting a number, and of course, compatibility with your phone.
Hiya is a free app that works well. It comes from the company that makes AT&T’s Call Protect app and the built-in call block and spam protection service on Samsung phones. If you have a Samsung phone, go to Settings > Caller ID and Spam Protection to activate it. Setup and reporting a number are accessible functions.
Nomorobo is a Verizon Fios feature, but there is also an app for phones. VoIP users get it for free. Mobile users can get it for $2 a month. There are additional features, such as RoboKiller and YouMail.
You can also sign up for a Google Voice phone number for free. Use the block feature once spam calls begin. Since robocallers are constantly spoofing different phone numbers, blocking them this way will take more effort.
While we wait for carriers to integrate the technology required to check for caller ID spoofing, we have to do some extra work to fend off robocalls with these solutions, which aren’t perfect. As you are proactive in blocking the calls and using free or paid services, you can fight back against the robots.
There is the potential cost of sending calls from doctors’ offices and similar establishments to voicemail. And for those with a Pixel phone, Google’s Call Screen feature will surely help, if not entertain you.