Industry takes on robocallers with apps and call traps

Thursday, April 04, 2019


What’s more annoying than spammers and telemarketers that ring our landlines and cell phones night and day with robocalls and recorded messages? Not much! If you’re tired of these spam calls, you’re not alone: Nearly 5.8 million Americans filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission about robocalls in 2018. If you’re looking for reprieve, here are some free (or low-cost) steps you can take that may help eliminate some pesky spam calls from reaching your phone.

The FTC’s Do Not Call list

First things first: Register your landline or mobile phone for free with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) national registry that prevents you from receiving unwanted sales calls. Not sure if you’re already registered? You can check on that too. The FTC warns that companies that ignore the registry are breaking the law—If you’re on the registry and still get calls, hang up and report the numbers from your Caller ID to the FTC. Unfortunately, spam callers can fake (or “spoof”) numbers displayed on Caller ID; nonetheless, record the numbers with your complaint.

Blocking numbers on mobile phones

If the calls come in on your cell phone, you can block specific numbers. iPhone users can go into their recent call list, click on the information icon (a small i) next to the scam number, scroll down to “Block this caller,” then hit “Block contact.” Blocking calls for Android users will vary based on the phone, but users can add the scam number manually into the phone’s “Block list” by going to phone settings under “Call blocking.”

Anonymous call rejection for landlines

This landline calling feature blocks calls from those with anonymous, private or blocked Caller IDs. Enable the free service by picking up the phone and dialing *77—you’ll hear three short beeps to know the service has been activated. To disable the service at any time, press *87. (Depending on carrier, this service may require a fee on business landlines.)


Free for landlines, Nomorobo screens your calls and matches the number with its massive database of over 1.2 million known, illegal spammers (and the list is updated all the time). If you receive a scam call, Nomorobo intercepts it after one ring and hangs up for you. If the call is legitimate, it will keep ringing and you can answer. One ring signals that a spam call was stopped by Nomorobo.

Nomorobo also is available for mobile phones: After a free two-week trial, there is a $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year charge per device for iPhone and Android users.

Blocking by carrier

Verizon – Spam Alert and Call Filter (free)

Verizon launched a free service (working name: “Call Filter”) that displays a scam alert on your smartphone's screen to notify you that the call is likely fraudulent. On landlines, the company’s Spam Alert service is available if you subscribe to Caller ID. Your Caller ID will show the word “SPAM?” before a caller’s name and number if they have been identified as a possible spam call. Some calls will be blocked even before they reach you if Verizon’s system detects a spoofed number or one associated with illegal spam calls. The company has identified nearly 300 million numbers associated with spam and robocalling to help avert the calls from reaching customers.

AT&T – Call Protect (free)

AT&T’s “analytics-based blocking program” allows the company to warn wireless customers whether an incoming call is from a known spam, scam or robocall number. The service is included with AT&T’s wireless plans. To activate, download AT&T’s Call Protect app for iPhone or Android or log in to your AT&T online account.

AT&T automatically blocks calls to your home phone that come from 900 and 976 numbers (scammers dialing from these numbers ask you to press a number to connect you to a line that starts charging by the minute). If the same number keeps dialing your home phone, AT&T offers call blocking—a feature that allows you to block up to 10 phone numbers from your local area (numbers starting with 800 cannot be blocked).

T-Mobile: Scam ID and Scam Block (free); Name ID ($4 per month)

T-Mobile has three robocall-blocking tools, two of which are free and already included in customers’ mobile phone service. The free Scam ID and Scam Block allow you to identify and block suspicious calls coming in from known scammers through Caller ID. Name ID shows customers a caller’s name and location, blocks calls and lets you choose to send designated calls to voicemail. The cost of NameID is $4 a month, or free with the T-Mobile ONE Plus plan.

Sprint: Premium Caller ID ($3 per month)

Sprint’s Premium Caller ID app for mobile phones assigns a risk category to incoming calls: “low,” “medium” and “high.” You’ll be notified on the Caller ID if the incoming call is from an automatic dialer, known spammer or Caller ID spoofer. The mobile app costs about $3 per month.

CTIA list of 'Robocall Abatement Apps'

CTIA is a trade association representing the U.S. wireless communications industry. It offers lists of apps that in one way or another help consumers block robocalls.

Take Action!

Lastly, write to your legislators to urge them to pass laws to stop or control the robocall problem. Consumer Action supports stronger federal laws to outlaw spoofing and to shut down illegal robocallers. Take action today!




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