Kill robocalls dead in their tracks.Jason Cipriani/CNET
The number of robocalls ringing our phones at all hours of the day has reached an all-time high, and because of that those calls are also getting a lot of attention from the government and technology companies. Most recently, the House passed a bill that will all but stop robocalls. The FCC passed a proposal that gives carriers the permission to be more aggressive when blocking spam calls. Apple even added a feature to iOS 13 that lets you block all unknown callers from ever ringing your phone.
Robocalls convey a prerecorded message to your phone that often urges 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. Even more worrisome are the scammy robocalls -- posing, say, as the "IRS" -- that intend to trick people out of their money. It'll be some time before the FCC's proposal is implemented so, you're not going to see a dramatic decrease in unwanted calls overnight.
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.
Apple promises to soon lock robocalls out of your iPhone.Josh Miller/CNET
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. 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.
Apple recently announced iOS 13 with a ton of new features. One of those features is the option to route calls from unknown numbers straight to voicemail. According to the feature listing on this page, Siri will allow calls from numbers found in Contacts, Mail, and Messages to go through. Anything else will go to voicemail, and assuming the caller is legit, they can leave a message.
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.
Call screening is part of the Pixel 3.Sarah Tew/CNET
All four major wireless carriers offer some sort of call blocking feature to customers. Some are free, while others charge for something that should be free.AT&T's Call Protect app is available for iOS and Android. The free version blocks calls from "likely fraudsters" and labels telemarketing calls. You can add numbers to a block list in the app, as well. The paid version provides caller ID for unknown numbers and offers mobile security features that are unrelated to robocalls. The premium version of Call Protect costs $3.99 per month. Verizon's Call Filter offers spam detection, spam filter, and the option to report numbers for free. You can pay $2.99 a month (or $7.99 a month for three or more lines of service) for caller ID, spam lookup, and a personal block and spam list. Call Filter is built into most Android devices out of the box (which you've probably been prompted about) but is also available in the App Store for iOS users. T-Mobile's Scam ID is free to all customers and includes Scam Block. The ID portion of the service will alert you that an incoming call is likely spam, while Block will block the call from ever reaching your phone. You need to activate the Block feature, either through the Scam Block app or by dialing #662# from your phone. You can pay $4 for Name ID to see the names of incoming callers. Sprint's Premium Caller ID feature costs $3 a month and will identify all incoming callers and block robocalls. There isn't an app to install, the feature is built into "select" phones and the Sprint network.
Check with your wireless provider to see if they offer a similar service.
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 can 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 $2 per month for mobile users. Additional services that offer similar capabilities include YouMail and RoboKiller.
The recently released Firewall app is only available on the iPhone, and does a fantastic job of keeping calls from your phone. In the event you need to make a call that you'd rather not use your real phone number for, the $4 a month subscription provides unlimited single-use fake phone numbers.
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.
Published July 13, 2018.
Updated July 29, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT: Add more third-party options.
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