Mobile spam calls have been a nuisance for years, but in the last few months, it seems to me that there has been a surge of them. I get four to six calls a day, and a quick survey of friends shows that I'm not alone. Each passing day brings with it a new bombardment.
Robocallers have upped their game by masking their spam with local, genuine-looking phone numbers.
Sometimes their nonsense is amusing, like when you get a threatening voicemail message about your impending arrest due to back taxes, but the vast majority of the time it's an unwanted distraction.
It is very easy for these scammers to wield the power of the Internet and launch countless calls with ease. And once even a few people fall for a scam, they have made enough profit to cover their trivial expenses.
Automated phone calls have become so irritating that the Federal Trade Commission received more than 375,000 complaints about them every month last year. The agency routinely says it is doing everything it can to take charge of the situation, and yes, there are occasional major crackdowns. But real-world feedback indicates that things are getting worse, not better, and it's starting to feel a little out of control.
So, if you're as sick as I am of pulling a vibrating phone out of your pocket just to see a random suspicious number, let's go over options for fighting back and restoring a sense of peace.
First, I'll review some definitions, as carriers make important distinctions between these calls, even if they are unwelcome and annoying. Here's how Verizon looks at things:
- Robocallers automated prerecorded telephone messages
- Spammers : Callers unwanted spammers who may be calling indiscriminately to a large number of recipients; sometimes including people you have given your consent to contact you
- Fraud calls an entity that is likely to pretend to be someone who has no malicious intent
OPTION A : BLOCK INDIVIDUAL NUMBERS ONE BY ONE
This is probably a hopeless endeavor if you intend to completely eradicate automated calls, but if there's a particular number that keeps calling, it's fairly easy to block it forever from your iPhone or Android phone.
On iOS, just go to the Phone app, then to Recents, and tap the blue information icon to the right of the number you want to block.
For Android, the process is not much different: go to the Recents section of the Phone app, press and hold the annoying number and choose block. On some Android phones, you will also have the option to report the number as spam.
Again, this will require a lot of persistent work on your part to keep spammers away, and does nothing against blocked or private users.
OPTION B : TRUST (OR PAY) YOUR SUPPLIER TO PROTECT YOU
Most of the major mobile service providers have taken steps to insert themselves as a barrier between you and these annoying callers. Unfortunately, two of them make you pay an additional monthly fee for their efforts.
AT&T: Call Protect
Available free of charge to all postpaid customers. Not available on prepaid lines.
AT&T has a free app, Call Protect, that is designed to prevent some fraudulent robocalls from reaching you, and you won't have to do anything other than install the software on your phone. However, it won't completely block spam or telemarketing calls; instead, Call Protect will identify callers as "Suspected Spam" when your phone rings and give you the option to block their number in the future. Users can also manually block any number they wish and report the numbers to help improve the database.
Important caveats to know are that Call Protect is only available to postpaid customers; prepaid customers cannot use it at all. And the "I suspect spam" feature only works in areas with AT&T HD voice coverage. Also, the app cannot block unknown callers completely.
Sprint: Premium caller ID ($ 2.99 / month)
If you are willing to add an additional charge to your monthly bill, Sprint Premium Caller ID will identify spam callers and anyone not on your contact list. It flags automated callers and spammers and assigns a "threat level" to give you an indication of how suspicious the call might be.
But despite costing a premium, Sprint's solution doesn't automatically block anything. You can block future calls from a number or report it, but the best Premium Caller ID will do is make it clear that you shouldn't answer. It won't stop your phone from ringing, and all you need is for someone to dial * 67 before your number to bypass it and show up as "Blocked" on your caller ID. Here is a frequently asked question about the function.
T-Mobile: Scam ID and Scam Block
Available free of charge to all postpaid customers.
T-Mobile includes two levels of network-level protection against robocallers, and both are free. Scam ID will identify known nuisance calls when your phone rings. It does this automatically without having to install or register for anything.
You have the option to enable Scam Block to prevent those calls from appearing in the first place. To enable Scam Block, dial # ONB # (# 662 #) from your T-Mobile phone.
To disable it, simply dial # OFB # (# 632 #). Like AT&T's tool, T-Mobile will only prevent known scammers and fraudulent calls. Telemarketers and spam calls will still be forwarded.
There is also a third option, but it is another one that costs extra money. For $ 4 per month, you can subscribe to T-Mobile's Name ID service.
It can "identify the name and location of any caller and block any personal number, even if it is not in your address book." It also identifies organizations such as telemarketing agencies, political organizations and pollsters. Name identification is included free if you have a T-Mobile One Plus plan.
Verizon Wireless: Caller name identification ($ 2.99 per month)
Free of charge, you can block up to five phone numbers you want to prevent them from contacting you. However, the blocks expire after 90 days and are not very useful against robocallers with numbers that change every day.
If you really want to combat spammers, you'll need to pay for Caller Name Identification, which identifies suspicious callers and allows you to block those numbers in the future or report them. A 10-day free trial is available to help you decide if it's worth paying the additional monthly fee.
OPTION C PROTECT YOURSELF WITH THIRD-PARTY APPLICATIONS
There are a number of services such as Nomorobo, RoboKiller, Hiya and others designed to prevent automated calls from always ringing on your phone. Most of them require a monthly (or yearly) subscription. In essence, these services rely on a constantly updating list of robocallers, spammers and fraudsters and use that database to stop nuisance calls. (When I say constantly updating, I mean they are identifying thousands of bad numbers every day). A call comes in and the service runs it against that huge list of scam numbers. If it finds a match, the incoming call is closed before it arrives.
All of them allow you to keep your own blacklist of numbers that might bother you and whitelist those you want to get through. Some work by downloading a dedicated contact list, separate from your regular contacts, to your phone. But both iOS and Android have recently given these services more leeway to take control of your phone's app and prevent cheaters from reaching you. On iPhone, you'll have to enable them in the Settings app and give them Caller ID permissions before they can start working. Apple shows you how to do it step by step here .
I recommend examining each of these services to see which one you like best. They are all extensively reviewed by customers, and all offer free trials to get you started. One of these will ultimately be what you need to fight robocalls. It's just a matter of finding your favorite.
- Nomorobo : 14-day free trial. After that, $ 1.99/month or $ 19.99/year.