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Gone are the days I used to be excited when hearing my phone ring. Is it a friend, family member, or perhaps a colleague? Nope — just another scammer offering a “free” vacation in the Bahamas or a machine demanding payment for “unpaid medical fees.” When I think about it, I might actually receive more scam calls than actual calls.
The reality for millions of Americans is that we receive way too many robocalls on a daily basis. Nearly 48 billion robocalls were made in the US last year, and they certainly aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Wait, What are Robocalls and How Do They Work?
Often, a computer program leverages voice over internet protocol (VOIP) to quickly and cheaply call you. A computer-generated number comes up on your phone, which is often made to appear similar to yours to prompt you to answer. This technique, known as spoofing, disguises the true identity of the call origin and instead makes it show up as an unknown or generic number (like 123456789).
FYI: Robocalls can also show up as real numbers that belong to someone else. That means if you ignore the call but dial it back later, you might reach someone who has no idea their number was misused.
What is the FCC Doing about Robocalls?
Good news: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking some major steps to reduce the amount of illegal and unwanted calls. On June 6, 2019, the FCC unanimously passed a new measure that would help block robocalls. The ruling would allow carrier companies (like T-Mobile and Verizon) to automatically block illegal and unwanted calls before they reach consumers’ phones. Previously, carriers were allowed to block certain calls — but only after a subscriber agreed to opt in. Under the new measure, carriers can now do so without the consumers’ permission.
Like most things that seem too good to be true, there's a catch: Carrier companies are not required to provide blocking services free of charge, meaning you might have to pay extra for it. Also, automated calls from legitimate companies (like reminders from your doctor's office or an airline) may be blocked too. Credit, banking, and healthcare groups are advocating for change to make sure their auto-generated (and legitimate) calls can still get through.
With or without these new changes, there are still plenty of steps you can take to block these unwanted calls.
How to Stop Robocalls for Good
The most important thing you can do to stop robocalls is not answer any unknown numbers. If you answer a robocall, you’ll be put onto a VIP list of people that the scammers know are more likely to pick up. Then, you could actually be passed onto a real person who may try to solicit information from you or trick you into buying something.
To be safe, let unknown calls go to voicemail and see what the message is. While you can often block specific numbers, it usually isn’t helpful since the number can easily change on the next robocall.
If you think you’re receiving robocalls, you can:
- File a complaint with the FCC, noting the time and date of the call, the number that appeared, a description of the message, and your number.
- Sign up for the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry, so it becomes illegal for telemarketers to call you. (It's not foolproof, but it's an easy first step.)
- Download a robocall blocking app from your cell phone carrier or a third-party.
- Utilize the "Do Not Disturb" function on your iPhone or Android — scroll down for step-by-step instructions.
The Best Robocall Blocking Apps and Tools
AT&T Call Protect: A call-blocking app for AT&T customers that detects and blocks calls from likely fraudsters, identifies telemarketers and other suspected spam calls, and lets you block unwanted calls by number. Available on iOS and Android for free.
Sprint Premium Caller ID: A service that allows Sprint customers to identify unknown callers by name and get warnings on spam calls. Activate from your Sprint account for $3 a month.
T-Mobile Scam Block: A default-off tool that prevents T-Mobile customers from receiving scam calls. Activate from your T-Mobile account, in the latest Name ID app, or dial #622# from your T-Mobile phone. Offered to customers at no extra cost.
RoboKiller: When someone calls you and their number is verified as spam from RoboKiller’s database, your phone won’t ring. Instead you will get a number that notifies you someone has been blocked. The difference between this spam blocking app and others is that it answers the call with a pre-recorded message, wasting the scammer’s time. Available on iOS and Android with a 7-day free trial, then $4 a month or $30 a year.
Hiya: An app that blocks any numbers and texts you want to avoid. Other services include blocking calls, blacklisting unwanted phone numbers, reverse searching incoming call information, and receiving spam alerts. Available on iOS and Android for free.
How to Stop Robocalls on iPhones
By using Apple's Do Not Disturb feature, you'll only be notified for calls and texts from your contacts. All other numbers will be silenced and delivered in the background. Here's how to use it:
- Go to Settings →
- Do Not Disturb →
- Allow Call From →
- Select "All Contacts"
How to Stop Robocalls on Androids
Similar to iPhones, Android phones have a similar Do Not Disturb feature that silences sounds and other notifications from any number outside of your contacts. Here's how to use it:
- Go to Sound →
- Do Not Disturb →
- Exceptions →
- Select "Calls From Contacts"
Rachel Rothman is the chief technologist and director of engineering at the Good Housekeeping Institute, where she oversees testing methodology, implementation and reporting for all labs.