Automated calls that offer unwanted or illegal products or that attempt to defraud you are known as robocalls. And they have risen into the billions in recent years. The FCC is trying to fight it as are the telephone carriers, who waste large sums of money trying to block such calls legally from their networks and have to field millions of angry questions from subscribers.
(Some robocalls are legal and desirable: school announcements, doctor appointment reminders, and automated messages from companies that you do business with and gave permission to call you.)
Part of the problem is that FCC rules limit the way in which telcos can prevent calls from passing over their networks. That’s to prevent phone operators from blocking competitive companies. But it also ties their hands a bit regarding fraud.
But if you opt into call blocking of scams and spam, the phone companies have your permission and it’s just fine. (The FCC and telcos are working on a comprehensive solution called STIR and SHAKEN that will block forged Caller ID messages, too.)
Protect yourself from robocalls
Telephone Science Corporation
iOS apps like Nomorobo can identify robocalls.
Apple added the option in iOS 9 for third-party apps to annotate incoming calls based on Caller ID. Several of these are available, some with free tiers and some with paid options. The best of them, such as Hiya and Nomorobo, show a message alongside an incoming call that matches their databases that reads “robocall” or “scam or fraud”—or the great “neighbor scam,” in which the area code and prefix (next three numbers) of the incoming call are changed to match your number, making you think it might be a call from someone you know.
You can also turn to free services that can be enabled via apps or your account from three of the four biggest U.S. wireless carriers. Because these work at the network level, you’ll have fewer calls pass through to your phone that are problematic.
AT&T Call Protect.
The free flavor installs as an app, and blocks calls before they hit your phone as well as identify ones that are sketchy. You can also create a personal block list. A paid flavor adds reverse-number lookup and a few other security features. (I’m an AT&T customer, and have had this installed for years; I receive nothing like the volume of robocalls most people I know complain of.)
T-Mobile ScamID and ScamBlock.
These two services don’t require apps, and block calls identified as scam and mark ones via Caller ID that T-Mobile isn’t as sure about. A paid service, NameID, uses an app to offer more ID features for regular calls and provide other call-handling options, and lets you set up a personal block list.
Verizon Call Filter.
This Verizon app can be set to block and mark calls. A paid version adds a separate personal spam and block list. Verizon joined AT&T and T-Mobile with the free version just a few days ago, and it has fewer features than the free tier of the other two carriers.