Junk calls and robocalls are completely out of control. If you’re looking for ways to stop them (and who isn’t?), we’ve got some options for you.
Free and Paid Services to Stop Robocalls
For a number of years, junk calls were relatively few and far between for most people. The National Do Not Call Registry worked well for a while. Legitimate companies were generally very compliant, and the violations that did occur were rare. Those that did violate the law were subject to heavy fines.
But over the last few years, the number of junk calls started climbing. Nearly 46 billion robocalls went out in 2020, according to the YouMail Robocall Index.
It’s gotten to the point that you need every advantage you can get to keep the robocallers at bay.
Thankfully, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a mandate for all voice service providers to have the robocall-fighting “STIR/SHAKEN” technology in place by no later than June 30, 2021, according to a news release. We’ll explain in a bit exactly what that means.
But since it’s still months away, this article is going to take a look at what’s out there to help you with ending robocalls in your life — right now.
Table of Contents
- AT&T: Call Protect
- T-Mobile: Scam Shield
- Verizon: Call Filter
- Free Third-Party Apps: Nomorobo, Youmail and Hiya
- A look at the Tech Behind Robocall Blocking
Comparing the Major Carriers on Robocall Blocking
All major carriers offer some kind of basic free protection, along with paid upgrades. Here’s a summary of what’s available.
|Carrier||Product and Price|
|AT&T||Call Protect (basic version is free)|
AT&T recently expanded the scope of Call Protect to include automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam-call alerts.
According to a recent news release, all new AT&T mobility customers will automatically get the expanded anti-robocall capabilities when they activate a voice line. Existing customers will find the new features up and running shortly.
As an “analytics-based blocking program,” Call Protect allows the company to determine whether an incoming call is legitimate or part of a scam or other robocall scheme.
“[The program] examines more than 1.5 billion calls each day for patterns that indicate robocallers,” the company says.
“It then drills down on suspicious activity that may be illegal or forbidden. One example is multiple short-duration calls to numbers on the National Do Not Call list.”
AT&T has been a leader working across networks to verify authenticated calls and stop robocalls. Its initial partnership with Comcast (Xfinity Voice), announced in March 2019, was an industry first. Just a few months later came a similar partnership with T-Mobile.
Basically, this means that the carriers are checking calls coming from customers of other carriers and blocking calls they suspect to be robocalls.
- Free scam ID and blocking will flag suspicious calls and let you block them.
- Free enhanced caller ID will show verification if it’s a real person or business.
- A free second number is available so you can keep your personal number personal.
- You can get a free number change if scammers do become problematic.
Scam Shield is available for T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile and Sprint customers.
While Scam Shield is free, an upgraded service called Scam Shield Premium is available for $4/month (free for customers with Magenta Plus).
Scam Shield Premium will let you send telemarketing calls to voicemail, set up “always block” lists and get voicemail-to-text services.
Verizon offers both free and paid options to reduce unwanted robocalls in your life.
On the free side, the Call Filter service helps to identify and block robocalls. Verizon customers get alerts when a spam call is suspected and they can report unsolicited numbers. In addition, the service will automatically block robocalls based on your preferred level of risk.
A paid upgrade, called Call Filter Plus, is $2.99/month for one line or $7.99/month for three or more lines. In addition to just spam detection, blocking and reporting, the paid version lets you create a personal robocall block list and gives you access to a robocall risk meter and spam number lookup feature, among other things.
You can learn more about both the free and paid options here.
Free Third-Party Apps: Nomorobo, YouMail and Hiya
If you’re not happy with the free protection from your carrier, there are some free third-party services and apps you may want to check out.
Nomorobo is a free service for voice over Internet protocol (VoiP) landlines that boasts of having stopped nearly 1 billion robocalls. There are also mobile versions for iOS and Android, but they cost $1.99/month.
YouMail uses a robust Robocall Index to identify “bad” numbers and block them from your phone. Other free features include accurate caller ID and custom voicemail greetings.
Hiya uses an algorithm that determines if there is a phone number making thousands of brief phone calls. Additionally, app users can report fraudulent phone numbers.
A Look at the Tech Behind Robocall Blocking: SHAKEN and STIR-red
Curious about how all this robocall-blocking technology works? Two technologies, in particular, will be at play going forward:
- Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs (SHAKEN)
- Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR)
They’re dual tech efforts that aim to verify a given call originates from the number that it says it does. The key is the use of “token technology: creating a digital signature as a stamp of approval when a call originates.
Unfortunately, the two technologies won’t out-and-out block robocalls when used in concert. What they will do is show some mark of verification on your phone to indicate that a call is legitimately coming from the number you see displayed.
Money expert Clark Howard says that if you’re in the habit of answering suspicious or unknown calls, it’s easy to fall prey to phone scams.
“I had a phone call come in that said it was from Bank of America,” Clark said on a podcast.
“I don’t do business with Bank of America, so I knew it was a ‘pretexting’ call, a fake call. But what if I was a customer of BOA and I see that come up on caller ID, I might be more apt to answer it, right?”
“Consider following my rule,” the consumer champ continues. “It’s a simple rule: If I don’t recognize the number as being from someone I know, I do not answer the call.”