Help may be on the way to combat those robocalls — eventually
For Michael Rizzo, answering the phone is too often a waste of time.
His Sports City Pizza Pub in Buffalo, New York, depends on customers calling to order wings, pizza and potato skins. But much of the time, it’s an automated message pushing a scam. “It’s getting to the point where it’s blocking other callers from coming in,” the 24-year-old bar owner said.
Help is coming, if slowly. Over the past year, prodded by the government, cellphones have added new tools to counteract unwanted “robocalls.” The Federal Communications Commission has proposed letting phone companies block more spam and is hoping to deter scammers with big fines. Experts say these steps are not a cure-all, but they’re a good start.
Why is this happening?
The federal and state “Do Not Call” lists are supposed to protect people from unwanted calls from telemarketers. But scammers don’t care about breaking the law.
It’s estimated that Americans receive tens of millions of robocalls every day.
And spam callers have tricky technology that makes a phone’s caller ID display a local or important-looking caller, like the IRS. Cracking down on “spoofed” numbers would make running a scam more difficult and save U.S. consumers millions of dollars, a group of state attorneys general said in an FCC filing.
What phone companies are doing
Phone companies and independent apps can screen or block unwanted calls by checking them against databases of known problem numbers and analyzing suspicious behavior.
Wireless carriers also have tools that flag incoming calls with warnings like “scam likely,” but they aren’t available on all phones. The versions from Verizon and Sprint cost extra. A few Android phones, including Google’s Pixel, screen spam calls for free.
Apps including YouMail and Nomorobo offer relief on home phones for free, with limitations. Verizon is also testing warnings about suspicious calls on a home phone’s caller ID display.
Help from the government
Phone companies can already block some calls that are being faked. The FCC has proposed rules to formalize that practice and permit them to block other calls they suspect are scams.
Maureen Mahoney, a public policy fellow at the nonprofit Consumers Union, said that won’t protect consumers from all unwanted calls. “Do Not Call” lists don’t apply to certain types of callers, such as debt collectors and political campaigns. In addition, Mahoney said, the FCC rules would cover only faked numbers. Not all robocalls are spoofed.
What can you do?
■ Don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number.
■ Hang up on unwanted callers. Don’t talk to them or press any buttons. If you engage with them, they might flag you as someone who’s responsive and inundate you with more calls. Block the number after the call, if possible.
■ Use call-blocking apps. If you have privacy concerns, check the app’s policy to see if it’s sharing your call or contacts data with marketers.
■ Don’t give callers personal information.