Blocking Junk Calls

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Blocking Junk Calls: a reader asks…

I’m starting to get a bunch of junk phone calls on my mobile (iPhone) these days. Sometimes there’s a foreign voice on the other end, sometimes it’s a recording, and sometimes they just hang up. I’ve learned that anytime there’s a delay of more than a second before hearing a caller’s voice, it’s always a junk call, so I hang up after a second of silence. But they keep calling and I know it’s eating up my minutes allowance on cellular service. What can I do?

Junk phone calls are just as annoying as junk email, and the problem seems to be drastically ramping up. Robocalls, scammers, fake computer service technicians, and more are clogging up the phone lines. Some folks have taken to letting everything go to voicemail, but this won’t work for those of us in business or with family and friends who need to keep in touch by phone. It’s now getting beyond annoying, since many cell phone service contracts have a set allowance of calling minutes per month. You don’t want your allowance chewed up by these junk calls!

Of course you can always use your smartphone’s call blocking feature, but the utility of this tactic has declined as more scammers are using phone switching banks that use thousands of different phone numbers. That includes numbers in your area code and local exchange, so it seems like a neighbor is calling.

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Landline phone service carriers are instituting call blocking techniques. For example, Verizon FIOS customers can sign up for Nomorobo service to block many robocalls (see their info page). And of course, there’s the National DoNotCall Registry (sign up here) where you can add all your phone numbers. The FCC has a set of advice and recommendations (see here), as does Consumer Reports. Unfortunately, the major cellular carriers have only limited help other than letting you manually and individually block numbers (which is also built right into your iPhone). That tactic is now nearly useless. So what to do? Here are the major carriers’ optional services:

  1. Verizon users can subscribe to the Caller Name ID app for $2.99 per month and enable the spam filter option from within the app.
  2. AT&T customers can sign up for the free AT&T Call Protect feature, which will automatically block some fraudulent calls and show suspected scammers and spammers through caller ID. The app provides call tracking and more. You can get an in-app purchase for $4/month to offer enhanced “Plus” services including reverse-number lookup and enhanced caller ID.
  3. T-Mobile users automatically get caller ID info on suspected scammers & spammers, plus automatic Scam Block to block those calls from getting through. You can also get a $4/month optional feature called NameID with more control (no extra charge for some service plans).
  4. Sprint provides a $3/month service called Premium Caller ID that doesn’t do much more than your iPhone could do on its own. For Android phone users, it does include “Robo Call Spam Protection” which should block at least some unwanted calls from getting through.

There are more and more 3rd party service providers popping up to help out, as long as you’re willing to pay. The aforementioned Nomorobo provides free service on landlines, but costs $2/month per mobile number. Other providers like RoboKiller, Hiya and TrueCaller offer similar services. You can also tell your carrier to reject all anonymous calls – usually by signing into your account online and turning that feature on.

I should mention that all of these methods may inadvertently block the occasional call you want to receive. None of these services are perfect, any more so than spam email fighting services and techniques. This is a constant battle as scammers and spammers find new and creative ways to bypass our best efforts to block them. And stand by, this problem is also hitting text messages more and more. Hopefully more guns will be brought to bear on this scourge of 21st century communication.

2 Comments

  1. Bernie Shatz

    Hi Chris
    Thanks, once again. Love the site and your info.
    Regards to the family.

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