The current partial shutdown of the U.S. government has been going on for around three weeks now, and this political game of chicken is not showing any signs that it's going to end soon.
Everyone may have their own views and opinions about the shutdown, but politics aside, it's also severely affecting the livelihood of thousands of government employees who are on an extended "break," all without pay, because of it.
All in all, nine federal departments and a number of agencies have been closed since Dec. 22.
If you think that you're not directly feeling the effects of this shutdown, well, think again. It looks like one of the most annoying tech scourges is going around unchecked because of it.
Robocalls are on a rampage because of the shutdown
The effects of the government shutdown are reportedly seeping through your cellphone service, and people are receiving unwanted calls more than ever.
Here's why. The Federal Trade Commision (FTC) is, of course, run by the U.S. government and has a registry that assists in protecting consumers from robocalls, spam calls and fraudulent calls.
But due to the government shutdown, this registry is down and it's not being operated by anyone. Go to its page, https://www.donotcall.gov/, and you'll be greeted by this message.
"Due to the government shutdown, we are unable to offer this website service at this time. Information about unwanted calls can be found on the FTC’s website at: National Do Not Call Registry | Consumer Information"
"We will resume normal operations when the government is funded."
In fact, people are coming forward claiming that the number of robocalls they're receiving have skyrocketed since the shutdown.
What exactly is the National Do Not Call Registry?
You probably know how it works. You register your phone numbers with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block unwanted calls.
Once you sign up, the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry list takes you off of for-profit business call lists, but it isn't immediate. Telemarketers only update their lists periodically, so the FTC says it can take up to 31 days to take full effect.
Also, political organizations, charities and survey takers are still permitted to call you. Businesses you've bought something from or made a payment to in the last 18 months also have a right to call.
When they call, however, just firmly tell them to take you off their list and they have to honor your request, although they might still try to talk you into reconsidering.
What to do in the meantime
While the FTC is down, here's what you can do to protect yourself from robocalls:
Get call-blocking apps
You can download and install call-blocking apps such as NomoRobo, True Caller or Hiya on your smartphone. Click here for more information about these types of apps.
Block unknown callers
Many phone companies allow you to block calls that don't show a number on caller ID. Check with your provider to find out how to turn this feature on. Note: If someone you actually know calls you and blocks their outgoing number, their call won't make it through if you've turned this feature on.
This is actually the easiest solution to eliminating robocalls. If you receive a call from an unknown number or one that doesn't show up on caller ID, don't answer. If it's an important call, the person will leave a message and you can get back to them.
Use your carrier tools
All four of the major carriers have specific tools to identify, filter and block suspected nuisance numbers from calling or texting your phone.
Most require you to shell out an extra monthly fee to activate the caller ID service, but network-level blocking is free of charge across all the carriers.
- AT&T - Subscribers can use a free iOS and Android app called AT&T Call Protect. It has automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam warnings, and you can also use it to manually block unwanted calls.
- Verizon - If you have Verizon, you can temporarily block up to five numbers for 90 days for free. The caveat is that after 90 days, you'll have to manually block the numbers again.
- For better spam and robocall control on Verizon, you'll have to get its $2.99/month "Caller Name ID" service.
- T-Mobile - This carrier provides two free ways to combat robocallers and spam calls: Scam ID and Scam Block. T-Mobile also has its own paid "Name ID" service. This costs $4 a month and it identifies and provides caller information like the name, location and type of organization, and can block them as needed.
- Sprint - Customers can sign up for its "Premium Caller ID" service to protect themselves from robocalls and caller ID spoofers. This service is $2.99 a month and provides a threat level indicator to give customers an idea of how suspicious a call is.
The government may be in shutdown right now, but taking these steps will help cut back the number of robocalls that you receive.
For even more insights on robocalls, listen to free Komando On Demand podcast on the subject:
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