We recently reported the FCC passed guidelines making it easier for your wireless carrier to crack down on robocalls. In short, the government agency made it easier for the big four carriers -- Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile -- and other cellphone companies to block unwanted telemarketing, robo-dialed and spam calls by default. In other words, it's not a rule saying they have to block robocalls; it's more like a guideline that gives them permission to do it.
The big four carriers already have some form of call-blocking technology in place, some for free and some for monthly premiums. The FCC ruling is a step in the right direction, but our question is, who's going to pay for this? We reached out to the big four, and below are their responses.
Before we get into the cost of blocking robocalls, consider the flip side of blocking unwanted, unidentified calls. Sometimes calls we want to receive get blocked. Please read this post, where we explain how to make sure calls from family, friends and your healthcare providers don't get blocked by robocall-blocking technology.
Verizon Call Filter app helps reduce unwanted calls
Earlier this year, Verizon rolled out a free version of its Call Filter service that includes spam call detection, filters and the ability to report telemarketing and robocall numbers. For an additional $2.99 per month, Verizon Call Filter customers can get even more features including identification of unknown numbers, the ability to build personal spam and personal block lists, a risk meter, and spam lookup.
A spokesperson for Verizon told us that they have already started rolling out STIR/SHAKEN and will continue to roll it out over the next few months. This means Verizon is able to flag calls as authentic or possible spam.
T-Mobile's free Scam ID and Scam Block
T-Mobile has been helping its customers block unwanted calls since 2017 and, according to a spokesperson, was the first major carrier to offer scam protection without an app and for free. It offers three ways to protect its customers from unwanted calls: Scam ID, Scam Block and Name ID.
They announced back in November 2018 that they were ready for the FCC-recommended STIR/SHAKEN standards and in May they launched STIR/SHAKEN across networks with Comcast. According to their spokesperson, T-Mobile was first to launch Caller Verified on their network; it's available on 10 devices, and they're adding more through 2019.
Scam ID alerts T-Mobile customers when an incoming call is likely a robocall, telemarketer, spoofed call or scam. It requires no separate downloadable application, and you don't have to opt in or out. It works at T-Mobile's network level, and it works on all T-Mobile phones.
Scam Block is a free optional service that allows T-Mobile customers to stop spam calls before they reach your phone. You can toggle it off or on. To activate it, log onto your T-Mobile account or dial #662# from your T-Mobile phone. If you have T-Mobile's Magenta Plus plan, you can activate the Scam Block feature by opening the Name ID app.
Name ID is a premium call screening feature for T-Mobile’s customers. It's included in all Magenta Plus (formerly One Plus) plans, and it can be added for $4 to other plans. Name ID goes a step beyond the free Scam ID and Scam Block, by identifying phone numbers and sending selected categories of calls directly to voicemail.
AT&T's Call Protect and Call Protect Plus
AT&T hasn't yet responded to our request for comment on the FCC story and our question about who will pay to block unwanted calls. As soon as they do, we will update this story.
AT&T's Call Protect is free and, as you can easily guess, the Call Protect Plus is offered at a premium.
Call Protect detects, identifies and blocks numbers that are likely spammers. It lets you build a personal block list.
Call Protect Plus includes everything that Call Protect offers plus reverse phone lookup, enhanced caller ID and custom call controls that allow you to take action based on categories of calls. You can decide what types of calls you want to allow, block and send to voice mail.
Sprint's Premium Caller ID service screens calls
As of publication time, Sprint has not responded to the same request we sent to all four cellular phone carriers.
Sprint's Premium Caller ID service automatically screens robocallers for $2.99 per month. The service tells you the robocall category and fraud risk level (low, medium or high), which allows you to decide whether to accept or dump a call. You can also block a number and report it, which helps Sprint build a database of telemarketing calls that benefits all Sprint users.
Other ways to stop robocalls
All of these efforts to block robocalls are great, although we can't help but wonder what took so long. It's good that the big four cellular carriers are responding to what the FCC rolled out this spring and kudos to Apple and Android manufacturers who are also building in technology that lets you spot and block unwanted calls.
But we've said it before, and we'll say it again: None of these efforts will 100% get rid of unwanted calls.
Government shuts down 4 telemarketers
The FTC shuttered four separate telemarketing operations that they said were behind billions of illegal robocalls. Chances are, you received a call from at least one of them pitching auto warranties, debt relief, home security and fake charities.