In the ongoing battle against robocalls, mobile phone carriers are trying to strengthen changes to their devices to help consumers stop the assaults. Usually to no avail. A crucial step in this process was a decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that now allows mobile carriers to block robocalls without having to first get permission from users.
Changes range from placing blocking defaults on phones to services that allow users to separate the calls they need from the nuisances. Some carriers are also dipping their toes into the protocol nicknamed SHAKEN/STIR that can verify the legitimacy of a number through a digital signature.
Here we look at what tools the major wireless carriers, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T, are using to fight robocalls. We'll also tell you if some of these blocking changes will add to your phone bill.
T-Mobile first to block robocalls
T-Mobile began giving customers free Scam ID and Scam Block protection in 2017. For quite a while T-Mobile stood out as being the only company to offer these services.
Here's how the two programs work:
- Scam ID: Customers are automatically alerted when an incoming call is likely a scam. No app required and no need to opt-in or turn it on as it operates at the network level and works through a T-Mobile phone with Caller ID.
- Scam Block: When enabled, T-Mobile will stop scam calls before they ever reach your phone. Customers can turn it on by dialing #662# in their MyTMobile account or in the Name ID app.
T-Mobile spokesperson Katie Recken told Komando.com that in the two years it has been offering these services, the carrier has alerted customers to more than 15 billion Scam Likely Calls.
Understanding that not all robocalls are scams, T-Mobile offers the premium Name ID app. Name ID is included in Magenta Plus and T-Mobile ONE Plus plans and is available to other customers for $4 a month per line through the App Store or Google Play.
With Name ID, consumers can choose categories of nuisance robocalls to send directly to voicemail. You can also build an Always Allow list, conduct Reverse Number Lookup on calls and see a complete list of calls that Scam Block has stopped.
T-Mobile was also the first to start using SHAKEN/STIR. In January, the company announced that the Caller Verify protocol worked on its own network.
In April, T-Mobile launched Caller Verify across networks, working with Comcast Xfinity Voice.
Verizon develops a robocall risk meter
More than a year ago, Verizon added Call and Spam Screening at no additional charge to customers who subscribe to its Call Filter service (formerly Caller Name ID) and download the app. The Spam Screening feature includes a Risk Meter.
Through the Risk Meter, customers can get alerts when a call likely is spam, report unsolicited numbers and automatically block robocalls based on their preferred level of risk. Certain features vary based on the type of phone a customer is using.
Customers who want enhanced call protection can subscribe to Verizon’s Call Filter’s full feature set for $2.99 a month, per line. The enhanced product includes all of the features found in the free version, plus the ability to identify unknown callers by name.
Users also get more control over calls and have the ability to create a personal robocall block list, access additional insights with the robocall Risk Meter and use a spam number lookup feature.
The app is available for iPhones at the App Store. There is no app for Android phones as most already come preloaded with the Call Filter app and a 10-day trial of the paid service with each device purchase.
If you're a Verizon customer, you really are going to want to at least get the basic Call and Spam Screening service. A Komando.com staffer and Verizon customer had not activated the free service and spent a few hours one-day fielding some robocalls from the "Social Security Administration."
The company has deployed the SHAKEN/STIR Call Verify protocol on its network. It is now working on interconnecting the protocol with all of the nation's major mobile carriers.
"We fully understand that this is a persistent problem that impacts millions of Americans," Verizon spokesperson Heidi Flato told Komando.com. "We are committed to working with the industry, the government and others on ways to stop robocalls.
"This is something that our customers demand and deserve, and Verizon is committed to stopping the bad actors from continually disturbing our customers."
Sprint expands robocall blocking
Three years ago, Sprint announced that it would begin offering Premium Caller ID for $2.99 a month per line. At the time, the service only was available in the HTC Bolt.
Today, the service is available on more phones. Premium Caller ID displays the names of callers, even if they aren’t in your address book. It also automatically screens unwanted robocalls on select devices.
Premium Caller ID is integrated with many Sprint phones. It is accessed by subscribing through your online account.
Sprint reportedly will begin testing SHAKEN/STIR later this year. The company did not respond to Komando.com's request for more information.
AT&T provides protection against spammers
AT&T is trying to do its part to control robocalls. The company offers customers free Call Protect.
The service includes:
- Automatic Fraud Blocking: Detects and blocks calls from likely fraudsters
- Heads up on Suspected Spam: Warns you of telemarketers and other suspected spam calls so you can decide whether to answer, ignore or block
- Personal Block List: Allows you to add unwanted callers to your own block list
- Report Spam Calls: Helps identify suspected spam and likely fraud calls. Your reports help us to continually improve our service for everyone
For $3.99 a month, AT&T customers can get Call Protect Plus. Along with Automatic Fraud Blocking and Personal Block List, the service offers:
- Spam Risk Alerts that identify telemarketers and other suspected spam calls.
- Enhanced Caller ID identifies unknown caller details.
- Reverse Number Lookup provides details when you enter a U.S. number.
- Custom Call Controls lets you choose call categories to accept, block or send to voicemail.
As for the SHAKEN/STIR protocol, AT&T and Comcast notched a big win in March. The companies announced they had successfully authenticated calls made between their two networks. Not only that, but both companies will be ready to roll out the service at some point later this year. The best part? It'll be free for their customers.
AT&T did respond to Komando.com's request for more information.
Even with all of these attempts to stop robocallers and scams, it's a losing battle. Criminals are really smart and tech-savvy and will always find new ways to outsmart the system.
It's up to us to stay vigilant to protect ourselves. The best thing you can do is not answer phone calls from numbers that you don't recognize. If the call is important they will leave a message. Even this tactic doesn't work all the time now the way crooks are able to spoof numbers.
US government shuts down 4 more major robocall operations
In what's dubbed Operation Call it Quits, the FTC has joined forces once again with federal, state and local law enforcement to shut down operations that make scam robocalls. This latest shutdown is in addition to the four telemarketers the FTC shut down in March.