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How to stop robocalls: Best practices and apps that stop that annoying ringing – CNET


AT&T’s Call Protect stops unwanted calls. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Robocalls are about to meet their match. These are the rampant, inconvenient, and sometimes scammy phone calls that convey a prerecorded message and often urge you to do something. For example, roping you into a free trip to the Bahamas that you never applied for, or a call tricking you to give up information to “the IRS”. There were over 58 billion robocalls in 2019 alone, according to YouMail. Now, the US government and leading tech companies are attacking the practice, and there are measures you can take right now.

From the executive side, President Trump recently signed the Traced Act into law, a bipartisan piece of legislation that gives government agencies and law enforcement more power to dismantle robocalls by targeting the perpetrators. 

Specifically, the Traced Act extends the statute of limitations for law enforcement to go after bad actors, increases penalties, and requires phone companies to authenticate calls and determine if the phone number that is calling you is real. For its part, the FCC previously passed a proposal that gives carriers the permission to more aggressively block spam calls. 

On the ground, wireless carrier networks are using SHAKEN/STIR technology to identify and block spam calls, not only on their own respective networks, but between phone providers as well. Apple even added a feature to iOS 13 that lets you thwart all unknown callers from ever ringing your phone. And Google announced that its Call Screen feature will soon begin routing suspected spam calls to Google Assistant before your phone even rings.

It’ll be some time before the FCC’s proposal is implemented, and it’ll take time for the Traced Act to be put into effect across all agencies and phone providers, so don’t expect to see a dramatic decrease in unwanted calls overnight. 

Keep in mind, too, that not every automated solicitation call counts as illegal. Calls from political campaigns, debt collectors and charities are all permissible. What’s not allowed are the calls from the fake IRS agents or the companies that claim you won a free vacation that you never signed up for.

While it’s not possible to entirely end robocalls from reaching your phone, there are some steps you can take to reduce the number of calls you receive.

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Best practices to keep annoying robocalls at bay

According to the FCC, there are some easy steps you can take to help reduce robocalls:

  • Don’t answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers.
  • Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Just because an incoming call appears to be from a local number, doesn’t mean it is. 
  • Don’t respond to any questions that can be answered with a “Yes.”
  • If someone calls you and claims to be with XYZ company, hang up and call the company yourself. Use the company’s website to find an official number.
  • If you do answer a call and hear a recording such as “Hello, can you hear me?” just hang up.
  • The same goes for a call where you’re asked to press a number before being connected to a representative.

When you answer a call and interact with the voice prompt or by pressing a number, it lets the spammer know your number is real. They can then sell your number to another company, or begin targeting your number more frequently.



Apple promises to soon lock robocalls out of your iPhone.

Josh Miller/CNET

When it first launched, Google’s Call Screen feature arguably went against the FCC’s advice by answering and interacting with the robocall on your behalf. However, Google added new features to Call Screen for its Pixel phone lineup. The new features include the ability to detect robo- and spam calls, then stop them from ever reaching your phone. Google Assistant will interact with the caller, and if it ends up the call is legitimate, it will route the call to your phone along with information about the caller.

Apple’s iOS 13 added plenty of new features, including Silence Unknown Callers, which adds the option to route calls from unknown numbers straight to voicemail. With the feature turned on, Siri will allow calls from numbers found in Contacts, Mail, and Messages to go through. Anything else will go to voicemail, and assuming the caller is legit, they can leave a message. And that’s the rub — we often receive important calls from numbers we don’t store on our phones, and ultimately, you could miss important calls. But if all else fails and you’re desperate to stop robocalls, this is a valid option. 

If you find yourself receiving a lot of spam text messages, you can forward the message to the number 7726 (spells SPAM). It won’t block the number from texting you right away, but it will allow your carrier to look into where it came from and put an end to it.

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

Call screening is part of the Pixel 3.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Check with your provider

All four major wireless carriers offer some sort of call blocking feature to customers. Some are free, while others charge for something that should be free. 

  • AT&T’s Call Protect app is available for iOS and Android. The free version blocks calls from “likely fraudsters” and labels telemarketing calls. You can add numbers to a block list in the app, as well. The paid version provides caller ID for unknown numbers and offers mobile security features that are unrelated to robocalls. The premium version of Call Protect costs $3.99 per month.
  • Verizon’s Call Filter app is automatically enabled for Android users on a postpaid plan. The service offers spam detection, a spam filter, and the option to report numbers for free. You can pay $2.99 a month (or $7.99 a month for three or more lines of service) for caller ID, spam lookup, and a personal block and spam list. Call Filter is built into most Android devices out of the box (which you’ve probably been prompted about) but is also available in the App Store for iOS users.
  • T-Mobile’s Scam ID is free to all customers and includes Scam Block. The ID portion of the service will alert you that an incoming call is likely spam, while Scam Block will block the call from ever reaching your phone. You need to activate the Block feature, either through the Scam Block app or by dialing #662# from your phone. You can pay $4 for Name ID to see the names of incoming callers.
  • Sprint’s Call Screener Basic recently launched, with the company finally offering a free solution for its subscribers.  The free version will display “Spam Caller” for potential incoming spam calls, and will also block “highest-risk” spam calls, and provide business caller ID. The Premium version costs $3 a month and adds more labels for robocalls, caller ID for incoming calls, display’s name for text messages on Android, and a few more options you can read about here

Check with your wireless provider to see if they offer a similar service.

Use a third-party app

If your provider doesn’t offer an app or service to cut back on robocalls, or it’s just too expensive, there are plenty of third-party apps available. You want to find an app that works on your device, offers automatic call blocking and spam alerts for suspicious calls and can easily report a number if a call slips through.

Hiya is a free app I have used on Android and iOS for some time now with success. It’s the same company that powers AT&T’s Call Protect app, as well as Samsung’s built-in call block and spam protection service. Samsung Galaxy users can enable the built-in service in the Phone app under Settings > Caller ID and Spam Protection. Setup is painless, and it offers an easy way to report a number.

Nomorobo is the service that Verizon uses for its Fios users, but it also has a phone app. The service is free for VoIP users and costs $2 per month for mobile users. Additional services that offer similar capabilities include YouMail and RoboKiller.



Hiya offers robust call screening. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

The Firewall app is only available on the iPhone ( $870 at Walmart ) and does a fantastic job of keeping calls from your phone. In the event you need to make a call that you’d rather not use your real phone number for, the $4 a month subscription provides unlimited single-use fake phone numbers. 

Another option is to sign up for a free Google Voice phone number. Instead of giving out your real number for random services, you could then use your Google Voice number — and once the robocalls start coming in, use the block feature. Just know that blocking calls may end up being a lot of work, as robocallers are constantly spoofing different phone numbers.

None of the above solutions are perfect, and likely won’t be until carriers integrate the technology required check for caller ID spoofing, so right now you have to do some extra work to keep the number of robocalls you receive to a minimum. Between being proactive with unknown calls to your number, and using a service (paid or free), you can reduce the number of unwanted calls and spam you receive on your phone.

Carriers have started using SHAKEN/STIR technology to verify callers, which should cut down on the number of robocalls we all receive. For those with an iPhone, iOS 13’s new feature to block unknown callers will also help, at the potential cost of sending calls from doctors’ offices and the like to voicemail. And for those with a Pixel phone, Google’s Call Screen feature will surely help, if not entertain you.



Hiya powers a lot of the robocall apps. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

This article was originally published in 2018 and is periodically updated.

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