If there’s one thing people with iPhones and Android phones can agree on, it’s this: Robocalls suck.
Personally, robots call me more than my own mother. A very concerned “Cynthia Arnold” gets in touch about every week “regarding your federal student loan,” claiming she needs to “discuss repayment options with some new changes that have come into effect.” (I have no federal student loans.) And then there’s “Rich,” an arrogant gentleman who says he’s calling me back about “the information we talked about, about bringing in $10,000 or more every 10 to 14 days.” I wonder if I should introduce him to that poor Nigerian prince in my inbox.
Despite me blocking them every time they call, Cynthia, Rich, and other pre-recorded vermin continue to contact me from new numbers, sometimes using local area codes to persuade me to pick up the phone. (The Better Business Bureau calls this tactic “neighbor spoofing.”(opens in a new tab).”) They used to be more annoying than anything else, but they seem to be getting more and more aggressive over time.
Why You Need an Unlisted Phone Number (and How to Get One)
Unwanted robocalls like this are annoying autodialers at best and illegal scams at worst, and they’re part of an ongoing problem that the Federal Communications Commission has been trying to address for years. A report(opens in a new tab) conducted by the visual voicemail and robocall-blocking software company YouMail estimates that about 50.5 billion robocalls will have been placed with U.S. consumers by 2021, which amounted to about 200 robocalls for every adult with a phone throughout the year.
That’s down from a pre-pandemic peak of 58 billion robocalls placed in 2019 thanks to recent FCC enforcement action, but still enough to make them the largest source of consumer complaints and No. 1 for consumer protection, according to the latest Call Blocking Report(opens in a new tab).
But finally, according to Cecily Maurana technical reporter at Mashable, the FCC is cracking down on robotexts, making its first rules against spam messages that have plagued us for years, adding that if providers don’t crack down on robocallers, they can be turned off of the US telephone networks.
You may think you’re smart enough to know if someone trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty is a scammer. But as robocalls have increased in frequency in recent years, they’ve also become more persuasive. (The FCC says(opens in a new tab) auto warranty robocalls will often include specific details about your vehicle and policy, making them appear more legit, for example.) Nearly one in three Americans fell prey to phone scams last year, and about one in five were scammed multiple times, according to a study(opens in a new tab) performed by the robocall-blocking app Truecaller(opens in a new tab). The same study estimated an average loss of $502 per victim, up from $351 the year before.
What is the best way to stop robocalls and robotexts?
In October 2021 FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel suggested(opens in a new tab) new rules that would force cell carriers to block illegal automated text messages or robot texts, one of the “latest scamming trends” the agency has on its radar. Since then the FCC adopted new rules(opens in a new tab) to prevent calls from abroad from entering US telephone networks, and has taken decisive action(opens in a new tab) against robocall scam campaigns targeting homeowners. In addition, they have required phone companies to implement caller ID authentication(opens in a new tab)and even developed call blocking tools and resources(opens in a new tab).
But federal efforts alone won’t be the answer to all our robocall woes. “Advances in technology have unfortunately made it possible to make illegal and spoofed robocalls anywhere in the world more cheaply and more easily than ever before,” the FCC admits.(opens in a new tab). “That’s why it’s become a bigger problem for consumers and a harder problem to solve.” The constant rule-busting by bad actors has created an unending game of whack-a-mole.
A reminder from the Jan. 6 survey: Deleting a text doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.
There’s also the problem that many of the robocalls you get are actually legal and perhaps even wanted – think appointment reminders and emergency alerts. (The legality of a robocall depends on several factors, including the technology used, whether it’s going to a landline or mobile number, and whether it’s from a telemarketer who has obtained your permission.) Remove illegal calls in real time without legal calls is the “most complex part” of the agency’s robocall smackdown, it says.
So where does that leave the consumer? Along with ignoring calls from unknown or unknown numbers (and then blocking them) and listing your phone number in the National Do Not Call Registry(opens in a new tab)does the FCC endorse the use of robocall blocking technology.
Many major phone companies offer unwanted call handling apps (e.g. AT&T’s ActiveArmor(opens in a new tab)Verizon’s call filter(opens in a new tab)and T-Mobile’s Scam Shield(opens in a new tab)), so check with yours to see what’s available. Phone manufacturers like Apple and Google offer opt-in silencing services that also prevent calls from unknown numbers from ringing. But if you think those tools aren’t powerful enough, most don’t actually stop robocalls; they just identify their sources or send them straight to voicemail – you also have the option of downloading a robocall blocking app built specifically to stop scammers.
What is the best app for blocking robocalls?
First, some important fine print about these third-party solutions. The pros: The upfront cost for your average call blocking app isn’t exorbitant, and most don’t require much storage space on your phone. Often you can’t even see that the app is there. (Some of them are capable of screening and blocking unwanted calls before a user’s phone even rings.)
But as former Mashable technology reporter Ray Wong reported, that convenience comes at a cost:
According to TechCrunch(opens in a new tab) and Dan Hastings, a security researcher at NCC Group, many top robocall blocking apps share your phone number with analytics companies and [upload] device information such as device type and software version to companies such as Facebook without your express consent.”
To further quote Wong, “Yikes!”
Not every robocall-blocking app is an offender, mind you. But even if whoever you use isn’t sharing or selling your under-the-table data, they’re probably still collecting it. (Many apps rely on a crowdsourced database of numbers to match anonymous callers against already identified culprits, and those numbers have to come from somewhere, namely users’ contact lists.) So it’s safe to assume that when you’re a blocker app from a third party, you put personal information such as your name, your IP address and/or the name, model and operating system of your smartphone up for grabs.
Here are seven robocall blocking apps and tools that we recommend based on their features and user ratings.