Bamboozled January 4, 2018: What’s your carrier doing about robocalls?

Robocalls and spoofs — when a caller impersonates someone else to bait you to answer a call — are a pox on consumers.

These calls are annoying at best. At worst, they can lead to tricks that allow con artists to steal your money.

Callers will masquerade as just about anyone: the IRS, a family member in need, law enforcement, your credit card company, reps from your computer’s operating system, and more.

The Federal Communication Commission said robocalls are the top complaint at the agency, and consumer groups estimate we receive some 2.4 billion robocalls a month.

We’ve written about efforts to stop these calls, but scammers are creative and persistent. They always seem to find a way.

What are your landline and cell phone providers doing to help?

More on that in a moment.

First, let’s review a new move by the Federal Communications Commission that’s supposed to help protect consumers.

Late last year, the agency approved new rules that allow phone companies to proactively block suspected robocalls because they come from certain types of phone numbers.

“Voice service providers will be allowed to block calls purporting to be from a phone number placed on a ‘do not originate’ list by the number’s subscriber,” the FCC said.

“Do not originate” numbers are ones used by some government agencies and companies to receive calls, but calls are never made from those numbers. They’re the phone numbers scammers often use to make it look like a call is coming from an authentic caller, such as the IRS’ toll free numbers.

The new rules will allow carriers to block these calls so they never reach the intended victims.

Carriers will also be allowed to block calls coming from invalid numbers, such as those with area codes that don’t exist, and from numbers that have not been assigned to a provider, the FCC said.

Consumer advocates call the move a positive development, but they say robocalls will continue.

“These rules only pertain to a very small percentage of unwanted calls,” said Maureen Mahoney of Consumers Union. “We urge the phone companies to expand access to free, optional, advanced call-blocking tools so that all of their customers can protect themselves from unwanted robocalls.”

So we checked in with providers to see what tools they offer to consumers.

Verizon said landline customers can login to their account or use the My Fios app to enter individual numbers they want to block at no additional charge, and there’s no limit on how many numbers users can block.

A spokesman said the company is “almost done trialing a new spam alert feature that will alert all landline customers with Caller ID of some potentially malicious calls.”

For $2.99 per month, “Caller Name ID” will give Verizon Wireless customers alerts on incoming spam calls that users can then block.

You’re limited to five blocks that expire after 90 days, or you can pay a $5 per month fee to block 20 numbers permanently.

AT&T said it offers “Call Protect,” which alerts users if a call is suspected spam. It’s free for both landline and wireless customers, and up to 100 unwanted numbers can be blocked.

T-Mobile said it offers “Scam ID,” which automatically alerts customers when an incoming call is likely a scam. Another service, “Scam Block,” stops scam calls before they reach customers. Both services are free.

Sprint said it offers an unlimited amount of numbers that can be blocked manually. If you want to pay for additional protection, the company offers “Premium Caller ID.” If you have an HTC Bolt (and the service is supposed to expand to other devices), for $2.99 a month, your phone will display a suspected robocallers’ category and fraud risk level and your screen will say if an incoming call is from robocallers, spammers or Caller ID spoofers. Then you can block the number.

These services will help, but you need to be on the lookout, too.

Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Once a caller – or a machine – knows your number is authentic, it will keep trying. Simply let the call go to voice mail, and if it’s legit, the caller will leave a message.

If you answer a call and there’s a long pause before someone responds, it’s safe to assume it’s an automated call that’s being transferred to a real person. When scammers make these calls, they’re not one at a time, but hundreds at a time. That pause should be a signal for you to hang up.

If a recorded voice tells you to press a key on your keypad to be transferred to someone, don’t press. That’s another signal to the caller that your number is real and there’s a potential victim on the other line.

Even though scammers won’t respect the Do Not Call Registry, sign up anyway.

And finally, check out Nomorobo.com, a service we learned about from a Bamboozled reader several years ago.

The service, free for landlines and $1.99 per month for cell phones, blocks robocalls from many — but not all — carriers. When you receive a call, your phone will ring once. If it’s a robocall, Nomorobo intercepts the call and hangs up for you. Non-robocalls — and the calls you want, such as those from your pharmacy or your child’s school — can still get through.

And if you’d like to join the nearly 750,000 people who have signed on to Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign, click here.

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