[SHAKEN OR STIRRED?] Blocking Phone Scams and Robocalls
The FCC estimates that 2.4 BILLION robocalls are placed every month. But two new telephony standards could put a big dent in the number of annoying and scammy robocalls that ring your phone, while allowing legit robocalls to reach you. T-mobile has already implemented these standards on its network, leaving AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon scrambling to catch up. Here is what you need to know about the fight against robocallers...
A New Tool in the War on Robocallers
Robocalling scammers often fake their outbound phone number that shows up on your phone, a trick known as “spoofing.” Instead of a strange number you could see your bank’s number, or an area code and prefix that’s the same as yours. Generally, people are more likely to answer familiar numbers, and a fake number helps cover a crook’s tracks. Spoofing also makes it impossible to block a caller, who can simply switch to a different fake number. The good news here is that new telephony standards neutralize spoofing.
The new standards are STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs). Using digital certificates based on public key encryption techniques, STIR/SHAKEN enable carriers to verify that a calling phone number has not been spoofed. A “Caller Verified” tag will appear on the call recipient’s screen. If a phone number fails the STIR/SHAKEN test, a warning such as “Scam Likely” may appear instead.
Right now, T-mobile can only verify calling numbers that are on its own network. When other carriers implement STIR/SHAKEN, a T-mobile customer will be able to know that a Verizon phone number is legit (or AT&T, Sprint, etc.).
Customers will be able to block calls that are not verified by STIR/SHAKEN. But they may not want to be that picky. There will be times when a carrier can only partially verify a number; for instance, if the call originates from inside a corporate PBX phone system.
When STIR/SHAKEN is implemented by all major carriers, the only phone numbers that cannot be verified at all will be spoofed scam calls, in all likelihood. It will be safe to block this entire category.
Unfortunately we’re still years from eradicating spoofed phone numbers, and we will never be free from scam callers entirely. In the meantime, there are other weapons you can use to fight robocalls and scams.
Four Carriers, Similar Plans
T-mobile introduced its free Scam ID and Scam Block protection in March, 2017. It relies on a proprietary database of phone numbers T-mobile believes are used by scammers. The database is constantly updated as T-mobile analyzes each call that enters its network, looking for calling patterns that suggest sketchy activity. Scam ID alerts a customer that an incoming call may be a scam; enabling Scam Block to automatically block calls from suspected scammers’ numbers.
Since November, 2018, T-mobile offers Name ID, a blocking and enhanced Caller-ID service that requires an app. Name ID lets you block and unblock individual callers from your call log. It can identify incoming “unknown” callers who don’t send their caller-ID data by matching calls to a database of over 600 million companies and individuals. Individuals or categories of callers in that database can be blocked – i. e., telemarketers, political organizations, survey companies, etc. The T-mobile ONE Plus plan includes Name ID; other postpaid customers can add Name ID for $4 per month.
The AT&T Mobile Security & Call Protect app looks an awful lot like T-mobile’s program, and also carries a $4 fee for “Plus” service. One plus is that it comes with AT&T Mobile Security, to help protect your phone from mobile malware, viruses and system threats. Like T-Mobile's offering, you can choose entire categories (Telemarketer, Political Calls, etc.) of callers to allow, send to voicemail or automatically block. One unique feature is Reverse Number Lookup, which allows users to enter a U.S. number to get caller details.
Sprint has charged $2.99 per month for Premium Caller ID since December, 2016. As far as I can tell, it does not differ from the T-mobile or AT&T offerings significantly. It's a shame that these three mobile carriers are charging a fee to solve a problem that their customers should not have to deal with.
Verizon’s Call Filter app seems very similar as well, with one important exception. Currently $2.99/month, Call Filter will become free in March, 2019. Verizon says that its system correctly identifies potentially bogus calls approximately 93 percent of the time, and has amassed a database of 300 million spam and robocall numbers. "This service identifies spam callers and unknown numbers by name and shows an innovative risk meter that displays the level of spam risk associated with a call," a Verizon rep said.
Third-Party Mobile Robocall Blocking Options
You don't have to use a call blocking app provided by your mobile carrier. There are several popular apps for Android and iPhone users.
TrueCaller is perhaps the most popular robocall-fighting app. It claims 250 million users worldwide, and that its apps include the world’s best Caller-ID. TrueCaller blocks robocallers and telemarketers; identifies unknown callers; and performs messaging functions too. Available for iPhone and Android, TrueCaller is ad-supported with in-app purchases that unlock premium features. I used TrueCaller for a while, but I was not happy that it constantly insisted on replacing my phone's calling and texting apps with it's own.
Hiya is a similar smartphone app that some AskBob readers have said works well for them. So I gave it a try. Hiya claims a database of 1.5 billion phone numbers, and it can block calls and text messages, or blacklist unwanted numbers. It's free, available on both Android and iPhone, and contains no ads. I was happy with Hiya because it let me use my own call and text apps, and it did a good job of identifying bogus numbers. But the app kept crashing. I tried reinstalling, but that didn't help, so I moved on.
The CIA Caller ID & Call Blocker got some good reviews, so I tried it next. Bottom line, I found that it did a pretty poor job of identifying callers; even local businesses were reported as "Private Number." It also had too many in-your-face ads popping up on the screen, and it was harder to add callers to the block list.
Nomorobo is one third party company that offers anti-spam services. The company, which won the FTC’s Robocall Challlenge, in which many companies competed to come up with the best anti-robocall technology. Nomorobo has crowd-sourced over 1.3 million phone numbers used by spammers, and adds new numbers identified as spammers by its customers.
The Nomorobo service is free for VoIP-based landlines. If you get phone service via your high-speed Internet bundle, you almost certainly have a VoIP line. Supported VoIP carriers include AT&T U-verse, Charter Spectrum, Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, Ooma, Optimum, TImeWarner Cable, and Vonage. For mobile phones, it costs $1.99 per month to protect your Android or iPhone with Nomorobo. Unfortunately, Nomorobo is not available on traditional copper-wire landlines, or on the Magic Jack device at this time.
Google Voice is the best solution I know of for good old-fashioned copper-wire landlines. When you forward your landline to a free Google Voice number, calls are automatically answered, voicemails are transcribed into text, then emailed to you. Of course, you can answer calls from numbers that you know are real people. Google Voice blocks many known phone spammers, but you can selectively silence or block calls from as many numbers as you like.
What's your solution to those pesky phone spam, scam and robo calls? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 25 Jan 2019
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- [SHAKEN OR STIRRED?] Blocking Phone Scams and Robocalls (Posted: 25 Jan 2019)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved