Editor’s note: We first ran this story on robocalls back in March 2017,but have updated it because Nomorobo, which can block such calls, is now available for Android phones, as it previously was for iPhones and many landlines.
Who doesn’t want to stop robocalls, those annoying, computer-generated calls that plague anyone with a landline and are now ringing mobile phones directly? Most of the more than 2-billion calls placed monthly are scams, pretending to be the IRS, or Microsoft, or your credit card company. It’s possible a few may even be selling a real product or service, but do you really want to be called while having dinner or watching TV? Of course not. The Do Not Call List? They ignore it. Older Americans? They target us.
But you can get a free service called Nomorobo for many landlines, and now there are inexpensive Nomorobo apps for Android & iPhone which can stop just about all such calls.
Robocalls are the number one complaint to the Federal Communications Commission, and for years the phone companies said FCC rules prevent them from blocking spam calls. But the FCC changed those rules in 2016, and when then-chair Tom Wheeler demanded action, the carriers & big tech companies formed a Robocall Strike Force which eventually made recommendations to the FCC to help stop such calls. Those recommendations were finally adopted in November 2017 after a public comment period.
The phone carriers are now allowed to block “spoofed” calls – that is – calls showing a number in Caller ID that the carrier knows is not really the originating number, or calls that the subscriber with that spoofed number wants to be blocked, or calls from numbers that do not dial out. Verizon recently told landline subscribers it will add “SPAM?” to the CallerID of suspected spoofed calls.
All that should help prevent some robocalls, but right now you can use Nomorobo, a service Long Island entrepreneur Aaron Foss came up with in response to a 2013 Federal Trade Commission contest on how to stop robocalls. He tied for first, won $25,000, and used it to build his cloud-based system that essentially hangs up on robocalls.
(Full disclosure: I’ve been a user of Nomorobo since it was first made available for landlines several years ago and am an enthusiastic advocate of it to friends & family.)
Before I get into how the free landline system works, you should know that Nomorobo is now available for both Android (see screenshot) and iPhone. The apps have a blacklist of known robocall numbers and can let you know when a call is likely spam, or just send a suspicious call to voicemail.
While Foss’s company keeps a blacklist of hundreds of thousands of such numbers, sent in by subscribers or caught on “honeypot” phones, it updates about 30,000 of the latest spam callers to its phone apps every night and hourly adds fresh numbers, so the apps can identify and can stop robocalls.
“The entire blacklist takes up roughly 100K (of memory),” Foss says, “a photo that you take is 100 times bigger than that.”
Even the app, Foss says, is only about 10 MB, “I think the new Facebook app comes in at 300-400 megs.”
There is, unfortunately, a catch to using Nomorobo to stop robocalls on your home phone, in that you must have VoIP – Voice over IP – service from your carrier, something often packaged with a cable TV subscription service, such as from Verizon FiOS, Comcast Xfinity, or AT&T U-verse, or by independent VoIP carriers such as Vonage or 1-VoIP. You need VoIP because it usually allows “simultaneous ring” – ringing an incoming call on your home phone and at Nomorobo at the same time. Foss says his system sees the incoming number, and if it meets a “high-frequency calling pattern” indicating a spam call, Nomorobo answers on the first ring and hangs up.
All you have to do is learn to wait for a second ring, which means the call is very likely legit. For me, Nomorobo blocks several calls a day to two landlines at home – one the “home” phone and the other for my “business” calls, robocalls that can come in from morning to night, seven days a week. I’ve never had Nomorobo wrongly block a real call, but if it does, a human caller can press a button to allow the call through.
Aaron Foss says scammers place “millions of calls a day with a very small response rate, but they’re stealing millions of dollars from American consumers.”
If you have the right kind of phone line, this free service – yes, free for landlines as Foss has figured out how to monetize his robocall data other ways – this free service really works.
“Nomorobo, when I started it,” Foss says, “everybody said you can’t keep up with all the spoofed calls, it wasn’t going to work, it’s going to block calls that you did want to get; I’ve just been proving that it does work.”