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’s an inexpensive Nomorobo iPhone app, both of which stop just about all such calls.
Robocalls are the number one complaint to the Federal Communications Commission, and for years the phone companies have said FCC rules prevent them from blocking spam calls. But the FCC changed those rules last year, and the commission has now voted (March 23, 2017) to seek public comment on additional proposed rules to allow phone carriers 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.
All that may prevent some robocalls if & when they go into effect, so right now you should use Nomorobo, a service Long Island entrepreneur Aaron Foss came up with in response to a 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 made available for landlines more than three years ago and am an enthusiastic advocate of it to friends & family.)
Before I get into how his free landline system works, you should know that Nomorobo is now available for iPhone (and in a few months for Android). Foss says until recently, Apple didn’t allow such an app, because of their concern for users’ security & privacy. But now they will allow an app that uses a blacklist of known robocall numbers, and that’s what Nomorobo’s iOS app does.
While Foss’s company keeps a blacklist of hundreds of thousands of such numbers, sent in by subscribers or caught on “honeypot” phones, it only uploads & hourly updates the latest scam callers to its iPhone app, which 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 megs, “I think the new Facebook app comes in at 300-400 megs.”
The iPhone app is $2 a month, or $20 a year, starts with a 30-day free trial and is available on Apple’s App Store.
Foss says a similar app for Android is coming and the delay is not privacy concerns, but that “Android is a little tougher because there are so many different versions of the phones; with Apple, they keep a tight control over that.” He expects the Android app out by summer, along with enhancements to the existing Nomorobo landline service.
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.”
Listen to a few minutes of my interview with Aaron Foss, here: