Here’s what you can do to combat spam calls that blow up your phone

RICHMOND, Va. -- Are you tired of getting spam call after spam call? You are not alone.

Nearly half the calls made to US cell phones in 2019 will be spam, according to a report by the Federal Communications Commission.

The good news is, the days could be numbered for those annoying spam calls that appear to originate from a phone number that has the same local area code and first three digits of your number.

The practice is called “spoofing.”

Last year, a CBS 6 Problem Solvers Investigation found the number of spam calls in Central Virginia continues to grow.

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 232, 818 complaints about violations of the "Do Not Call" list from Virginia residents, which ranks fourth nationally.  The number of complaints has spiked as of late. In fact, the number of complaints to the FTC more than doubled from 2015 to 2017.

This winter, the General Assembly passed legislation that will allow victims to report scam callers to law enforcement, who will then decide if there’s a need to track down the caller.

The legislation, which goes into effect on July 1, 2019, will make it a class 3 misdemeanor for those who are trying to intimidate, defraud or harass in Virginia.

Spoof calls are annoying at the least and scams at the worst, so experts said there are steps you should take if you receive one.

Whether it is a telemarketer, spammer, or robocall, there are steps you should take if you receive an unwanted call, according to the FTC:

  • Do not pick up the phone, and if you do, hang up immediately
  • Do not press any numbers if you are prompted
  • Contact your service provider about the unwanted call
  • Report the number to the FTC or the Virginia OAG's Consumer Protection Unit
  • Register with the Federal Do Not Call List

You can report spam or robocalls directly to the FTC: just click here.

Not all robocalls are fake or illegal: Pharmacies and utility companies, for example, use the technique to reach customers. You can ban telemarketers by registering with the federal “Do Not Call” list — but that won’t stop fake telemarketers or scammers, many of whom have ways to get around spam filters.

Some wireless providers and smartphone developers offer tools to filter out at least some unwanted calls.

Smartphones

Verizon’s Call Filter app is free to download on iPhones and Android devices. The company announced Thursday the app will offer some free features — including auto-blocking calls from known fraudsters, showing warning banners for suspicious calls, and a spam reporting tool.

For $2.99 a month per line, the Call Filter app can use a phonebook feature to look up the names of unknown callers, and it can show a “risk meter” for spam calls.

AT&T’s Call Protect has similar free features and add-ons with a $3.99 per month subscription. (iOS and Android)

T-Mobile phones come loaded with Scam ID, which warns customers about suspicious phone numbers. It’s also free to activate Scam Block, which automatically rejects calls from those numbers. An additional app called Name ID offers premium caller identification for $4 per line monthly. (iOS and Android)

Sprint’s Premium Caller ID, which comes pre-installed, looks up unknown numbers and filters and blocks robocalls for $2.99 per line.

Google’s Pixel phones also give you the option to have your voice assistant answer suspicious calls for you. The phone can transcribe the conversation and lets you decide whether to answer.

Home phone features

There’s not much to be done for pre-1990s landlines, according to experts. But options do exist for most modern digital phone systems, which are offered by internet service providers.

Home phone customers with Comcast’s Xfinity, Verizon Fios, AT&T U-Verse and others can sign up for a free service called Nomorobo. It’s a cloud-based platform that automatically screens for suspected robocallers and telemarketers.

Nomorobo was one of two winners in a 2013 competition, put on by the US government, to develop anti-spam technology.

The company has also rolled out a smartphone app that says it can automatically block scammers, telemarketers and spam texts. The company says the iOS app can also block incoming calls from fake numbers that look very similar to your own, thwarting a technique “neighbor spoofing,” a common tactic among pesky robocallers. Subscriptions cost $1.99 per month. (iOS and Android)

The CNN Wire contributed to this article. 

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