Verizon to offer free robocall blocking

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A broken iPhone. File photo. | Flickr/whatleydude (Creative Commons)

Verizon is set to unveil new tools in the heightened offensive against robocalls.

The nation’s largest wireless provider is expected to provide free spam alerting and robocall blocking tools for wireless customers who have smartphones that can support the features, including Android and iPhones.

Verizon announced the features two months ago and said it had identified nearly 300 million numbers linked to spam and robocalling. The provider is expected to have more information about how to get and use the app by the end of this week, Forbes reported.

“That is our intention,” Richard Young, director of corporate communications at Verizon, told USA TODAY in an email. “We could have a formal announcement by the end of the week.”

Last week, AT&T and Comcast said they can authenticate calls made between AT&T’s Phone digital home phone service and Comcast’s Xfinity Voice home phone service. The authentication method uses a “digital signature” to identify legitimate calls and filter out spoofed calls that may appear to come from familiar businesses, friends or other local callers.

Both AT&T and Comcast said they will roll out the system to home phone users later this year at no extra charge and AT&T said it will also bring the feature to mobile users this year.

Verizon and other major wireless and traditional home voice providers – Sprint, Charter, Cox and Vonage among them – have pledged support for the verification system, with several planning to roll out or test the feature this year.

T-Mobile currently offers the Caller Verified feature on six devices – Samsung Galaxy Note9, Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+, Samsung Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ – with two more to come. T-Mobile has offered free Scam ID and Scam Block features since 2017.

Verizon currently has a $2.99 monthly Caller Name ID app to warn you about incoming calls that may be spam.

The Federal Communications Commission has said if carriers fail to implement the system by year’s end, it will consider regulatory action. Earlier this month, John Oliver, host of the weekly show “Last Week Tonight” on HBO – acquired by AT&T in its $85 billion deal for Time Warner – criticized the FCC for not requiring companies to adopt the technology. More than 6 million have watched the segment on YouTube, in which Oliver activated his own robocalling system targeting the commission.

Not all robocalls are illegal. Charities and political campaigns can use them, for example.

There’s been a move to reduce some other exemptions. Last month, Senators Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, along with Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, introduced the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls (HANGUP) Act, which ends a provision exempting government contractors and some debt collectors from robocalls and robotexts.

Despite the attention robocalls attract, the calls remain a major problem. About 4.9 billion robocalls were received nationally in February, according to YouMail, a company that provides a service to block such messages.

That’s down from an all-time high of 5.2 billion robocalls in January, YouMail says. But February is a short month and that still amounts to a record 2,024 robocalls for every second of the month.

Consumers are increasingly receiving spoofed calls that appear to come from legitimate customer care numbers. More than two-thirds of the calls from legitimate toll-free numbers are identified as nuisance or high-risk.

And it’s not just an inconvenience: Scams make up at least 46 percent of all robocalls, YouMail says.

The top scam involves health insurance, which falsely promises affordable health insurance to unknowing consumers who are willing to give up their personal or financial data.

“The robocall problem shows no signs of letting up, as there continue to be more and more robocalls every day,” said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici in a statement. “This is despite regulators, carriers, and others all working hard to try to make a dent in the problem.”


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