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Police: Don’t use *77 to block robocalls on cellphone — you may reach 911

Blocking robocalls on your cell phone using incorrect shortcuts can result in calls to 911 or State Police. | Sun Times File Photo

Blocking robocalls on your cell phone using incorrect shortcuts can result in calls to 911 or State Police. | Sun Times File Photo

Do not call *77. That’s the all-caps message the Massachusetts State 911 Department wants to get out quickly to cellphone users in the state.

“*77 is a vestige of a much earlier version of a way to connect to state police in MA.,” wrote Felix Browne, the communication director for Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, in an email to USA TODAY. “Some carriers now block it and it is not the right number to use for emergencies.”

This comes after a recent column from USA Today contributor Kim Komando highlighted effective ways to block those irritating spammy robocalls.

Unfortunately, that’s not all it does. In some states, like Massachusetts, it actually connects to emergency services. And in readers’ exuberance to block those pesky robo- and spam calls, many in the state inadvertently flooded 911 call centers with non-emergency calls.

For Sprint customers, *77 in Illinois, Maryland, West Virginia, Rhode Island and Virginia also goes to State Police. For T-Mobile customers, *77 results in “call not be completed.” AT&T did not respond to a request for comment from USA Today.

Clicking *77 has “resulted in increased call volume at the public safety answering point…run by the State 911 Department in Framingham,” wrote Browne. “The Department works hard to tell the public that 911 is the number to call because it has the most functionality to the dispatcher at the PSAP (such as geolocation) whereas *77 does not provide the same amount of information about the caller to the dispatcher.”

Beyond Massachusetts, in Delaware, #77 is listed on American Automobile Association’s website as reaching emergency dispatch, while other number combinations for cell service include *47 in Alabama, *273 in Alaska and *277 in Colorado.

AAA has a full list of the number and symbol combinations you might want to avoid on your mobile device since you may unexpectedly reach 911 instead.

To reiterate, the primary way to reach out for emergency services is by dialing 911.

Tips to block those unwanted calls:

Join the National Do Not Call Registry List
Millions rejoiced when the FTC created the National Do Not Call Registry – and in a perfect world, signing up would stop telemarketers from calling you. Technically, it’s illegal for telemarketers to call you if you are on this list.

But the world isn’t perfect. Scammers don’t follow the rules, nor do they care about this list. It’s still smart to register your number as an added layer of protection against unwanted calls. Just go to the website donotcall.gov and enter the landline or cellphone number you want on the list.

You can also call 1-888-382-1222 from any phone you want on the list. That’s all it takes, and your number stays on the list until you ask for it to be removed or you give up the number.

Once you sign up, the Do Not Call list takes you off for-profit business call lists, but it isn’t immediate. Telemarketers update their listings only periodically, so the FTC says it can take up to 31 days.

Also, political organizations, charities and survey takers are still permitted to call you. Businesses you’ve bought something from or made a payment to in the last 18 months have a right to call. When they call, however, firmly tell them to take you off their list and they have to honor your request, although they might still try to talk you into reconsidering.

Use Carrier Tools to Block Unwanted Calls
The four major carriers have tools to identify, filter and prevent suspected nuisance numbers from calling or texting your phone. Most require an extra monthly fee to activate the caller ID service, but network-level blocking is free of charge across all the carriers.

AT&T
AT&T subscribers can use a free iOS and Android app called AT&T Call Protect. It has automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam warnings. You can manually block unwanted calls.

Verizon
Verizon recently announced a free call-blocking service that debuts in March. Verizon previously offered a “Caller Filter” service for $2.99 per month per line.

Verizon also has identified 300 million spam and scam phone numbers that it will block through free spam alerting and call-blocking tools also coming in March.

T-Mobile
T-Mobile provides two free ways to combat robocallers and spam calls.

First is Scam ID, an automatic system that identifies spam numbers when your phone rings. T-Mobile automatically does this on its network, and there’s no app to install or service to turn on.

The second free method is Scam Block. Unlike Scam ID, which simply identifies known spam numbers, Scam Block gives you an option to block those numbers. To turn this on, dial #662# on your T-Mobile handset. To turn it off, dial #632#.

Similar to Verizon’s Caller Name ID, T-Mobile has its own paid “Name ID” service, which identifies and provides caller information like the name, location and type of organization. You can block them as needed. This is included in T-Mobile ONE Plus plans. For other T-Mobile plans, it costs $4 a month per line.

Sprint
Sprint customers can sign up for its “Premium Caller ID” service to protect themselves from robocalls and caller ID spoofers.

This service is $2.99 a month, and it provides a threat level indicator to give customers an idea of how suspicious a call is. It does this by flagging calls with real-time data trends gathered across the U.S.

This service doesn’t automatically block known spam calls. Based on the threat level, you can choose to answer the call, block the number or report it to prevent future calls.

To reiterate, the primary way to reach out for emergency services is by dialing 911.