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Stop annoying robocalls to your phone using every trick we know

T-Mobile, Google, Apple and the US government are all taking steps to put an end to robocalls and other call spam. Here's what you can do to silence those annoying, and sometimes dangerous, calls.

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We'll show you every current way to stop robocalls. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

You know the drill: Your phone rings and the caller ID shows a number that looks vaguely familiar, so you answer it. Instead of a friendly voice, you hear a robot warn you that your Social Security number is going to be deactivated or that you owe the IRS money and you need to call right away. 

These robocalls are designed to scam you out of your hard-earned money. Thankfully, the government, wireless carriers and phone makers are working on ways to eliminate the annoying and seemingly nonstop calls we all receive on a daily basis. 

For example, in July, T-Mobile announced Scam Shield, a free suite of services that will block robocalls and help protect you from scams. If you're a T-Mobile or Sprint customer, you'll need to install an app when it launches on July 24, or you can activate Scam Block, by following these steps.

Last year, President Trump signed into law the Traced Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that gives government agencies and law enforcement more power to dismantle robocalls by targeting the perpetrators. 

Specifically, the Traced Act extends the statute of limitations for law enforcement to go after bad actors, increases penalties and requires phone companies to authenticate calls and determine if the phone number that is calling you is real. For its part, the FCC previously passed a proposal that gives carriers the permission to more aggressively block spam calls. 

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AT&T's Call Protect stops unwanted calls. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

On the ground, wireless carrier networks are using SHAKEN/STIR technology to identify and block spam calls, not only on their own respective networks, but between phone providers as well. Apple even added a feature to iOS 13 that lets you prevent unknown callers from ever ringing your phone. Google has expanded the Call Screen feature to route suspected spam calls to Google Assistant before your phone even rings, and when Android 11 launches later this year, it's expanding robocall identification and prevention features to extend outside of the default Android Phone app. 

It's going to take time for the Traced Act to be put into effect across all agencies and phone providers, so don't expect to see a dramatic decrease in unwanted calls overnight. 

Keep in mind, too, that not every automated solicitation is considered illegal. Calls from political campaigns, debt collectors and charities are all permissible. What's not allowed are the calls from the fake IRS agents or the companies that claim you won a free vacation that you never signed up for.

While it's not possible to entirely keep robocalls from reaching your phone, there are some steps you can take to reduce the number of calls you receive. This article is updated periodically.

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Best practices to keep annoying robocalls at bay

According to the FCC, there are some easy steps you can take to help reduce robocalls:

  • Don't answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers.
  • Don't answer calls from numbers you don't recognize.
  • Don't assume an incoming call is really from a local number just because it looks like it is. 
  • Don't respond to any questions that can be answered with a "Yes."
  • If someone calls you and claims to be with XYZ company, hang up and call the company yourself. Use the company's website to find an official number.
  • If you do answer a call and hear a recording such as, "Hello, can you hear me?" just hang up.
  • The same goes for a call where you're asked to press a number before being connected to a representative.

When you answer a call and interact with the voice prompt or by pressing a number, it lets spammers know your number is real. They can then sell your number to another company or begin targeting your number more frequently.

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Apple promises to soon lock robocalls out of your iPhone.

Josh Miller/CNET

When it first launched, Google's Call Screen feature arguably went against the FCC's advice by answering and interacting with the robocall on your behalf. However, Google added new features to Call Screen for its Pixel phone lineup. It can now detect robocalls and spam calls and block them for you. Google Assistant will interact with the caller, and if it determines that the call is legitimate, it will route the call to your phone.

Apple's iOS 13, released last year, added plenty of new features, including Silence Unknown Callers, which adds the option to route calls from unknown numbers -- numbers not found in your Contacts, Mail or Messages -- straight to voicemail. Any legitimate callers can leave a message. And that's the rub: We often receive important calls from numbers we don't store on our phones, so you could miss important calls this way. But if all else fails and you're desperate to stop robocalls, this is a valid option. As far as we can find in iOS 14 right now, nothing new has been added to further eliminate robocalls. 

If you find yourself receiving a lot of spam text messages, you can forward the message to the number 7726 (which spells "spam"). It won't stop the number from texting you right away, but it will allow your carrier to look into where it came from and put an end to it.

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Call screening is part of the Pixel 3.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Check with your provider

All four major wireless carriers offer some sort of call blocking feature. Some are free, while others aren't but should be.

  • AT&T's Call Protect app is available for iOS and Android. The free version blocks calls from "likely fraudsters" and labels telemarketing calls. You can add numbers to a block list in the app, as well. The paid version provides caller ID for unknown numbers and offers mobile security features that are unrelated to robocalls. The premium version of Call Protect costs $3.99 per month.
  • Verizon's Call Filter app is automatically enabled for Android users on a postpaid plan. The service offers spam detection, a spam filter and the option to report numbers for free. You can pay $2.99 a month (or $7.99 a month for three or more lines of service) for caller ID, spam lookup and a personal block and spam list. Call Filter is built into most Android devices out of the box (which you've probably been prompted about) but is also available in the App Store for iOS users.
  • T-Mobile's Scam Shield is free to all customers and includes multiple features designed to protect you from robocalls and sharing your personal information. The full app and service will be available July 24, but you can turn on Scam Block right now by dialing #662# from your phone. Block will reduce the number of robocalls that make it to your phone. 
  • Sprint's Call Screener is now free, thanks to T-Mobile. Eventually, Sprint customers will fully migrate over to T-Mobile's system and be able to use the full Scan Shield product offering. Until then, you can download and use Call Screener Pro. The service identifies and either labels or blocks suspected spam calls, and allows you to report numbers as spam. 

Check with your wireless provider to see if it offers a similar service.

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Firewall takes a new approach to stopping spam and robocalls from ever reaching your phone. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use a third-party app

If your provider doesn't offer an app or service to cut back on robocalls, or does but it's too expensive, there are plenty of third-party apps available. You want to find an app that works on your device, offers automatic call blocking and spam alerts for suspicious calls, and makes it easy to report a number if a call slips through.

Hiya is a free app I have used on Android and iOS for some time now with success. It's from the same company that powers AT&T's Call Protect app, as well as Samsung's built-in call block and spam protection service. Samsung Galaxy owners can enable the built-in service in the Phone app under Settings > Caller ID and Spam Protection. Setup is painless, and it offers an easy way to report a number.

Nomorobo is the service that Verizon uses for its Fios users, but it also has a phone app. The service is free for VoIP users and costs $2 per month for mobile users. Additional services with similar capabilities include YouMail and RoboKiller.

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Hiya offers robust call screening. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

The Firewall app is only available on the iPhone ($599 at Apple) and does a fantastic job of blocking calls. In the event you need to make a call that you'd rather not use your real phone number for, the $4-a-month subscription provides unlimited single-use fake phone numbers. 

Another option is to sign up for a free Google Voice phone number that you can use to sign up for things instead of giving out your real number -- and once the robocalls start coming in on that Google Voice number, use the block feature. Just know that blocking calls may end up being a lot of work, as robocallers are constantly spoofing different phone numbers.

None of the above solutions is perfect, and likely won't be until carriers integrate the technology required to check for caller ID spoofing, so right now you have to do some extra work to keep the number of robocalls you receive to a minimum. Between being cautious about calls from unknown numbers and using a service (paid or free), you can reduce the amount of unwanted calls and spam you have to deal with.

And again, carriers have started using SHAKEN/STIR technology to verify callers, which should cut down on the number of robocalls we all receive. For those with an iPhone, learn where to find iOS 13's block unknown callers feature, but remember using could mean you miss calls from doctors' offices and the like. And for those with a Pixel phone, Google's Call Screen feature will surely help, and may even entertain you.