T-Mobile says it's getting more aggressive in fighting scammers who use robocalls to take advantage of American wireless customers. The company made the issue the subject of its latest Un-carrier marketing event via webcast Thursday.
It's the first Un-carrier announcement since T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint, which was finalized in April. The big news? T-Mobile is packaging a set of old and new tools to help protect customers' personal information and to help subscribers across its brands -- T-Mobile, Metro and Sprint -- better screen and block calls from scammers. It's offering the features to customers for free.
The company took the wraps off the initiative, called Scam Shield, during a webcast hosted by actor Anthony Anderson, of Black-ish fame, and T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert.
Read more: T-Mobile, Metro customers can turn on free robocall and scam protection now. Here's how
The news comes as Americans have been barraged with more than 58 billion scam calls in the past year, costing them more than $10 billion, according to YouMail. That's an increase of 22% over the previous year.
The coronavirus pandemic has only made things worse, as scammers seize an opportunity to prey on people's fears about health and finances. COVID-19-retaled scams increased 70% from May to June costing Americans more than $80 million this year, said T-Mobile.
Sievert said he hopes T-Mobile's effort to make its tools more widely available at no additional cost, regardless of whether customers are on postpaid plans or prepaid plans, will lead his competitors to do the same.
"We need the rest of the industry to follow suit," he said. "Because this is literally the No. 1 issue in our industry; the No. 1 complaint to the FCC."
Sievert emphasized that competitors AT&T and Verizon are still charging customers for what he calls the "privilege" of not getting scam calls. He said Verizon charges $7 a month for similar protection.
"That's just crazy," Sievert said. "It's got to stop. This industry shouldn't be profiting from this phenomenon. We should be heads down solving it, because people are losing millions and millions of dollars, and they're losing their faith in other people."
Verizon does offer a free Call Filter app to smartphone consumers, and last week the company said since the launch of that app last year, it has helped Verizon customers avoid nearly six billion spam calls and robocalls. In addition to the free spam protection from the Call Filter app, Verizon allows its postpaid customers to upgrade to Call Filter Plus for $2.99 per month. This app offers additional features like Caller Name ID, Spam Look Up, a Personal Block List and a Spam Risk Meter.
While T-Mobile's Spam Shield announcement today makes many of its previously offered call ID and blocking technology available to all of its customers for free, it will still offer a premium service, which it will cost customers an additional $4 a month for per line.
T-Mobile says its solution doesn't require customers to have specific devices or specific apps. It works through technology in the network. Here's a closer look at what the company is offering.
Free Scam ID and Scam Block: Suspicious calls are flagged, and customers can turn on scam blocking so future calls don't come through. On suspected scam calls, Scam ID displays "Scam Likely" and the number that's calling. Scam ID is also designed to catch spoofed calls. Scam Block is meant to automatically block all "Scam Likely" calls before they reach your phone, so you never have to see them. T-Mobile had already made Scam ID and Scam Blocking available free to T-Mobile postpaid and Metro by T-Mobile prepaid customers. Sprint customers were paying $2.99 a month for the service. Now the features will be available free to all T-Mobile, Metro and Sprint customers.
Free enhanced Caller ID: Thanks to the new STIR/SHAKEN technology, T-Mobile says, the carrier is able to verify who's calling you, to let you know if it's a verified business or person. If you know who's calling, you can decide whether to answer. T-Mobile postpaid customers with a Magenta Plus or T-Mobile ONE Plus plan have already been getting this feature free. But customers who've been paying monthly to add Caller ID to their accounts will now get it free too.
Sprint customers paying monthly to add the stand-alone Premium Caller ID feature will automatically be migrated to free Caller ID.
Free second number: T-Mobile is also now offering customers T-Mobile Proxy, a second number so customers can keep their personal numbers personal. Having this second number lets you give a different number to verify accounts and is meant to keep you from receiving unwanted spam calls.
Free number change: For customers fed up with spam and scam calls and who want to start fresh, T-Mobile is allowing people to change their number for free.
Free Scam Shield app: All the above features will be accessible via Scam Shield, an app designed to let customers activate the new and existing protections. The app is scheduled to be available July 24. Until then, customers who want the free scam ID and block features can dial #662# to activate them on their devices.
Sprint customers will also get free protections in their upgraded Call Screener, which had previously involved an added charge. Once Sprint customers transition to T-Mobile, they'll also be able to use the Scam Shield app and get their own Proxy number.