How to Beat Robocallers on Your Landline

We are all experiencing the increasingly invasive robocall phenomenon. Sometimes robocallers disguise themselves with allegedly valid caller IDs and other times they don’t. Whatever they do, it’s a constant plague on our privacy.

“Blocking robocalls on a home landline is like trying to stop a star athlete,” says Bob Bentz, president of Advanced Telecom Services and adjunct professor of communications at the University of Denver. “Most coaches will say they are just trying to control the superstar because they know they can't truly stop him or her completely. There is no sure-fire way to stop unwanted calls completely, so the best thing to do is simply try to limit them.”

Don’t Answer. As rudimentary as it seems, one the most effective deterrents is to screen your calls. “If no one ever picked up the phone when it rang, robocalls would stop,” says Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a visual voicemail and robocall blocking service. “If I’m going to scam you to buy a fake cruise or install fake virus software, I need you to answer the phone so that I can pitch you.”

Quilici said he turned his landline ringer off altogether, and all calls go through an answering machine with caller ID. If the caller doesn’t leave a message, he doesn’t worry about it. If they do, he can still grab the phone while the caller is talking, or call him or her back. “These aren’t perfect solutions, it’s like bringing back the 80’s and 90’s, but it goes a long way to solving the problem.” He also told me that he convinced his mom to do this, too (and it’s working).

Call Blocking Boxes. Then there are "robocall blocker" boxes. I have a friend who swears by the $100 CPR V5000 Call Blocker he picked up for his aging father. He said his parent's phone went from ringing more than ten times a day with political polls, solar panel and security system sales, to remaining blissfully quiet unless a “whitelisted” number comes through. The boxes range anywhere from $30-$150 dollars.

The blocking box does contribute to one concern. One of the biggest reasons people keep landlines is for emergencies. The boxes “could present problems in emergency situations or when it comes to "legitimate" robocalls (school snow days, product recalls, etc.),” says Tim Prugar, who sits on the Communication Fraud Control Association’s consumer education committee.

Free Solutions. An app called Nomorobo is one of the top recommendations for stopping robocalls on your smartphone, and it's just as good for blocking bad callers on your home phone. On mobile, it’s a paid subscription, but it's free for landlines. It automatically blocks almost 500,000 confirmed robocallers and doesn't use ads or any other goofy tricks to get money out of you — it's just plain free.

The catch is that it only works with VoIP phone service, so if you get your phone through an internet or cable provider like Charter, AT&T U-Verse, Verizon Fios, Comcast Xfinity, Vonage, or several others, you're good to go. It does not work, however, on traditional "analog copper" phone lines. If you’re not sure what you have, call your phone company.

Another freebie helper for ridding robocalls is anonymous call rejection. To enable it, just pick up your phone and press "*77.” You should hear three short beeps to let you know it's activated, and then you can hang up. After that, all calls that come in as Anonymous, Private (a favorite of robocallers), or Blocked won’t get through. You can turn the feature off whenever you want by pressing "*87.” Virtually every phone company has this feature built right into your service, and it’s just sitting there waiting for you.

None of these solutions are perfect because it turns out, blocking robocalls on home phones is much more complicated than blocking them on smartphones.

The best way to limit all these unwanted calls is to follow a few simple guidelines:

   Never interact with a robocall.

   Don’t press a button, wait for an agent, or even speak.

   Anything you do that shows your number is real and active will just make you an even bigger target for promotions, actual or fake, in the future. Seriously, just hang up! (Or better yet, don’t answer at all.)

It’s a super complicated problem, and right now there’s just no one solution. But with the right tools and a bit of common sense, you can avoid scams and hurt the annoying callers right where it hurts the most: Their ability to rob us blind.

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