— -- Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine have just introduced the “Robocall and Call Spoofing Enforcement Improvements Act of 2015.” Among other things, the law would empower the FCC to empower phone companies to empower consumers to block unwanted calls. There are a lot of links in that chain, which worries me, but it’s certainly a noble effort.
McCaskill says no U.S. phone company currently offers a service that allows consumers to block robocalls. “I think right now if any carrier in this country came out with an ad campaign saying ‘we’re going to block robocalls’ I don’t think they could handle the business they’d get,” McCaskill said. Some phone companies want to help but their hands are somewhat tied by federal regulations that muddy their right to intervene.
Take Verizon, one of the biggest. On its website, Verizon says: “We monitor our networks to detect spikes in suspicious calls, and then work with law enforcement and with other telephone companies to shut down illegal robocallers. We are also working with other telephone companies…to develop new technologies to stop robocalls.”
I envision all the big phone companies meeting -- by conference call, of course -- to discuss this. That’ll produce a solution in a few years. Meanwhile, "Rachel from Cardholder Services" plans to burn up a few million more of our minutes.
While the big guys tiptoe toward a solution, several high tech upstarts have jumped to provide partial solutions already. Some are free, some cost, but at least this is a workaround that you don’t have to hang around waiting for.
1. nomorobo.com. This service won a Federal Trade Commission contest seeking robocall-blocking solutions. It works by having your calls ring simultaneously on the company’s computers. Once nomorobo determines the call is robotic, it hangs up for you -- typically after one ring.
2. Call Control. This Android app helps reduce robocalls by maintaining a black list of phone numbers, which blocks them from being able to call you The Call Control community adds numbers and you can make your own list as well.
3. Call Bliss. This iPhone app also allows you to create a black list of numbers. It also has an added location feature, that allows you to create different blacklists depending on where you are. For example, block personal calls while you’re at work or vice versa.
4. Cell phone settings. You can change your iPhone or Android settings so that you only hear from numbers that are in your address book, but this is an imperfect solution because you could miss calls from new —but wanted— callers.
5. Landline call blockers. A quick internet search reveals all sorts of call blockers you can attach to your landline. Details vary, but they typically require friends and family to type in a code in order to reach you.
Opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.
Elisabeth Leamy is a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show." She is the author of Save BIG and The Savvy Consumer. Elisabeth is also a professional speaker, delivering talks nationwide on saving money, media relations, and career success. Elisabeth receives her best story tips from readers, so please connect with her via Facebook, Twitter or her website, to share your ideas.