This is something of an “on one hand, on the other hand” story. I’m going to start by heaping faint praise on Verizon, but I’ll end by scolding them. Are you surprised? Of course not.
We all get spam calls, scam calls, and robocalls. According to the US Federal Trade Commission Report on Robocalls CG Docket No. 17-59, nearly half of all calls made to cell phones in 2019 will be robocalls. Additionally, there are human-driven spam and scam calls that will add to that call volume.
Also: Scam alert: Identifying and blocking “Google” robocall spam
Last year, I decided to look into one of the more common spam calls I regularly got: The “your local Google representative” calls. I reached out to Google and was told that Google does not robocall. I subsequently wrote about a bunch of ways you can report calls you consider spam.
But what if you just plain don’t want your phone to ring? There are a bunch of third-party add-on apps that work by call forwarding all your calls to their service, and they then forward what they consider legitimate calls back to you. It’s a hack, and according to my former ZDNet buddy Zack Whittaker, who’s now writing for TechCrunch, they’re stealing your data and sending it on to marketing companies without your permission.
In other words, while they’re blocking some calls, many of these services are harvesting your data to sell so you get more calls. Lovely, right?
The carrier-based solution
There is, however, one solution worth considering. The call-blocking or call-filtering service offered by your phone’s carrier. I use Verizon, so in this article, I’m going to talk about Verizon’s service. If you use another carrier’s service, please report on your experiences in the comments section at the end of this article.
I’m willing to use a carrier-based service where I’m not willing to use a third-party service for one simple reason: my carrier knows everything, anyway. Since all my calls go through Verizon, either they’re going to protect my privacy, or they’re not. There’s nothing I can do about it. So I might as well avail myself of an additional service from them that can make my life easier.
Verizon offers a call filtering service. It’s a little difficult to find at the bottom of the My Verizon page, but it’s there. For convenience, here’s the link for you to follow without doing any digging.
Verizon offers two versions of their Call Filter service, a free option and one where you pay three bucks a month, or eight dollars for up to three lines. I signed up for the free service because it offended me to be asked to pay for an add-on service that should be provided for free.
After all, if Verizon has the technology to block spam calls, letting them go through is not only annoying to their customers but costly to every telecommunications partner in the call chain. Verizon is actively withholding a good public service merely for an extra three bucks a month. Seems heinous to me (yes, I said “heinous,” because it really does grind my grits).
In any case, I enabled the free service, which works relatively well.
To get the process started, you’ll need to download an app from the App Store. For iPhones, Verizon provides a download link.
For Android phones, Verizon claims the app is generally pre-installed. I went looking on the Google Play Store for a Verizon Call Filter app and did not find one. I recommend you check with Verizon directly. Given Zack’s warning about scammers, don’t just download an app that looks like it’ll do the job. Check specifically with Verizon support to get the right thing for your Android phone.
How well does it work?
At its best, a notification (you can silence it via a setting in the app) appears on my home screen letting me know that a call has been blocked.
I get relatively few of these, but anytime Verizon blocks a call I don’t need to take, I consider it a small win.
More often than not, though, I get calls that ring through, but are listed as “Potential Spam.” These I silence by pressing one of the volume control buttons on my phone, figuring that if it’s important the caller will leave a voicemail.
As the screenshot on the right shows, over the course of a particularly quiet five-day period, about a third of my calls were caught as potential spam, another third of the calls got through (and were spam), and I had two legitimate calls.
The results aren’t as good as I’d like. I’d prefer never to get a ring from Potential Spam calls. I’d also prefer Verizon blocked the other spam calls that it’s missing. I do wonder whether I’d get better results if I paid the three bucks a month, but darn it, you have to make a stand somewhere, and I can’t bring myself to reward Verizon with extra cash for doing something they should be doing anyway.
In any case, enabling free service seems to be a no brainer. It helps. It’s easy. It’s free. I recommend you do it today.
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