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How Nomorobo Helps Stop Unwanted Spam Calls

Want to block spam calls from your phone? You could try an app like Nomorobo. Juj Winn/Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that if you answer a phone call and you're talking to a computer and not a human being, you have received a robocall. While some can be useful, such as severe weather alerts, appointment reminders, or community updates, other robocalls with sales pitches, political messages or scams are annoying, or even dangerous. In July 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Traced Act, a law that toughens punishments against illegal robocalls and requires phone companies to check if a call is genuine.

Unfortunately, while tougher punishments and better caller verification may help reduce robocalls, some still sneak through. Smartphone owners can reduce the chances they'll receive unwanted calls by installing apps on their phones that can identify robocallers and screen them out before they get through. One of the most well-known of these apps is Nomorobo, a service available for both landlines and cell phones.

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Smartphone users can download the Nomorobo app via the Apple App Store or on Google Play. As calls come in, the app checks the number against a list of known robocallers. The service identifies more than 1,500 new robocallers each day. If you sign up, you have two choices when a call comes in. The app can tell you if a call is a possible robocall but let it ring through for you to check, or you can set the app to send possible robocallers directly to voicemail. In that case, your smartphone won't even ring.

Nomorobo's apps are also able to screen text messages for spam. If the app determines you got a junk text, the message goes to an SMS Junk folder for you to review.

Here's how to set it up: On your smartphone, first download the app. To activate it on your iPhone, click on Phone, then click on Call Blocking & Identification and then enable Nomorobo. For Android, open the app, choose a subscription plan, enter your phone number, select your setting (Identify or Block [Send to Voicemail])

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For landlines, Nomorobo uses a simultaneous ring feature. When your phone rings, it also rings the Nomorobo service at the same time. If the service picks up the call and identifies it as a robocaller, Nomorobo hangs up the call for you. Subscribers should wait until the phone rings twice before answering. If you hear only one ring, that means Nomorobo intercepted the call and hung up. If you hear two rings, the service thinks the call is legit. The service works with many landline providers. Setting up the services varies depending on the carrier, but Nomorobo has a full list of instructions here.

Nomorobo checks a list of more than 2.5 million robocallers to screen calls. Subscribers can report calls that get through so they can be added to the list. The service also maintains an "allowlist" of acceptable numbers to prevent them from being blocked for acceptable robocalls. These practices are common among robocall-blocking apps.

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As of this writing, Nomorobo's service is free for landlines, but costs $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year for app users. There is a 14-day free trial. Nomorobo does not sell its users' data, nor does it affect the apps you use to make phone calls.

The app has many fans. After receiving an award from the FTC in 2013 for blocking robocalls, Nomorobo received an Editor's Choice award from PCMag in 2015. Mashable ranked Nomorobo the best paid robocall blocking app in 2019. It has also inspired competitors to create their own apps, including TrueCaller, Hiya, YouMail, and RoboKiller. Some charge more for more comprehensive services. Some require access to your personal data to screen out robocallers. Unlike Nomorobo, some robocall blocking apps also sell their users' information.

Among the call-blocking apps, no product is foolproof. In 2019, Washington Post columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler found that even the best of the services he tested could not catch more than two-thirds of robocalls. Robocallers use number spoofing technologies to get around number blacklists like those used by many robocall blockers. These make calls appear as though they are coming from a safe phone number. Although Nomorobo does well in online reviews, and many customers like Nomorobo, online research shows that the company has some unhappy customers, too. But many of the complaints on review site Trustpilot cite the service's inability to block all unwanted robocalls — which no product as of this writing can.

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