(Adds FCC announcement in paragraph 18)
By Beth Pinsker
NEW YORK, May 15 (Reuters) - If your phone log is anything like mine, the list of incoming scam calls makes it look like you work for the State Department: Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Russia, Bosnia, Benin, Croatia and Sierra Leone. And if you are anything like me, the thought that may cross your mind is: I would pay anything to make these calls stop.
“Nothing is protecting voice and text, so all the criminals sneak in,” said Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo, a scam-blocking service.
Until a foolproof way is found to stop these nuisance calls, here is what you need to know.
* Your cell phone carrier’s service
Telecom giants tout the billions of calls they block each year, barely mentioning that the system is far from foolproof.
“About 20% of our calls are scam,” said Greg Castle, vice president of engineering for T-Mobile. “Some get through.”
Still, Castle considers T-Mobile’s track record - with its free ScamID program - a success. A free, additional opt-in product called ScamBlock removes those calls from your view.
AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and other major carriers offer similar services. Most are free, but they usually require you to opt in.
Some carriers sell the highest level of services, like Verizon, which charges $2.99 a month for its Call Filter. Of course, considering how much typical cellphone bills run these days, most people probably think like me: that paying anything extra is not worth it unless the service truly eliminates all the unwanted calls.
* Third-party apps
Companies like RoboKiller, Hiya, Truecaller and YouMail aim to block robo calls by tagging incoming calls as scams, or removing them from your view completely.
For $4.99 a month, RoboKiller hits back at scammers by answering their calls with bots which tie up the line.
“We wasted 113,000 hours” in April, said Ethan Garr, RoboKiller’s senior vice president of strategic growth. “If a telemarketer is talking to our bot, somebody else is not getting scammed.”
But some calls still get through. Garr uses the RoboKiller app a couple of times a month to identify unwanted calls so the algorithm learns from it, he said.
Nomorobo’s more straightforward approach uses an app that works in the background for $2 a month. According to Nomorobo’s Foss, the company updates its database every 15 minutes, and misses just 3% of scam calls. False positives, which mark a legitimate call as a scam, account for less than a 10th of a percent.
Foss testified before Congress earlier this month to push for technologies like Nomorobo’s to be applied when the call reaches the network, before it hits the consumer’s phone.
“It means putting more pressure on carriers to put this in natively - that will be ultimately what solves the problem,” Foss said.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission chairman on Wednesday proposed allowing phone companies to block unwanted calls by default. The regulator is expected to act on the proposal at its June 6 meeting.
Until a foolproof solution is found, the best line of defense is your own scam radar. If you do not answer, the calls cannot cost you anything.
If you do pick up, do not engage. And never, ever, give out your Social Security or credit card information to an unsolicited caller.
“Scammers will scam,” Castle said. “Obviously, if you answer a call and it sounds too good to be true, just hang up.” (Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)