On a single day in
Deluged by millions of consumer complaints, the FTC last year turned to the private sector, announcing its Robocall Challenge contest, seeking entrepreneurs such as Foss to come up with solutions. More than 800 entrants sent in submissions.
Since Nomorobo was announced in April as a co-winner of the FTC's contest, nearly 23,500 consumers have signed up to be included in its Monday launch, including more than 540 from the
Foss' technology relies on consumers enabling a specialty feature in their phone system that's called "Simultaneous Ring," "Locate Me" or other names. Basically, it allows customers to have incoming calls ring on all their phones at the same time, allowing them to pick up wherever it's convenient. Foss piggybacks on that phone feature, using Nomorobo to screen incoming calls.
When the free service launches Monday, Nomorobo can work with phone customers of AT&T U-Verse,
According to Foss, not all phone carriers offer a "simultaneous ring" type of tool to consumers. Unlike voicemail, call waiting or other features, it's apparently not a well-known or much-used consumer option.
"Carriers haven't wanted to invest in a feature that too few people use," Foss said. But, "I would hope that (phone) carriers see this as a solution to the robocall problem. They don't have to do anything but make something they already have in their hardware available to the consumer."
When linked to the user's phone, Nomorobo "answers" the call first, screening it instantly against databases of numbers known to make illegal robocalls, as well as using algorhythms that detect whether it's a number dialing at unusually high volume. For instance, when the same number has made 5,000 calls to different numbers in the past hour, it's a red flag. If a robocall is detected, the call is automatically disconnected, before the consumer's phone even rings. Those numbers go onto a "black list."
Foss said his technology does not detect the content of incoming calls, only patterns of excessive dialing. Nor does it block legitimate automated calls, such as from your kid's school, an airline with flight schedule changes or an emergency services call. Nomorobo maintains a "white list" of legitimate robocall service companies.
Certainly, none of the available tools will completely stop all the robocallers who disrupt dinner hours and clog voicemail machines with annoying messages or fraudulent pitches.
Ultimately, consumers have to be their own watchdogs. No matter how urgent the message or caller sounds, the FTC advises never responding to a robocall, not even to press a number the caller claims will remove you from future calls. Doing so simply brands you as a "live" prospect.
Perhaps the No. 1 best response: Simply ignore calls and let them go to voicemail, or just hang up.
For previous columns on robocalls:
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