Watch CBS News

Apps, Cell Phone Carriers Help Block Robocalls

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Does your cellphone ring off the hook, all the time, from numbers you don't know?

If so, you're not alone. Robocalls are a big problem right now, but there are ways you can block them for good.

In our always connected world, they have become an electronic appendage. If it rings, we answer.

"It could be anybody," Amanda Jeremko, of McKeesport, said. "Sometimes it's a 412 number, sometimes it's out of state."

So often what's on the other end is a sales pitch or solicitation – a robo call.

"I'll answer it the first time, then I'll ignore it," Robert Todd, of Homestead, said.

"We estimate there are 2.6 billion per month," Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, said. "That's almost 30 billion a year or 100-plus for every person in the U.S."

That's a lot of "life interuptus."

"Computer are programmed to dial numbers from a list or at random, and they are dialing for dollars," Quilici said.

Most folks just hang up, but there's that one person who will take the offer or scam, and that's enough for the economics of robocalling to work. So it continues.

"Normally, like, two or three times a week," Todd said.

Prompting the question, how do you make it stop?

"We have some good resources where you can block your calls," Verizon representative Jason Zangus said.

The major carriers try to stay ahead of the robocallers and screen them out of their system.

"We can pinpoint high activity, so suspicious calls that don't come from the area we will block them before they get to you. Unfortunately, these people are pretty smart. They change numbers and some do get through," Zangus said.

You can block a pesky robocaller, but you have to know the number first. In Verizon's case, you can block five numbers at a time for 90 days. Which is why the carriers point you to the app stores to download apps like YouMail, which keeps a constantly updating list of known robocallers.

"We have built an enormous data base from watching the behavior of different phone numbers," Quilici said.

He says once you install the free app, "you simply reject callers you don't know. They hit our platform, we answer instead of your voicemail, and we take care of playing the right message for the caller."

"When it detects a robocaller," Quilici continued, "it plays the out-of-service message and says this number is out of service, which gets you taken off the list."

Not answering unknown numbers is crucial.

"If you answer the call, they know it's a good number," Quilici said, "and that's the worst thing you can do because you are going to get tons of robocalls."

Beyond blocking email, the site also gives you a written transcript of the voice message left by legitimate callers.

But there is a downside to this kind of call screening. Not all robocalls are bad.

"With school delays and stuff like that, [robocall] notifications are pretty helpful," Zangus said.

And that would extend to calls from your doctor or pharmacy about appointments or prescriptions.

Overwhelmed by all this? Zangus says your first step should be a stop at your carrier's.

"We can show you, rather than tell you, what to do," Zangus said. "Our website is pretty easy to use, but we can help download things on your phone to prevent those."

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.