7 of the best robocall blocking apps and tools for avoiding phone spam
By Haley Henschel From Mashable
If there’s one thing people with iPhones and Android phones can agree on, it’s this: Robocalls suck.
Personally speaking, robots call me more than my own mother does. A very concerned “Cynthia Arnold” gets in touch every week or so “in reference to your federal student loan,” claiming she needs to discuss “repayment options with some new changes that have taken effect.” (I don’t have any federal student loans.) And then there’s “Rich,” a huffy gentleman who says he’s calling me back regarding “the information that we spoke about, about bringing in $10,000 or more every 10 to 14 days.” I wonder if I should introduce him to that down-and-out Nigerian prince in my inbox.
Despite me blocking them every time they call, Cynthia, Rich, and their automated compatriots have continued to contact me from new numbers, sometimes with local area codes as a way of coaxing me to pick up the phone. (The Better Business Bureau calls this tactic “neighbor spoofing.”) They used to be more irritating than anything, but they seem to be getting more and more aggressive over time.
Calls like these are part of an ongoing problem the Federal Communications Commission refers to as “the robocall scourge,” where phone scammers are ramping up their efforts to swindle consumers. Last year was a banner year for them: One report estimates that about 26.3 billion unwanted robocalls were placed to U.S. consumers in 2018 (as opposed wanted robocalls such as prescription and appointment reminders), up 47 percent from 2017. At present, robocalls are the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the FCC, making up 60 percent of all filings.
This onslaught of robocalls has been made possible in part by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology that lets you place voice calls over a broadband internet connection. According to the BBB, it’s made “mass calling and the ability to display fake caller ID information … both quick and inexpensive.” Anyone can run a phone scam nowadays; one Florida man
managed to place 96 million robocalls all by himself over a three-month period in 2016 before the government cracked down on his shenanigans.
Aside from the annoyance factor, robocalls may not seem all that dangerous. But as they’ve increased in frequency over the past couple years, they’ve gotten more convincing, too — and last year almost one in six Americans fell prey to scams, up from 1 in 10 in 2017. (That’s according to a studyconducted by the robocall blocking app Truecaller, which also reported an average loss of $244 per victim.)
The FCC promises that Chairman Ajit Pai “has made combatting unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing his top consumer protection priority.” (That is, when he’s not busy killing net neutrality.) Since being appointed to his position in December 2017, Pai has slapped several telemarketers with hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and helped usher in new rules targeting illegal robocallers — one that allows the agency to punish scammers who place robocalls from outside the U.S. or spoof text messages, and another that allows phone providers to block robocalls by default.
Robocalls are the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the FCC, making up 60 percent of all filings.
But federal efforts alone won’t be the answer to all of our robocall woes: In its very first report on illegal robocalls released this past February, the FCC specifically states that “much work remains” when it comes to tackling the so-called scourge. So, along with ignoring calls from unknown or unfamiliar numbers and listing one’s phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, consumers are encouraged to consider installing a robocall blocking app or service.
Some cell phone carriers offer their own tools for dealing with unwanted calls (ex: AT&T’s free app Call Protect), so check with your wireless service provider to see what’s available. If you come up dry or if you don’t think your carrier’s service or app is powerful enough — many don’t actually block spam calls; they just identify their sources — you’ve got plenty of third-party robocall blocker apps from which to choose.
Upfront costs for your average call blocker app aren’t exorbitant, and most don’t require much storage space on your phone; oftentimes, you won’t even be able to tell the app’s there. Some of them are capable of screening and blocking unwanted calls before a user’s phone even rings. But as Mashable’s Ray Wong reported in early August, that convenience comes at a cost:
“According to TechCrunch and Dan Hastings, a security researcher at NCC Group, many top robocall blocking apps share your phone number with analytics firms and [upload] device information such as device type and software version to companies like Facebook without your explicit consent.”
To further quote Wong: “Yikes!”
Not every robocall blocking app is an offender, mind you. But even if the one you use doesn’t share or sell your data under the table, it probably still collects it. (Many apps rely on a crowdsourced database of numbers to cross-check anonymous callers with already-identified culprits, and those numbers have to come from somewhere — i.e., users’ contacts lists.) It’s safe to assume, then, that when you’re using a third-party blocker app, you’re putting personal information like your name, your IP address, and/or your smartphone’s name, model, and operating system up for grabs.
The GoodIntuitive interface • No ads on free version • Large community of users contributing to its databaseThe BadSome users say it’s a little slowThe Bottom LineA free app with all these features, and *without* annoying ads? What’s the catch?1. Hiya: Caller ID & Spam BlockerAn easy-to-use app with all the features you’d expect from a premium robocall blocking service, minus the fees.
- Price: Free for basic service; $2.99/month or $14.99/year for Hiya Premium
- App Store rating: 4.6/5 stars
- Google Play Store rating:4.4/5 stars
Supported in every country around the globe, Hiya (formerly Whitepages Caller ID) is a free call blocking app that uses a massive database of profiles and “expansive algorithms” to analyze some 13 billion calls a month and give context to unknown numbers. Any number that contacts you is run through Hiya’s database, and if there’s a match, the app will automatically block the number; if there isn’t a match, the call or text will go through.
Hiya’s free basic plan features incoming spam call detection with daily updates, spam reporting, and blocking by area code, as well as unlimited free lookups for spam, scam, and verified business numbers — all on a simple interface without any annoying ads. For a service that’ll cost you zero dollars, it’s surprisingly powerful (and the fact that it’s ad-free is the cherry on top).
For $2.99 a month or $14.99 annually, you can upgrade to Hiya’s Premium plan for more business and personal name lookups, more spam updates, and access to a downloadable, regularly updated caller ID database.
The GoodFree two-week trial • Great value • Very user-friendly • Huge database of verified scam and spam callers • Free VoIP serviceThe BadCustomer service gets poor reviews • No caller IDThe Bottom LineLives up to its 2012 award (and then some).
A low-cost premium robocall blocking app that’s effective, flexible, and fast, stopping scammers in their tracks after a single ring.
- Price: $1.99/month; free for VoIP landlines
- App Store rating: 4.6/5 stars
- Google Play Store rating:2.1/5 stars
Back in 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) challenged the public to suggest new ways to combat the robocall epidemic as part of a contest it called the Robocall Challenge. The proposal that eventually becameNomorobo tied for the contest’s Best Overall Solution, nabbing a $25,000 prize, and today, it maintains a 1.8 billion-strong blacklist of phone numbers using FTC data, user reports, and its own “honey traps.”
Also available as a VoIP service, the Nomorobo smartphone app works similarly to Hiya in that it uses its database to discern scams from legitimate phone calls, protecting users from the former and letting the latter go through. If an incoming call gets flagged as a scam or spam, it’ll be intercepted and hung up on after your phone rings once — that way, you can tell when Nomorobo is doing its job. (FYI: You’ll get the option to make a “whitelist” so that certain numbers never get blocked.)
Feel free to ignore Nomorobo’s crappy Google Play Store rating, by the way: Lots of reviewers who rated it poorly did so just because they were under the impression that its smartphone service was free, or because they needed to update their permissions settings.
The GoodFree one-week trial • Extremely entertaining and gratifying • Good value • Highly reviewed tech supportThe BadNo caller ID • Answer Bots can be unreliableThe Bottom Line”There is nothing I do better than revenge.” — T̶a̶y̶l̶o̶r̶ ̶S̶w̶i̶f̶t̶
If nothing else, you should install this clever robocall blocker for the sheer entertainment value.
- Price: $2.99/month or $24.99/year for Android devices; $3.99/month or $29.99/year for iOS
- App Store rating: 4.6/5 stars
- Google Play Store rating:3.6/5 stars
Don’t get mad at robocallers — get even. After flagging a caller as spam, the RoboKiller app automatically blocks their number and sends them to its “Answer Bots,” a feature that plays pre-recorded messages to trick telemarketers and other unsolicited callers into thinking they’re speaking to a real person. (You’ve got the option of making your own or choosing from RoboKiller’s collection of Answer Bot audio files — likethis one recorded by a President Trump impersonator.) The resulting “conversations” are designed to mess with these scammers’ call quotas in the hopes of putting them out of business — and yes, RoboKiller will record these conversations in case you want to listen to them later. Spoiler: Hilarity often ensues.
Other RoboKiller features include text spam filtering and customizable block and allow lists for the off-chance the app’s algorithms block a wanted number or miss a particularly sneaky scammer.
The GoodGood customer support • Transcription feature is usually pretty accurate • Voicemail messages can be accessed anytime and anywhere • Great valueThe BadSome users say setup is complicatedThe Bottom LineWith all those features at such a reasonable price, it’s no wonder YouMail has so many loyal, long-term users.
YouMail’s Professional plan is an excellent phone service for businesses that we recommend even if you don’t have a problem with robocalls.
- Price: Basic service is free; $5.99/month for YouMail Plus and $10.99/month for YouMail Professional
- App Store rating: 4.6/5 stars
- Google Play Store rating:4.3/5 stars
As far as call-blocking goes,YouMail works similarly to other apps on this list in that it uses software to identify and block robocalls automatically; any caller it identifies as a scam will be played a “number disconnected” tone to trick them into thinking your number is out of service.
YouMail kicks things up a notch when it comes to voicemails, replacing your phone’s existing service with its own “visual voicemail” feature that lets you see who left you a message and stores your messages in the cloud so you can access them anywhere.
For an upgraded user experience with YouMail, can sign up for its Plus or Professional plans for $5.99 a month or $10.99 a month, respectively. Both offer extra storage space and at least 50 voice-to-text transcriptions per month while allowing you to forward messages from up to two existing phone numbers to one voicemail inbox.
Business owners in need of a robocall blocking service would be wise to shell out for the Professional plan: On top of everything offered in the free/basic and Plus plans, it includes options to create menus (e.g., “Press 1 for sales”); set up an automated secretary with custom greetings recorded by professional voice talent; hold and record conference calls; and activate an auto-reply feature that sends callers a text message when you can’t answer the phone to let them know you’ll get back to them. Especially for companies on the smaller side, it’s a solid option for an all-in-one phone system.
The GoodNo ongoing fees or subscriptions • Easy setup • Responsive customer serviceThe BadRequires caller ID and a smartphoneThe Bottom LineA one-and-done solution for landlines pestered by robocallers.
This itsy-bitsy device identifies and protects your landline from robocallers and telemarketers with the help of a companion smartphone app.
- Price: $159.99 for call blocker device; smartphone app is free
- App Store rating (app):4.5/5 stars
- Google Play Store rating (app): 4.4/5 stars
A sizable 42 percent of U.S. households reported having a working landline phone as of this past spring, and if you live in one of them, you probably knowvery well by now that they’re not safe from robocalls, either.
Fortunately, they’re no match for Call Control Home, an automated call blocker in the form of a tiny rectangular device that works with any phone line with a cord. Once it’s plugged into your landline, simply pair the device with the companion Call Control app on your smartphone and its “CommunityIQ” feature will use a crowdsourced list of reported scams to identify unwanted callers and block them before they can even connect. The app can also be used to set quiet hours, create a personal block list, and view recent calls to your home phone.
What’s great about Call Control Home is that it doesn’t require any ongoing fees *and* its app is completely free to install and use. However, if you want robocall blocking for your smartphone in addition to your landline, you’ll have to shell out for Call Control Premium($29.99 a year). The free version of the app lets you manage your landline but doesn’t actually protect the smartphone on which it’s installed.
IMAGE: TRUECALLERThe GoodVery accurate and efficient caller ID • Extended functionality if your contacts use it, tooThe BadUsers say ads can be annoyingThe Bottom LineAn extremely thorough caller ID tool, if a little invasive.6. TruecallerThis premium app is the next best thing to downloading a whole phone book on your smartphone.
- App Store rating: 4.6/5 stars
- Google Play Store rating:4.6/5 stars
- Price: Basic service is free; $2.99/month or $26.99/year for Truecaller Premium and $249/year for Truecaller Premium Gold
Boasting over 300 million global downloads, Truecaller is primarily a robust caller ID tool that can identify callers and their probable whereabouts even if they’re not in your contacts list. The app also lets you search for individual user profiles using a name or number and tells you whether another Truecaller user is available. (If not, you’ll be able to see the approximate time they were last active.)
As far as call blocking goes, Truecaller uses a database to match callers to profiles and pinpoint scammers. Any suspicious numbers are automatically blocked, although you’re free to customize a blacklist. For even more features, you can upgrade to Truecaller Premium and Truecaller Premium Gold to eliminate ads, record calls, see who viewed your Truecaller profile, request another user’s contact information, and get a snazzy badge next to the avatar on your profile.
- Price: $5.99/month or $59.40/year for Basic subscription; $9.99/month or $95.40/year for Premium subscription; and $24.99/month or $239.40/year for Ultimate subscription
- App Store rating: 4.3/5 stars
- Google Play Store rating:3.7/5 stars
See DetailsYour jig is up, Unknown Caller. TrapCall uses ~patented technology~ that it claims forces anonymous callers to identify themselves. It works like this: Once the app is installed on your phone, simply decline any call that comes up as “No Caller ID” to have TrapCall ring it back to you under its actual number in a matter of moments.
TrapCall also offers automatic spam blocking using a regularly updated blacklist, so if a telemarketer or robocaller on said list reaches out to you, they’ll be deterred with a “number disconnected” tone.
Want even more from TrapCall? Upgrade to its Premium and Ultimate plans for a few more dollars a month to record calls and enable a “Live Caller ID” feature that displays the name and photo of everyone who contacts you in addition to their number.