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A forlorn look after the 10th spam call of the day.

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Verizon Now Offering Free Call Filtering to Block Telemarketers

If you live in the United States, chances are you that dread answering your iPhone when it rings, if you even bother at all. For the past few years, we’ve been suffering a growing epidemic of spam calls—I get three to four a day, and Adam Engst has taken to sending all calls that aren’t from contacts to voicemail (see “Beware “iCloud Breach” Phone Scam,” 23 May 2018).

To address this scourge, cellular carriers have started offering free solutions for their customers: AT&T has Call Protect, and T-Mobile provides Scam Block. Until now, Verizon had been charging $2.99 per month for its customers to use its Verizon Call Filter app. That paid tier is still available, but Verizon now also offers a free tier that lets you identify, block, and report spam calls.

When you first open the Verizon Call Filter app, it prompts you to give it access to your contacts and enable Call Filter in Settings > Phone > Call Blocking & Identification. Like many other such apps, Call Filter works through the CallKit framework that Apple released with iOS 10, which also powers apps like Hiya and Robokiller.

Enabling Verizon Call Block in iOS settings.

Next, you have to activate the feature in the Call Filter app itself. Open it, make sure you’re in the Screening screen, and if it says at the top “You’re not protected,” tap “Turn on for free” and follow the prompts. Verizon says that it could take up to an hour for the feature to be enabled on your account, so you might as well leave the app and go do something else for a while.

(If you don’t see a free option, check the App Store to make sure you have the latest version installed. You may have to delete and reinstall the app for it to show up. If it’s still not showing up, make sure you’re not already subscribed to Verizon’s paid tier and that you’re running iOS 12.)

When you return, you’ll know Call Filter is working if, in place of “You’re not protected,” you see “You’re protected.” By default, Call Filter will alert you only if it thinks an incoming call is spam; you can turn that off inside the app by going to the Settings screen and flipping the Spam Detection Alerts switch.

But if you want to get the most out of Call Filter, you want to enable spam filtering, which you can do by going to the Block view of the Screening screen, tapping Spam Filter Off, and then turning on “Auto-block spam calls by risk level.” There are three levels of risk: All Spam Calls, Medium and High Risk, and High Risk Only, with All Spam Calls being the default. You might want to start with High Risk Only to avoid accidentally blocking legitimate calls and then dial it up if you keep getting bogus calls.

The Verizon Call Block app.

After using Call Filter for over a week, I can confirm that it works: it blocked four spam calls in a couple of days.

Calls Verizon Call Filter blocked on Josh's iPhone

For $2.99 per month, Verizon’s Call Filter service will also let you customize the spam and block lists, identify unknown callers, and “receive risk information,” whatever that means. It’s a little chintzy of Verizon to charge extra in the app, but at least the basic features are free and all these apps charge some kind of monthly subscription fee, often to use the service at all.

While it’s good that Apple has created CallKit and that carriers are offering these tools, nothing will truly change without government intervention or improvements to our archaic phone system. Fortunately, there is movement on both fronts.

As The Verge reports, part of the reason Verizon is offering Verizon Call Filter for free is because the US Federal Communications Commission has threatened to take action if the carriers don’t put a stop to spam calls by the end of 2019.

One of the worst parts about these spam calls, and what makes them tricky to filter out, is that the perpetrators spoof legitimate numbers. I’ve received at least one profanity-laced tirade from someone who was sick of spam calls but didn’t realize that the spammers steal legitimate numbers (mine, in this case). To deal with the spoofing, and to please the FCC, the entire industry is working on a new call authentication technology called STIR/SHAKEN (we’re not making this up!), which will at least verify that a call is coming from the number it says it is.

Until STIR/SHAKEN becomes standard, we’ll have to rely on tools like Verizon’s Call Filter, AT&T’s Call Protect, and T-Mobile’s Scam Block.

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Comments About Verizon Now Offering Free Call Filtering to Block Telemarketers

Notable Replies

  1. I support all efforts against spam calls. OTOH I have a feeling regulation and consumer protection are at an all-time low in terms of US government priorities so I do also believe people need to prevent these calls at the source as much as they can.

    One thing I find surprising is how willing people are to divulge their personal information to complete strangers. When I spent three years in Germany I learned to appreciate their skepticism towards this behavior and how serious they take data protection. Back home in the US I then found myself baffled by how careless we are with our personal information.

    Some Joe walks our neighborhood going door to door trying to get people to sign a petition or something to save the planet. Heck, half my neighborhood gladly signed up, gave him their names, addresses, phone numbers and email. Wow.

    Or you go to an outfit like Target and spend $200 on household items. Target will then offer to give you a $2 discount if you sign up for some sleazy promotion. Sure enough, people will just hand over their contact details. Postal address, phone, email, the whole shebang. Works the same at a place like The Gap. People will give everything just to save a buck. No matter that that’s one buck on a $300 purchase.

    I mean come on, seriously, what’s the deal with people just handing out their personal information? And worse yet, doing it for chump change. Why? No wonder you get spammed like nuts and ID theft is rampant. People need to smarten up. Keep your private stuff private. Put it public domain and you’re entering a world of pain.

  2. My wife received a repeated spam call she quickly hung up on. When she went to block the number, it was her own! She eventually listened a little longer before hanging up and got a different number which is now blocked and the calls went away. Weird world.

  3. I agree Simon. I don’t give out my phone number, or email if I can avoid it. If an internet form demands one, I give them 555-3253 just like TV shows.

  4. It’s incredibly easy for spammers to “spoof” legitimate numbers and spoofing numbers in a wide range that includes the victim’s number is rampant:

  5. What I really hate is the targeting of elders.

    My father-in-law has fallen for these guys more than once, telling him that the IRS were coming to investigate, giving him pricey callback numbers to phone and putting him on hold.

    Frankly to my European ears even the charities he helps out behave in a very similar fashion to the spammers,
    “Hi is X there?”
    “Sorry who is this?”
    “Oh I’m a friend of his.”
    “And your name is?”
    “Tell X I’ll call back later.”
    And hangs up on me. Distinguish that from the actions of a spammer, I can’t. A major US charity.

  6. I got several calls at my home identified simply as “Mom” which is a bit disconcerting since my mom died a while ago.

    I guess the scammer is hoping that people won’t think too much about it before answering the phone.

  7. I get about 1 or 2 same area code and prefix spam calls each week (i.e., the first six digits of the caller ID are the same as my Verizon number; a common technique that SPAM callers thinks will fool us into answering a local call), so I installed this app last night. So far I haven’t received any calls, and, as I said, I don’t get a lot of SPAM calls anyway, but any little bit helps. So far I also haven’t shared my contact info with the app, but if it turns out that it won’t work right without that, I’ll probably bite the bullet and do so. Or maybe I’ll just install and pay for the Nomorobo app and share contacts with them - I already use Nomorobo with our home phone, so I think I trust them.

  8. Frankly to my European ears even the charities he helps out behave in a very similar fashion to the spammers,
    “Hi is X there?”
    “Sorry who is this?”
    “Oh I’m a friend of his.”
    “And your name is?”
    “Tell X I’ll call back later.”
    And hangs up on me. Distinguish that from the actions of a spammer, I can’t. A major US charity.

    Funny you should say that. A month ago I had an endoscopy. A few days later I got a call from “your doctor’s office” on our landline. (For a while there was a company actually named “Your Credit Card Company” which was running some scam or other. I got a few calls from them. Both my credit card and my doctor know their actual names, so the doctors office should just say the name.) Since we never answer our landline any more, I listened to the message, and called them back at them number they gave which I checked before returning the call to make sure was my actual doctor’s office. So even legitimate calls raise red flags. I’ve gotten many calls from “the IRS” (they’re required to contact you by mail first) and from “Microsoft" saying that my license was about to expire (nothing in this house runs any Microsoft software).

    (My return call went to a live receptionist and then through to an answering machine black hole, because I left my information but they never called me back. The next day I got another call from “your doctor’s office”. I returned that, got directed to the answering machine, gave up. A few days later I got a letter in the mail saying “we haven’t been able to get through to you”. I called, insisted on not being directed to the answering machine, and finally got the appointment to discuss my endoscopy results.)

  9. Adam Engst has taken to sending all calls that aren’t from contacts to voicemail

    It’s nice to know I’m in good company.

    A representative of my land line company assured me that this could not be done. I was incredulous, but he insisted.

    Is that spoofing technology available to ordinary mortals? Often, when I make a call, I would like the Caller ID on the recipient’s end to show my office number.

  10. That’s exactly what Josh mentioned in the article—getting an angry call from a guy because the spammers were spoofing Josh’s number. I suspect they’re making up numbers randomly but some percentage will overlap with numbers that are in use by legitimate people.

  11. I’ve read that Spoofing technology is inexpensive and easy to set up. I’ve also read that it just sequentially dials numbers within designated area codes, and it can be set up to repeat dial people who answer robo calls. So I don’t think it will work they way you want it to.

  12. In re: AT&T’s Call Protect, while it is true that the basic service is free, the Call Protect Plus costs $3.99 a month (includes protection, allegedly, against Telemarketers, Surveys, Political Calls, etc.). In my experience with the free version, it rarely blocks a call. I currently get about 3-5 robocalls a day, none of which are blocked. Maybe now that Verizon has upped their service, AT&T will follow suit (but I’m not holding my breath)

  13. What are the implications of signing in and putting your caller id on the phone?
    Will Verizon charge me for this?

  14. Would the Verizon spam blocker app work on PagePlus, a virtual mobile network that’s based on Verizon?

  15. There are proposed cryptographic certificate signing protocols called SHAKEN and STIR that providers can use to make sure that the caller ID information is legitimate. If it is not, they can reject the call before it even rings through. The FCC is pushing carriers to adopt these protocols.

    See https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/02/ajit-pai-orders-phone-companies-to-adopt-new-anti-robocall-tech-in-2019/

    There is a free tier and a premium tier. The free tier says that it “shows the name of callers who are not in your contacts”, and also detects spam calls and alerts you that the call is spam as it is received.

    The premium tier allows you to customize spam lists and white lists and automatically forwards spam calls to voicemail without ringing through. There is a monthly cost; I believe it is $3.99/month.

    No, it is for Verizon postpaid customers only. But, again, there are other utilities on the App Store that do this, among them Nomorobo and Hiya. The Sweet Setup did a good review of these apps here: https://thesweetsetup.com/apps/best-spam-call-blocking-app-iphone/

  16. What are the advantages, if any, of the Verizon app over Hiya?

  17. I had call protect (free) installed for about a year before switching to T-Mobile last August. I did make a difference.

    Of course now that I’m turning 65 soon, all kinds of people have my name and number (extracted from legit sources) and I get all kinds of calls about my impending need to sign up with them for extra coverage. Some more legit than others. BCBS vs. “We sell old fart insurance cheep”.

  18. This is a basic thing. I think people should have been very aware of this. We should not give out any information to someone who call us out of the blue. I personally even ignore any calls that come from unfamiliar numbers. Most of those calls are coming from telemarketers. I also read a nice article that talks about this topic at https://www.whycall.me/news/my-4500-payday-from-a-telemarketer/. I think it’s time for us to fight against those telemarketers.

  19. I just installed the app on my iPhone. No option for a free service. I can try it for free but if I don’t cancel it I will be charged $2.99/mo.

  20. The Verizon app has a free tier, while Hiya doesn’t.

  21. Are you a Verizon postpaid customer? It’s not an option for pre-paid customers. Did you follow the instructions in the article? They push the subscription pretty hard, but I promise that there’s a free tier.

  22. I think Hiya is still available for free; you just don’t get lookups for numbers that belong to individual people unless you subscribe to the premium service.

  23. I am looking at my bill due April 8 and it covers 3/17 to 4/16.

    I follow the instructions. I do not see “Turn on for Free.” It very clearly offers me “Try it for free” and “Subscribe Now.”

    If I go to Settings and click on Subscribe the options are “Subscribe now” and “Cancel” The text assures me that I will be charged $2.99/mo.

    .

  24. I didn’t have that at all. Are you installing the same app that I did?

  25. That was my initial suspicion. I just double-checked and followed the link from the article to the app store on my iPhone. Same up, version 2.1 released a week ago. I feel like I have an older version on my iPhone.

    Deleting it and installing again.

    Launched it, so far matching the article for setup.

    It checked my Verizon subscriber status.

    And the options again are “Try it free” and “Subscribe now” for $2.99/month.

  26. I just unsubscribed and restarted the app. At the very top when I open the app, there is a message next to a shield icon that says “You’re not protected” with a button that says “Turn on for free”. Tap that and I get a new screen that says “Get free spam protection” with “Yes” and “No thanks” buttons. Tap “Yes” and after a minute you get a banner “Activating free spam protection - This may take up to an hour to complete”. Tap Ok on that and the top now says “You’re protected” next to an icon of a shield with a check mark in it.

  27. I never get the “Your not protected” message.

    And version 2.1 advertising itself as free spam protection.

    I wonder if it has something to do with my subscription status. I see it checking on that issue before trying to sell me a subscription.

  28. I recently told a friendly cashier that I didn’t like giving out my phone number to get a discount. She suggested I try <local_area_code>-867-5309. (Search the number if it doesn’t ring any bells.) I’ve used it a few times since, and it has always worked.

  29. If the telephone number links to any kind of account that accumulates benefits, you might try redeeming them periodically (before Jenny does).

  30. Thanks. Now I have that song stuck in my head.

  31. I’ve given this one and had telemarketers immediately hang up on me.

    That was back when I would sometimes actually answer a call from one of these vermin.

  32. ver 2.2.1 now, when you go to the app window that shows ‘start your free trial’ or option for paid version @$2.99, did you click on the ‘start your free trail’ ? When I do this, I get a new window that says you get full access to the premium version for the trial period of 10days. “you will not be automatically subscribed after the trail ends.” Presumably @Doug Miller subscribed to the 10-day trial of the premium service and then unsubscribed? I get the same issues as PaulC does when trying to find the supposed free service, after installing app and and then piece by piece enabling permissions to use notifications & then later access to my contact list-for which I trust Verizon about as much as Equifax>>> still not showing the icon D.Miller says showed on his iphone?

    I’m using old iOS 10.1 though, on ip6…so maybe compatibility of the Call Filter app linking capabilities limited w/older iOS vs current (wouldn’t surprise me if Verizon has it not working for all iOS versions/ip models supposedly supported)

  33. I d/l’d v2.2 just now from the iOS App Store and my only choice is “Try it free” and “Subscribe now.” No option to “Use it free” and no “You’re (not) protected.”

  34. This seems like a step in the right direction. But what I’d like to know is this: If I enable it access to my contacts, does that give Verizon the opportunity to collect/ingest/copy the contents of my contacts database (to use as they please), or does the CallKit framework prevent that by, for example, limiting the access to simply the answer to the question, “Is there a match to this number in there?”

    To me, that’s a huge privacy concern.

  35. Same as cotty (above reported): I d/l’d v2.2 just now from the iOS App Store and my only choice is “Try it free” and “Subscribe now.”

  36. Same here. Just a 10 day free trial… seems to have been advertised in version 2.1 as free but in 2.2 now shows a free 10 day trial or pay for premium.

  37. iPhone 6
    iOS 12.1.4
    app version 2.2.3

    I wonder if this is a iPhone version issue beause I also don’t see any thing but the Free 10 day trial. When I start, this is what I see:

  38. I check the Verizon site. While there was a page that provided instructions on how to set up free Verizon Call Filtering via the web site, when I check my account free Verizon Call Filtering was not an option. The only option for Call Filtering was a subscription.

    I am wondering if (1) Verizon offered a free service and withdrew it or (2) the free service is available only in certain states.

  39. I think it’s time for someone to just call Verizon support and ask. :slight_smile:

  40. Ok, I found it on the verison site.

    1. Sign in to your verizon account

    2. Go to My Plans & Services

    3. Select Manage Products & Apps

    4. Use the Get Products tab and the Premium Products option

    5. scroll down till you find the Call Filter app and select the Call Filter Free option

    NOTE: I have 5 lines and I had to go thru this multiple times since it only shows two lines at a time.

    Hope this helps others

    Paul

  41. Regulation has failed to solve this problem in the past, and will continue to fail. A market based solution is needed, and very easily implemented: the carriers should charge every caller some token amount, say 1c, for every call placed. No exceptions! No bulk calling plans! 1 cent would probably be enough, but I’d gladly pay 10c per call to avoid the scourge of spam calls! It would be a win for me, and I bet the carriers would make more money. Why isn’t this obvious?

  42. That’s an interesting idea. This wasn’t a big problem back when calls actually cost money. I’m with you on preferring a market-based solution if feasible, and I think that’s Ajit Pai’s view as well. I dislike a lot of things about him, but I appreciate how he’s using regulatory pressure to encourage the carriers to do the right thing instead of taking a much more heavy-handed approach.

  43. I’m not sure I understand that point. Doesn’t regulatory pressure come from the threat of being able and willing to implement “heavy-handed approaches”?

    If you have a regulator who’s unwilling (or incapable) to enact such measures, why wouldn’t the industry just consider his threats empty thus rendering his regulatory pressure zero?

  44. Tried to set up Verizon Call Filter at the free tier but it is only offering me try-for-free or subscribe now.

    They were also relentless about downloading my Contacts, a 3,200 name contact list including business notes and key data (such as birthdates) which I’m not about to let any service have access to.

    Meantime I created a songfile that is silence (in GarageBand), converted to a ringtone format and saved it as Silence is Golden, added it to the iPhone. Now, any time a junk call comes in, I assign to an existing contact (such as “JUNK 01”) which has its ringtone set as Silence, and also click BLOCK THIS CALLER. This has worked well for over a year now. I do get calls, but no one can bug me twice! I’m up to JUNK 40 with over a thousand bullsh-- numbers stored in there.

  45. I probably needs access to your contacts so it doesn’t flag phone numbers that match contact phone numbers as spam.

  46. I thought the problem with that approach was that many telemarketers these days like to scam others’ phone numbers. So when you block them a) you’re blocking somebody else and b) they will reach you again since they’re always using different numbers.

  47. I tried via the app store and got only the free trial or subscribe. Going to the web site first and then to the app store, as described here, worked for me!!! I have the free forever version. I’ll see how it works out.

  48. The Verizon website approach appears to have worked for me, too…plus I had the option to checkbox both my and my wife’s phone numbers. Thanks!

    (Because it’s been 10 days since I first got the app, I was getting “Free trial expired” when I opened the app, even though it also said “You’re protected”. Didn’t know what to believe!)

  49. I’ve been getting up to half a dozen calls a day from MD numbers all week. Blocking them didn’t help because the last 4 digits were always different. I upgraded HiYa (unpaid) and installed the Verizon app too. They still ring though but they say “potential spam”. I wonder if that’s the Verizon app doing it, because I thought that when HiYa picked up spam, they didn’t ring.

    Diane

  50. In the HiYa app, tap the Protect icon, is Block Fraud Calls and/or Block Nuisance Calls enabled? I just checked mine and found instead of that a message to change my iPhone blocking settings, I had “HiYa-1” enabled but not “HiYa-2;” my guess is the former only does spam warnings and the latter can do blocking.

  51. Yes, when I installed it, it gave instructions on HiYa-2. And I do have the 2 blocks turned on.

    I wonder if the Verizon app is grabbing the calls before Hiya. OTOH when I look in my missed calls, I see most of the recent ones do say HiYa but there is one from yesterday that simply says “Call Filter” before it.

    HiYa was not picking stuff up before I updated it the other day.

    Diane

  52. Well darn, I had considered offering Web site instructions but figured the app-based approach would be the most expedient. Lesson learned.

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