For many, it’s the scourge of modern communications: unwanted (and often illegal) automated outbound telephone calls, otherwise known as the “robocalls.” Since this technology first debuted, both consumers and telecommunications providers have been looking for ways to halt unwanted calls in their tracks. Few have been successful, until now.
To begin with, there are two classifications of robocalls. There are the useful ones, such as prescription or doctor’s appointment reminders, notices of school delays or cancellations, emergency weather alerts and communications from utilities (“Your power will be restored by 6:00 pm tonight.”) Then there are the really annoying ones, such as “Rachel from card member services” or the voice that informs you that there have been break-ins your area and you may be eligible for a free security system. Though federal law prohibits commercial robocalls without the consumer’s permission, particularly to those on the federal do-not-call registry, the bad players who make these calls gleefully break the law, masking their caller IDs to continue their odious business without fear of retribution.
The number of complaints of harassing robocalls is on the rise. In fact, robocalls make up the lion’s share of consumer complaints to both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The latter agency says it receives about 200,000 complaints about robocalls each month. While the FTC encourages consumers to report incidents of illegal robocalling, the truth is that it’s nearly impossible to catch more than a handful of the perpetrators. Many of them are based in foreign countries and take steps to cover their tracks.
The problem became so severe that in 2012, the FTC (News - Alert) created a “Robocall Challenge,” or a contest that encouraged crowdsourced solutions to the problem. One of the winning entries, a solution called Nomorobo, went live in September of 2013. The solution was developed by Aaron Foss, a freelance software designer who won $25,000 for his efforts.
The solution makes use of a feature that is available on many VoIP phones that allows consumers to route an incoming call to all of their phones at once. By registering with Nomorobo, consumers will ensure that all incoming calls ring the Nomorobo phone number as well. Once the solution detects patterns in outbound calling (thousands of calls from the same number at once, which means it’s likely a robocall), it will identify and “blacklist” that number. If a robocalls is detected, it disconnects the call after the first ring, or even before it rings. Voila…as the solution’s name implies, no more robocalls.
As of this month, 25,000 people are using Nomorobo, and many users are reporting that the solution really does the trick, according to a recent CNBC article. There are currently 1.2 million phone numbers in the company's database of blacklisted phone numbers. These known robocallers come from complaints filed with state and federal regulators.
“We are now blocking 48,000 robocalls per week and getting tons of positive feedback," said Foss, who is based in Long Island. "The demand has been absolutely amazing."