If you’re spending more time at home, you may be more aware of robocalls. These are the calls you missed when you were going to work every day. Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo, a leading robocall blocking service, estimates Americans receive 1.3 robocalls per day. “Initially, phone carriers were resistant to blocking calls, because, by law, they are supposed to carry all calls, or they worried about being held liable if they blocked a legitimate call,” he says. “But the rules are changing, and carriers are much more willing to help protect customers.”

On March 31, the Federal Communications Commission passed a new set of rules for wireless carriers to reduce robocalls using caller ID authentication. The rules require phone companies to verify that the caller ID transmitted with a call matches the caller’s phone number and to block calls with malicious “spoofed” caller identification, which is often used to trick consumers into answering their phones. Carriers have until summer 2021 to comply.

Although the number of robocalls may have dropped amid the coronavirus pandemic, once call centers are allowed to reopen (and campaigning for the 2020 election resumes), you can expect robocalls to start making your phone ring incessantly. That’s why now may be the best time to look into ways to block them. Here are tips on the best strategies for different situations:

You use a cellphone. Before you spend a dime on anything extra, check with your carrier to see what robocall mitigation it offers as part of your package, suggests Lance Ulanoff, editor in chief of the technology website lifewire.com. For instance,
T-Mobile and Verizon mark calls they think are probably spam (you may see a spam label appear on your screen), so you can ignore the call or send it to voice mail. Similarly, AT&T offers AT&T Mobile Security and AT&T Call Protect to automatically block fraudulent calls and provide screen alerts for suspected spam calls.

You want an extra layer of smartphone protection. Consider a call blocker app such as RoboKiller, Hiya, YouMail, Truecaller or Nomorobo. They use various methods to try to block identifiable spammers, while letting legitimate calls get through. RoboKiller asserts that when it blocks a spam call, the app answers the call for you with Answer Bots designed to waste the spammer’s time. YouMail greets robocalls with a “number out of service” message. Many call blocking apps are free; others charge $2 to $14 per month. Be sure to confirm that the app you want is compatible with your phone. Some are designed only for iOS or Android operating systems. If the one you choose doesn’t do the job, stop payment, delete the app and try another, Ulanoff says.

You have VoIP. Voice over Internet Protocol means telephone calls are transmitted over the Internet instead of traditional telephone circuits. Even though you still have a phone plugged into a wall outlet, your provider may have switched to VoIP. Almost all major VoIP carriers now use Nomorobo, which blocks impostors, political calls, debt collectors, scams or shady charities and the like, while allowing for emergency services, weather alerts and other legitimate calls. The beauty of Nomorobo’s real-time protection is that an incoming call simultaneously goes to your phone and Nomorobo (what’s called simultaneous ringing), where it is instantly analyzed based on a database of more than 2 million blacklisted phone numbers. (There are approximately 1,500 new bad numbers detected every day.) If it recognizes a bad number, it disconnects the call, and you’ll hear a single ring. If your phone rings twice, odds are that it’s legitimate. Should a scammer slip through, you hang up and report it to Nomorobo, which adds it to its list. Some carriers, such as Spectrum and Cox, offer one-click setup, while others offer step-by-step instructions where you use your online account to turn the service on. (I use Nomorobo through my home phone provider, Comcast. It took me less than five minutes to set up.)

You have an original telephone landline. For those still using plain old telephone service (POTS), options are somewhat limited. Analog phones that use copper wire can’t support simultaneous ringing, which is why software such as Nomorobo is not available. Nevertheless, there are actions you can take. Check with your provider to see if it offers any of the following features: no solicitation, which asks callers to press one to complete the call; security screen, which requires callers to enter their 10-digit phone number or be disconnected; or caller ID with privacy, which intercepts calls that don’t show a caller ID and requires callers to record their name, and then you decide which calls to accept or reject. You may also want to consider buying a phone that offers a caller ID screen and/or “call blocker” button. And this may be the time to consider asking your carrier to switch you from POTS to VoIP. In case of a power outage, it’s true that your VoIP phone won’t work; however, there’s no difference in voice quality.

You want to outwit and outsmart the bad guys. Even with the best of protections in place, a few robocalls will continue to slip through. Sure, you can add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov), and doing so won’t hurt, but let’s get real: The list was set up for legitimate telemarketers to know who doesn’t want these calls. Robocallers blasting out millions of calls a day don’t care. When you do get a robocall, don’t push any buttons, even if a recording says: “If you don’t want to be called again, push nine.” The more you validate that you are a living, breathing human, the more likely it is that you’re setting yourself up for more calls. If you do pick up a spam call, don’t engage with the caller. Hang up. Resist the urge to prank the caller by speaking gibberish or blowing a loud whistle. They could retaliate and add your name to hundreds of other call lists. Another tip from Foss: Be cautious. If someone says they are with your bank or health insurer, tell them you will call back. Then, call the phone number on your credit card or insurance card.

Unfortunately, the telephone is no longer a trustworthy pipeline. Even with new FCC regulations, robocalls will remain a huge problem. Criminals won’t stay shut down for long. Says Ulanoff: “Now is a good time to develop a robocall strategy for your home and family. Plan on how to block, how to react and what to do the next time the phone rings.”