HOUSTON – Americans received nearly 5 billion robocalls in the first quarter of 2018.
These are the annoying phone calls made to your cell or landline by a machine. Human-sounding bots answer when you pick up to keep you on the line long enough for a real salesperson or scammer to get on the phone to try to sell you something.
"I'll pick up my phone and if I hear the automated call, then I'll just hang up immediately," one person said.
You can now install apps that will recognize phone numbers used by robocallers and intercept them even before your phone rings.
The app Robokiller won the Federal Trade Commission's 2015 contest for the best tech to help stop robocalls.
Robokiller identifies robocalls and redirects them. Instead of you answering the call, you can choose from dozens of answer bots to pick up, frustrate and waste the time of the robocaller. One of them turns the tables on the robocaller by pretending to be a radio show host.
"Congratulations!" the answer bot said when answering a call from a known robocall number. "I know you called me, but this is going to surprise you. But you've actually reached Radio BC and you are the winner of our cruise contest. That's right! You've won and you and a significant other will be going to the Bahamas on us. You're live on the air right now. What's your name, sir?"
Robokiller records the exchanges between its answer bots and the robocallers so you can listen to them later within the app, which costs $2.99 a month.
Some users claim it blocks more than 90 percent of those spam calls.
If you don't want to pay anything, try True Caller. This app is free if you can tolerate some ads for the basic version. It identifies the person or company calling before you pick up, even if you don't have the number stored as a contact. It also blocks unwanted calls the app has identified as robocalls.
The FCC recently ordered phone companies to step up their efforts to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls. Specifically, the chairman told cellphone service providers that by the end of 2019, they need to find a way to stop robocall spoofing -- the practice of showing a different number on the recipient's caller ID.