Just before the holidays, I wrote about a new, free service that promised users they could thwart robocalls.
The service, www.nomorobo.com, screens calls and hangs up on them. Developer Aaron Foss tied for first place in the Federal Trade Commission’s competition last spring for best technology to combat robocalls and shared in a $50,000 prize.
At the time, only a handful of national phone carriers — mostly companies that have Internet-based or digital phone services, such as Vonage and AT&T’s U-Verse — had the feature that works with Nomorobo. Foss continues trying to get traditional phone companies and cellphone providers to get the appropriate software to work with Nomorobo. He has even testified before Congress on the topic.
I had been waiting for officials from Time Warner Cable — one of the largest phone providers in our area — to confirm their services for digital phone customers could work in conjunction with the Nomorobo service, which they did.
Then it turned out Time Warner Cable wasn’t quite ready. The company thought its phone software was ready to allow for something called “Simultaneous Ring,” or what Time Warner calls “Answer Anywhere.” That would allow phone users to have an incoming phone call ring at home and at Nomorobo’s computer servers. If the number calling was a known robocaller or exhibited characteristics of a pattern, the phone would ring once and then be cut off. (Three previous columns on this can be found online at www.ohio.com.)
Time Warner Cable officials say the company expedited the software upgrade and that effort is continuing. But it’s not done. If you don’t see the option on a computer dashboard for Time Warner Cable, you will have to call and ask for a manual upgrade.
Check and see
To see if you have the Answer Anywhere function, log on your computer to the “My Services” tab and go under “Digital Phone” for Time Warner Cable. Look for “Answer Anywhere” under the “Call Forwarding” section.
When you register online at www.nomorobo.com or log on to your account, if you’ve already registered before, there are step-by-step instructions.
Foss said he is confident that Time Warner Cable’s service is compatible. That includes a secondary issue where Caller ID information being forwarded from Time Warner Cable to Nomorobo’s database was the wrong number, making the service useless.
“It blocks most robocalls right now,” Foss said. “Some of them do slide through and each day that goes on and the more people report it to the system, the system gets better. Right now, it blocks more than 100,000 robocalls per week throughout the country. In total, Nomorobo has blocked 1.5 million robocalls.
“That’s robocalls that didn’t get through. It’s 1.5 million elderly that didn’t get scammed or dinners that didn’t get interrupted,” Foss said. “But I don’t know how many it didn’t block. That’s the best I can give. It’s a free service. Try it out.”
I asked a few readers to test it with me. So here we were, wanting robocalls, and they didn’t seem to come as often, or we weren’t home to get them.
But many readers have now reported that they have successfully had the phone ring once and cut off a potential robocaller. There have also been calls that have come through. I’ve experienced the same thing. (My kids thought something was wrong with me the first time the phone rang once and cut off, which made me excited.)
Foss said, “It’s getting better. It’s brand new and that’s why it’s free. If I was charging for this and it didn’t block 100 percent of the calls, we’d have a bigger problem.”
Foss intends on keeping the service free and perhaps later offering premium services for a fee, most likely designed for businesses suffering from robocalls.
Things to consider
Here are a few items to know related to Nomorobo:
• If you are a Time Warner Cable Digital Phone customer and you don’t see the “Answer Anywhere” on your computer when you go online to www.twc.com, call for a manual upgrade. Here’s exactly what you should ask for, according to Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Hogan: “My EMTA needs the IMS upgrade so that I can access ‘Answer Anywhere’ or ‘Nomorobo.’ ” If that doesn’t work, or the customer service representative doesn’t understand what you are talking about, ask to be transferred to a Tier 3 support representative.”
Hogan said Time Warner Cable will continue manual upgrades until an automated process takes over.
Any new phone customers of Time Warner Cable’s digital phone since 2013 directly go to the newest platform, so they don’t need the upgrade, Hogan said.
• When you are on Nomorobo, wait until a second ring to pick up the phone (often, it takes a second ring for Caller ID to register anyway). Foss said the data are anonymous and Nomorobo is not monitoring calls. The service will not block school closings or appointment reminders or weather advisories.
• If a robocall call slips through, you can and should report it to Nomorobo, so the system can verify it and add it to its database. Call 608-371-NOMO (6666) and input the number or text it to the same number from a cell phone or online.
Foss gets reports received by the Federal Trade Commission every two weeks and adds those to the database. If you report a number to Nomorobo directly, it will get verified and added to the “blacklist.” However, it doesn’t have the ability to share those numbers with the FTC, so you would still need to report the number to the FTC.
• If you receive a nuisance call, don’t engage the caller or message. Don’t push any buttons in an attempt to be placed on a Do Not Call list. That just verifies your number is valid.
Numbers of suspected robocallers can be reported to 877-382-4357. For more information or to complain, go to www.ftc.gov/robocalls.
Often, calls come from “spoofed” numbers, which means a hijacked number or a fake. The FTC uses complaint information in investigations.