Apps can help battle robo-calls and telemarketers

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The I-Team investigated a new tool being used to battle robo-calls and telemarketers that pester you.

Robo-calls are the no. 1 complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, and is on the rise with more than 7 million reports of unwanted calls in 2017. But now some people are seeking robo-revenge.

Marisa Fotieo of Lincoln Park uses a silly automated message to mess with telemarketers and answer her robo-calls.

"I mean, it's just like every other day I would be getting these calls, and I would pick them up because it had the same area code where I was from in Michigan, thinking it would be a family member or my parents trying to get ahold of me," she said.

Those callers most likely used spoofing technology to fake the numbers, making it more likely you will answer. Now Fotieo pays the app RoboKiller $2.99 a month to send suspicious and non-programmed numbers directly to voicemail. Live callers get tricked by pre-recorded messages.

Answer Bot: Oh my goodness, hello?
Caller: Hi Ma'am, I like that greeting.
Answer Bot: Hi, how are you?
Caller: I've been doing great.
Answer Bot: I've been waiting for your call!
Caller: Ha, ha, thank you! I was just-

Answer Bot: I'm so glad you called.
Caller: Wow is this Mrs...

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The I-Team examines new ways to stop robo calls and even fool telemarketers.

One telemarketer, fooled by the above automated messages, stayed on the phone for three and a half minutes.

"It's kind of like, 'I'm getting you back for all these calls that you've been calling me with,'" Fotieo said.

Besides RoboKiller, you can also subscribe to the Jolly Roger Telephone Company, which also uses answer bots to mess with telemarketers.

Other apps like YouMail, Nomorobo and Hiyar also identify, filter or stop calls on your smartphone.

"I'll notice my phone is lighting up and it'll say 'blocked call,' and I'll get a little message from RoboKiller," said Fotieo.

But is there a risk of missing legitimate calls that aren't saved in your address book? RoboKiller said its technology makes that risk low, with a false positive rate of less than 1.2 percent. RoboKiller also said even if good calls are accidentally blocked you can still hear the messages in your spam box app and then mark that number as being allowed.

If you file a complaint with the FTC it can make a difference. The FTC recently started passing along robo-call number complaints to telecommunication carriers on a daily basis. Those carriers can also help block numbers on your device.

Click here for more information on what the FTC is doing to pass complaints on to carriers.

Click here for FTC guidance on how to block unwanted calls.

"Our standard advice is that these types of services can help reduce the number of unwanted calls that consumers receive, but consumers should be careful to research what types of calls are blocked and how, so they can be sure to pick the option that makes the most sense for them," the FTC said in a statement to the I-Team.

Click here for the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry Data Book for 2017.


It is estimated that U.S. residents endure over 2 billion unwanted robocalls per month. (Robocall Strike Force Report, Oct. 26, 2016)

The Federal Communications Commission website contains information about services you can use to help block unwanted telemarketing calls, depending on what type of phone service you have and who your provider is:

The wireless industry (CTIA) also has extensive lists of call blocking apps that consumers download depending on what type of phone/operating system you have:

Consumers can also contact the Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Hotline: 1-800-386-5438 (Chicago).
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