NEW YORK — For Michael Rizzo, answering the phone is too often a waste of time.
His Sports City Pizza Pub in Buffalo, New York, depends on customers calling to order wings, pizza and potato skins. But much of the time, it’s an automated message pushing a scam. “It’s getting to the point where it’s blocking other callers from coming in,” the 24-year-old bar owner said.
Help is coming, if slowly. Over the past year, prodded by the government, cellphones have added new tools to counteract unwanted “robocalls.” The Federal Communications Commission has proposed letting phone companies block more spam and is hoping to deter scammers with big fines.
Experts say these steps are not a cure-all, but they’re a good start.
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WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
The federal and state “Do Not Call” lists are supposed to protect people from unwanted calls from telemarketers. But scammers don’t care about breaking the law.
Scammers reach people cheaply and easily using “autodialers,” which spew out a large number of calls automatically. It’s estimated that Americans receive tens of millions of robocalls every day. Not all of them are fraudsters, of course. Pharmacies send automated messages about prescriptions being filled. But too often, it’s this: you owe the IRS money; it’s Microsoft calling to fix your computer; free cruises!
And spam callers have tricky technology that makes a phone’s caller ID display a local or important-looking caller, like the IRS. Cracking down on “spoofed” numbers would make running a scam more difficult and save U.S. consumers millions of dollars, a group of state attorneys general said in an FCC filing.
WHAT PHONE COMPANIES ARE DOING
Phone companies and independent apps can screen or block unwanted calls by checking them against databases of known problem numbers and analyzing suspicious behavior, like a number that’s calling lots of people on Do Not Call lists.
Wireless carriers also have tools that flag incoming calls with warnings like “scam likely,” but they aren’t available on all phones, or to many prepaid customers. The versions from Verizon and Sprint cost extra.
A few Android phones, including Google’s Pixel, screen spam calls for free.
Jen Vargas, 39, a multimedia producer from Orlando, Florida, said her AT&T app flags and blocks some fraudulent calls to…