U.S. Markets closed

New Service Can Block Pesky — and Illegal — Robocallers

Aaron Pressman
The Exchange

The federal do-not-call database was supposed to protect consumers from annoying telemarketing calls. There’s only one problem – fraudulent telemarketers ignore the list and make billions of robocalls pitching scams and con games.

Overwhelmed regulators are turning to technology for part of the answer. A new service opening on Sept. 30, called Nomorobo, can block most telemarketing offenders.

The service, created by 35-year-old software engineer Aaron Foss, relies on a feature of the phone system known as simultaneous ring. When a consumer signs up on the Web with the service, all their calls are routed simultaneously to one of Nomorobo’s online servers. Before the call even rings at the consumer’s end, the service analyzes whether the call should go through or be blocked, based on a vast database of fraudulent calling numbers.

The Federal Trade Commission, which receives some 200,000 complaints a month about robocalling, last year held a contest for the best technological solutions; Foss was one of two winners among 800 entries.

“Personally, I don’t have a really big problem with robocalls but I thought I had a creative solution for the contest,” Foss says.

Although Nomorobo’s servers currently rely on lists of over 1 million numbers that have already been tagged as robocallers, Foss designed the system to learn. A new, unknown number that is placing thousands of calls a minute may set off a red flag, for example.

The free service is initially available only to customers of five so-called Voice over Internet, or VoIP, services: Verizon Fios (VZ), AT&T (T) U-Verse, Vonage (VG), Cablevision Optimum (CVC) and SureWest. Those carriers were among the easiest to set up with the simultaneous ring feature, Foss said.

But he plans to expand quickly if the service proves popular: “There are 500 million phone numbers in the United States and I’d love to have them all.”