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New phone features mean you’ll never have to answer another robocall

The government, service carriers and phone manufacturers are working together to limit the amount of scams and telemarketing calls that make it to your phone.
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Our phones now give us an easy way to block unwanted calls. But we can also customize this feature so that certain callers can always get through, no matter what.

With the release of iOS 13, iPhone users have better capability than ever when it comes to hand-picking the calls that come through. The government, service carriers and phone manufacturers are working together to limit the amount of scams and telemarketing calls that make it to your phone. And it’s up to you to decide how many layers of resistance you want to put between you and those calls.

This past summer, my carrier, AT&T, started notifying me via caller ID when a telemarketer or suspected spammer was calling. I have loved glancing at my phone and immediately knowing that I shouldn’t answer. But the new operating system for iPhones is giving you the option of blissful ignorance when an unknown caller tries to get in touch. If this feature is turned on, only phone numbers listed in your contacts, mail and messages will come through at all. If the number isn’t found, the call automatically goes to voicemail.

This stirred up a little debate between me and my husband. I am robotic when it comes to entering new friends and colleagues into my contacts list. In the Rolodex days, I took pride in how fat mine was. Especially as a journalist, the more contacts, the better, and I’m no different today. I have thousands of people in my contacts list, and it’s super helpful to find a source and to know when I can let a call go to voicemail. If an unknown caller shows up on my phone, I have rarely found the call one I’d want to answer anyway. So why not let it go straight to voicemail?

But my husband is a family physician and gets calls all day long from patients, doctors, hospitals and specialists who are not in his contacts list (nor would he want them to be). He is often on-call and always answers his phone in case of emergency. He also worries one of our kids could need help and someone else (not in our contacts lists) might call for them.

While I have no problem being ignorant of an incoming call from someone unknown, I am also really good about checking texts and voicemails regularly. So it would only be minutes before I would know if someone (read: our kids) needed help.

Both lines of thought work. Deciding whether to ignore unknown callers is a personal choice, but one all of us should consider. To turn on the call-blocking feature, go to Settings>Phone>Silence Unknown Callers.

If you do turn it on, incoming calls will still ring from any number you recently called even if it isn’t in your contacts.

Similar technology is available for those using the Pixel 4 phone from Google. Open the Phone app, tap More, then Settings>Spam and Call Screen. Under Call Screen, choose Automatically screen. Decline robocalls. With Pixel 4 phones, you will get a silent “Screening an unknown call” notification, but your Google Assistant will answer for you and figure out who’s calling. If it’s spam, your phone hangs up. If it’s a legitimate call, your phone will ring and show you who is calling.

The second prong of this quest to only and always get calls you really want lives within the Do Not Disturb feature.

Turning on Do Not Disturb has been great for silencing notifications during a meeting or a movie since your phone won’t ring, vibrate or even light up when someone’s trying to reach you. But users should customize it. You can select the contacts who can always reach you whether Do Not Disturb is on or not. I use this at night so I don’t get notifications while sleeping unless it’s a call or text from one of my kids.

For Android phones, swipe down from the top of the screen for the Control Center. Hold down the Do Not Disturb icon to open its settings and tap “Allow exceptions.” Select “Calls from” to choose which contacts will always get through and do the same for “Messages from.” Another option you may want to enable is to get notifications from repeat callers. If you get a call from the same number within 15 minutes, you’ll be notified.

For iPhones, swipe up or down (depending on your phone) for Control Center and hold down the Do Not Disturb icon. Under “Phone” you have three options for who can get through when Do Not Disturb is activated. You can allow Everyone, No One or Favorites.

Make these simple changes to ensure you never miss a wanted call and never get an unwanted one.