Friday, June 22, 2018

Hiya - Stopping Phone Spam - Caller ID Call Blocking robocalls

Hiya - Stopping Phone Spam - Caller ID Call Blocking robocalls - A wordy product recommendation.

My phone, like yours, has been the target of repeated and persistent robo calls, spam calls, spoofed calls, unknown numbers, and telemarketers.  Every day I get unknown, unregistered, or invalid-number calls and they all want to leave messages. 

How did they get your phone number?  It seems every company from Home Depot, to Equifax, to Chilis, and T-mobile, have lost their database to hackers.  Your number is out in the wild.  Plus, it is easy to robo-dial every possible number.

The numbers used change daily.  For example, in Area-Code 202 (DC), 16 million calls were placed this quarter, using 1,300 different numbers.  Texas Area-Code 469 had 10 million calls, using 1,000 different numbers.

Don't waste your time registering with the National Do Not Call database.  This list is mostly used by non-profits to call you directly (they are exempt from the list are are known to use it.  Meanwhile, spammers, crooks, and thieves don't use the database -- because, well -- they are dishonest.

If you are like me, you no-longer accept un-recognized that are not in your address book.  This works to-a-point, until your voice mail fills.


You need Software

On the Android and Apple App stores, consider installing the free Hiya Call Blocking software.  This program examines inbound calls and compares with a database. Reported calls are blocked.

Most spam calls ring one time while the database is searched, then are deleted/intercepted.

If an unknown (non-reported) call passes through to the phone, hang up.  Then, in the Hiya application pop-up, "Block" the call and "Report" to the database; this appears to be a two-step process; see below for comments.  Once that number reaches a database threshold (number of reports), the number blocks for all users in the system.


Installing Hiya

Install "Hiya Caller-ID & Block" from the App Store.  Naturally, at least on the Android Play Store, you'll find several look-alike apps; be-careful and look for the icon displayed above.

The free version is really free.  No strings attached.  No advertising.  No gimmicks.  Refreshing. It updates the phone's spam-database once-a-day.

There is reportedly a premium version, for $3 per month ($20 per year); this updates the database three-times-per-day -- I have seen, but cannot find this option and a note has been sent to the vendor.  I want to pay for this option and for their work. 

AT&T customers can use Hiya's program, through the AT&T network -- This is good, but convoluted option.  This version updates more frequently, but is a serious pain to install.  To use, install two different AT&T apps:  "AT&T Mobile Security" and then "AT&T Call protect."  I am unclear why they require the first program to use the second.  Under the hood, it is the Hiya program.  This keyliner article describes the program in more detail: Using ATT Call Protect.


Recommended Settings:

When installed, create an optional setup account (I tied mine to Google); this way your "block database" is backed-up and can be used with a new phone.

Next, in the "Settings screen (gear icon)," Incoming Calls, make these recommended changes:

"Scam and fraud Calls"  - Block (send to Voice Mail).
"Suspected Spam Calls"  - Block (send to Voice Mail).
"Calls from Private Numbers" - Block (send to Voice Mail).
"All other incoming calls" -  Show caller ID.
"Outgoing Calls" - set to "Do nothing".

A "Block (do not send to Voice Mail)" is a needed option, especially on the first two menu choices.

Note the app does not require permissions to use the address book -- but is probably benefits from this.  Consider this change:  In the System Apps screen, under Hiya, under "Permissions," grant access to the Address Book -- presumably giving it permission to allow those calls to pass through.  It is unclear if this is indeed what happens and the website does not have details about this.  Similarly, would granting "SMS" rights allow it to block unwanted text messages?  Unclear, un-documented.


Idiosyncrasies

The Hiya program has some strange oddities. 

For example, it is not obvious how to get to the list of incoming calls.  The bottom "phone-menu" icon is really the recent-call report.  For the longest time, I thought this was to place a new call.  That is what the number-pad icon is for...  I was afraid to click the phone icon...  This is a wrong user-interface.

The Today-report does not always show phone numbers, sometimes showing "general spam" -- with no phone number.  With this said, today I looked at the report and the numbers are listed.  This may be a bug.  Calls from the Address Book are listed by name -- but again, no phone number.  This is inconsistent and confusion.  This is a phone-number-blocking program.  We need to always see the numbers.

An irritation:  When reporting a spam call, it seems to take four or five clicks to make the report.  It should be two:  1 to report, 2 to choose the type of spam (marketer, general spam, IRS Scam, Survey, etc.).  Too many clicks; too many options.  We are already annoyed the call made it through, we don't want to be annoyed at a data-entry screen.  We just don't have time for this stuff.

A confusion:  The program is unclear if you choose "Report" -- does this also "Block" the call?  I am always unsure and end up clicking both buttons.  We need clarification here.  Why would we ever want to Report a number and not block it?  The button should read, "Report and Block."   The Block option is understandable -- block, but don't bother filling out a 5-click report.  But even this is confusing.  If I block, does it still "report" the number back to the home database?  Gosh, I hope so.

"Mr. Number"

The publisher has a second program called "MN" (Mr Number), which is similar to the the Hiya program -- doing the exact same features.  The program is listed prominently on their website, but again, there is no explanation on what it does and why it is different than the main program. 

But App and Play Store reviews roundly trounce this program -- with many 1-star reviews.  I did not try this program.  It may be an older version?  Gee, I just can't tell.  This makes the company, or at least their webpage, a little flaky.


Conclusion:

Phones are becoming unusable because of spam.  Despite the idiosyncrasies, "Hiya Call ID and Block" is a good program and worth installing.  I liked it better than competing programs, Caller ID and TrueCaller.