AT&T App Blocks Spam Phone Calls

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AT&T rolled out a new smartphone app Tuesday that it says will warn subscribers before they pick up the phone if an incoming call might be spam.

The Call Protect feature resembles a traditional email spam filter, but for phone calls. It works in two ways: in addition to network-level monitoring and blocking of known spam calls, your phone will display an alert for suspected spam calls that warns you to be careful when answering.

If the call does turn out to be spam, you can mark it as such within the app, and future calls from that number will be blocked, similar to the built-in call blocking features offered in iOS and Android.

The free Call Protect app has iOS and Android versions, and is available for AT&T customers to download today. The catch is that it only works while you're in AT&T's HD Voice coverage area. HD Voice is AT&T's implementation of VoLTE, which sends calls over the cellular data network for much improved sound quality. It blankets much of the eastern portion of the US, but has large gaps west of the Mississippi, including virtually all of the Mountain West.

The VoLTE network's data capabilities are presumably how the Call Protect service is able to analyze calls and label potential spam. It's not clear if your smartphone will need to be compatible with HD Voice to use Call Protect, although many mid-range and higher-end phones on the AT&T network are compatible, including the iPhone 7.

Even if you aren't able to use the Call Protect app, the fact that AT&T is committing resources to defeating spam phone calls is promising. A Microsoft study in October found that 20 percent of Americans have lost money to tech support scammers, who traditionally prey on victims via unsolicited phone calls.

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