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How to block (or at least cut down on) robocalls

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Google goes after robocall scammers demanding business fees in its name
Scam robocallers tell victims: call us now or your Google business listing will labeled closed.

I hate robocalls. You hate robocalls. We all hate robocalls. We have good reason. According to Transaction Network Services (TNS), which manages data networks for such major telecoms as Sprint, US Cellular, and Verizon, a third of all cell calls are now spam. No wonder many of us have stopped answering our phones. But there are other ways to try to block the torrent of telephony terror. 

First, though, while the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act has passed the House, laws won’t stop robocalls. If that were the case then FTC’s Do Not Call Registry would have made robocalls manageable. It didn’t. I’ve been registered since 2010, and I’ve gotten three spam calls in the last four hours.

Nevertheless you might as well start with registering with the FTC. It’s better than nothing.

To register with the Do Not Call Registry, just go to the website. All it asks for is the phone numbers you want to protect and your best e-mail. You’ll be sent an e-mail informing you that you’re now on the Registry.

You can also report robocalls to the FTC. I’ve done it, but nothing seemed to come of it. Some kinds of organizations can still call you even if you’re on the registry. These include: charities, political organizations, surveyors, and bill collectors.

There’s also a new protocol, Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) and the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR), which is Caller-ID on steroids. SHAKEN/STIR is a protocol for authenticating phone calls with the help of cryptographic certificates, so that when someone calls you, you can be sure that the name showing up on Caller-ID really is the person calling. It also lets your phone company know, in theory, who’s responsible for a particular robocall. This service will work with both landline and cellular networks. 

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, it does, but implementing it is going to take years. In the meantime, it’s up to us to block bad callers from our phones.

First, you can manually block repeat offenders on both your Android and iPhone. On Android phones, the methods vary. One common way is go to your recent calls screen and pick the bad number you want to block. Then, tap More. This should give you the option to block the number or block/report spam. Do so and then confirm.

Another common way to block the baddies on Android is to go to your settings page. From here, scroll down to call or call settings, there you may find a setting for call rejection, scroll down to the auto-reject list, and choose to create a new record. On phones which support this you’ll need to key in the number you want to block and then save it.

It’s easier on iPhones. Just open the Phone app and tap on the Recent Calls icon. Find the number you hate and tap on its Info icon. This will give you the option to Block this Caller. Then, when it asks if you’re sure, tap on the button to Block Contact.

Samsung’s latest Galaxy and Note smartphones come with a built-in spam call detector. Smart Call automatically spots dubious callers and lets you block and report them.

This is still a nuisance. So, here’s what the phone companies offer, which you can use to keep annoying callers away.

AT&T’s offering is called AT&T Call Protect. The free version automatically blocks calls from likely fraudsters, identifies telemarketers and other suspected spam calls, and lets you to set up your own blocked list. For $3.99 per month, Call Protect Plus identifies incoming calls by name and location; has built-in reverse-number look-up; and lets you block specific classes of robocalls such as a telemarketer or a political call.

Sprint doesn’t have a robocall program per se. Instead, you can use Sprint Premium Caller ID to see information about unknown callers. Armed with this you can decide if you want to accept or ignore a call. The service costs $2.99 a month.

T-Mobile offers three robocall-blocking services. The first, Scam ID, is essentially caller ID. The second, Scam Block, blocks known scammers. These are both free. Name ID includes the above. It also enables you to block calls for all the numbers on your service and block or send categories of calls directly to voicemail. This service costs $4 a month per line.

Verizon’s free offer is Call Filter. It labels spam calls and automatically blocks them. You can either block all potential spam calls or just “high risk” ones. For $2.99 a month per line you can add a custom block list, reverse number lookup, and reverse-number lookup. 

I use Verizon Call Filter myself and it helps. But bad callers still slip through.

So, I back up Call Filter with the Google Pixel specific Call Screen. This is built into Pixel smartphones starting with the Pixel 2. 

With Call Screen, when you get a suspicious call, you tap “screen call” on your home screen. Google Assistant then answers the call and asks for the caller to tell you who they are and why they’re calling. Google then makes a real-time transcript. You can then answer it, ignore it, or report it as spam. That number will be then be blacklisted on your phone so it can’t be used to call you again. You’re still interrupted by the first call for as long as it takes to hit the button, but afterwards you won’t hear from them again.

There are also numerous third-party smartphone robocall killers. These all work in similar ways. Each service keeps a database of known spammers. When a call comes in, it checks the caller to see if they’re a bad actor. If it is, it will block the call. 

Before even subscribing to any of these services, you should know that none of these are perfect. In my experience, they’ll spot a hostile caller about two times in three. 

Most of these services offer at least a free week. I strongly suggest you try before you buy. 

Nomorobo is one of the oldest call-blocking programs. When a call comes in you can let it be forwarded to voicemail or block it as spam. Nomorobo can also deal with spam text messages. Unlike most robocall killers, you can also use Nomorobo with VoIP landlines. If you’re still on copper, sorry, you can’t use it. Nomorobo is free on landlines and $1.99 a month on mobile.

Hiya Caller ID and Block only works on Android and iPhones. Its special feature is that it detects spoofed calls, which use a similar number to your own number. For example, I often get calls from “people” with the same area code and prefix. The prefix is the three numbers between your area code and the last four numbers, which make up your line number. Hiya spots these in case I don’t. 

You may be already using Hiya and not known it. The company’s software powers robocall protection for AT&T, Samsung, and T-Mobile. 

Hiya’s basic app won’t cost you a cent. The premium edition’s spam database is larger and is updated more often. It costs $2.99 a month or $14.99 a year.

The most amusing robocall killer is RoboKiller. Besides blocking spammers, it gives them sass back via its Answer Bots, which can waste their time with nonsense conversations. You can either use one of their selections or come up with one of your own. Robocall revenge can be sweet. 

RoboKiller costs $19.99 a year. 

I’m going to be frank with you. Even with a combination of services, you’re still going to get robocalls. But with the right mix you can cut them down considerably. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than doing without these services.

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Toyota foils leakers by offering an official image of the 2022 Tundra

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Earlier this week, leaked images were going around claiming to show the next generation 2022 Toyota Tundra. Automakers never like leaks, and often they simply deny that the images are of their vehicle or ignore the leak altogether. However, Toyota used a different tactic when images of its 2022 Tundra leaked, choosing to release an official image of the truck.

2022 Tundra TRD Pro

With Toyota’s move, talk of the 2022 Tundra has moved from the leaked images to Toyota’s official image. However, it’s worth noting that Toyota only offered a single image of the TRD Pro version of the Tundra and offered no details on the truck. Last month, SlashGear posted a review of the 2021 Tundra TRD Pro, highlighting that it was the last hurrah for the current generation of the truck.

However, it does offer a nice opportunity for us to compare the exterior of the 2021 model to the 2022 model. What we see is significant changes on the exterior of the truck. While the overall profile remains virtually the same, the 2022 has a completely new front end that closely resembles the style used on the Tacoma and 4Runner SUV. That means a large black grille with hexagonal openings and bulky Toyota branding on the grille.

It’s unclear if non-TRD Pro versions will have the same front-end treatment. Another interesting tidbit that is easily seen from the official Toyota photograph is that the truck is equipped with an LED light bar underneath the Toyota logo in the grill and what appear to be LEDs underneath the grill on the front black portion of the bumper. The headlights are much smaller and appear to be LED.

2021 Tundra TRD Pro

The truck has modest black fender extensions and rolls on very attractive black wheels. We also note that the truck has integrated sidesteps to make it easier to get in and out. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of what changes might have been made to the interior or under the hood of the truck at this time.

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Ford to purchase Electriphi for integration with Ford Pro services for EV fleets

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Ford has announced it will purchase Electriphi, a California-based provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles. Ford intends to integrate Electriphi capabilities with its Ford Pro services to develop advanced charging and energy management experiences for commercial users. Many large commercial fleet operators are actively transitioning from combustion-powered vehicles to electric vehicles, and managing charging is a significant challenge.

Ford believes that the acquisition of Electriphi will help spur the adoption of the new F-150 Lightning Pro and E-Transit van by fleet operators around the country and the world. The automaker also notes that the acquisition is part of its plan to invest more than $30 billion by 2025 to enable it to lead in electrification for both commercial and retail customers.

Ford Pro is a new global business within Ford designed to help improve commercial customer productivity and develop advanced charging and energy management services. Charging infrastructure and managing charging capabilities for large fleets of electric vehicles is seen as one of the biggest challenges to the adoption of electric vehicles by commercial users. Ford Pro estimates that the depot charging industry will grow to over 600,000 full-size trucks and vans by 2030.

Ford Pro expects to have over $1 billion in revenue from charging by 2030. Ford’s full-electric E-Transit van is currently scheduled to begin shipping later this year, and the F-150 Lightning Pro will begin shipping in the spring of 2022. Electriphi had a team of over 30 employees, and the software they developed is designed to simplify the electrification of fleets, save energy cost, and track critical metrics like the real-time status of vehicles, chargers, and maintenance services. Ford expects to close the acquisition this month at undisclosed terms. Ford Pro will begin for customers in North America, but it will launch in Europe later.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta Review: Sober Value

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Volkswagen would probably call the 2021 Jetta “pragmatic,” and rationality certainly is the name of the game for one of the most affordable cars on the market right now. A mainstay of the compact sedan segment since 1979, the Jetta always promised a balance between the playful Golf and the grown-up Passat. These days, though, the Jetta may have matured a little too far.

Much as with the Golf in the US, VW has pared back the Jetta configurations to a single engine. In fact it’s the same engine: a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The cheapest 2021 Jetta, the S trim from $18,995 (plus $995 destination), comes with a six-speed manual. So, too, does the $22,795 Jetta R-Line.

Otherwise you get an eight-speed automatic, with front-wheel drive across the board. In the case of my 2021 Jetta SEL Premium – the swankiest Volkswagen offers – it pushes pricing to $28,045 plus destination. Part of that is the Cold Weather Package, which is $500 on lesser trims, and the equally priced Driver-Assistance Package.

All Jetta get LED front and rear lights, and R-Line and above upgrade the 16-inch alloy wheels to 17-inch versions. SE and above have heated side mirrors and a panoramic power sunroof. SE and above get dual-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats; cars with the Cold Weather Package have a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. Only the SEL Premium has actual leather upholstery, though.

On the safety side, automatic post-collision braking is standard across the board, while SE and above get forward collision warnings with emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts. SEL and SEL Premium cars throw in adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance.

The Jetta may have the same engine as the 2021 Golf, but the end result still feels fairly different. The Golf has, of course, near-sublime chassis tuning, and is altogether more eager with its 147 horses. Even with the same platform underneath, the Jetta plays things a little more grown-up. It’s surprisingly zippy from a standing start, easily pulling away, but corners see more body roll and the steering is dialed in light.

I suspect that’s what Jetta owners like, though, and certainly it’s a relaxed and unchallenging experience from behind the wheel. The Jetta GLI promises a few more thrills, thanks in no small part to its active damping, but this regular car is unlikely to get your heart rate up.

The same could be said for the cabin, which is dark and sober enough that you could assume Volkswagen is going through its goth phase. Matte black plastics sit alongside gloss black plastics, and the sprinkling of dark silver trim around the clusters of controls isn’t enough to lift the interior out of its somber monochrome.

The switchgear feels good, but the rest of the plastics are only middling, and all the button blanks around the transmission shifter are a reminder that even in SEL Premium form you don’t get a huge number of toys. The 8-inch touchscreen on SEL and SEL Premium trims now runs MIB3, a newer version of VW’s infotainment system; S, SE, and R-Line cars get a 6.5-inch touchscreen and the older MIB2. So, too, the two highest trims pack the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, with a screen replacing the analog gauges.

MIB3 is clean and easy to use, though VW’s graphics don’t stray from the pallid aesthetic of the rest of the interior. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a wireless charging pad, and both SEL and SEL Premium cars get a 400 watt Beats Audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. There’s a surprising degree of bass from that, along with two USB-C ports.

Where the Jetta does stand out – including against the Golf – is in economy. The EPA says you’ll get the same 29 mpg in the city, but highway driving is rated for up to 39 mpg (versus the Golf’s 36 mpg) for a single point advantage at 33 mpg combined. In practice, it’s not difficult to meet those figures either, not least because the Jetta doesn’t especially encourage profligate manners behind the wheel. Highway driving in particular feels tuned for steady plodding rather than anything approaching urgency.

Practicality tips things back in the Golf’s favor, with the Jetta offering 14.1 cu-ft of trunk space versus its hatchback cousin’s 17.4 cu-ft. Still, it feels bigger than that, there’s a 60/40 split rear seat, and adult passengers back there only had a slight dip in headroom to complain about. A four-year/50,000 mile warranty is a little more generous than what many in the category are offering.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Verdict

I’ve said it before: VW’s attentions seem to be on its electrification strategy and the ID range, and that leaves cars like the 2021 Jetta out in the shadows. The compact sedan isn’t a bad car, just an unmemorable one, and the problem there is that it finds itself with competition that rival automakers are taking a lot more seriously.

The new 2022 Honda Civic Sedan, for example, is similarly priced but has a fantastic cabin and is more rewarding dynamically. The Mazda3 has beguiling looks and is far more enjoyable to drive than the Jetta. There’s not really anything objectively wrong with Volkswagen’s car, and those on an extreme budget might find its lesser-equipped trims appealing, but even those who think of their vehicles as appliances will find more to appreciate elsewhere.

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