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What Can You Do To Minimise Spam SMSes/Calls

If you were among the millions of mobile users across the country hoping to see the death of SPAM SMS and calls with the new guidelines set by telecom regulator, we are sure you must be disappointed.

When Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) implemented it last month (after taking its own sweet time to do so), what was supposed to be a 'fool-proof' plan turned out to be a mess with a flipflop on how many SMSs can one send (to prevent telemarketing spam )and so on. But these measures didn't work as well as they should have.

For instance, the 200 SMS limit does not become a limiting factor for telemarketers who can easily use international SMS gateways to spam people.

Undoubtedly, the number of spam calls and SMSs has gone down, but they are still there to plague users. So at the end of the day, consumers are back to square one and still stuck with the problem of call/SMS spam.

Techricle.in looked at what options do you have to stop telemarketers from pestering you.

Let's begin with the official word. TRAI has clarified that if a subscriber registered with the National Customer Preference Register (NCPR) receives unsolicited commercial communication, the customer can register a complaint through voice call or SMS. He/she can do so either by dialling the toll free number 1909 or by sending an SMS to 1909 from his/her telephone.

In a bid to deter promotional SMSs further, TRAI has also prescribed a 'promotional SMS charge' of Rs 0.05 (five paisa), payable by an originating access provider to the terminating access provider for each promotional SMS sent by a registered telemarketer from the network of the originating access provider to the network of the terminating access provider.

But given the quantum of penalty it is no wonder what's the impact.

The other line of defence against spammers is specialised apps. Here's a look at some of the apps for popular mobile operating systems like Google's Android OS, Apple's iOS and the BlackBerry OS. These apps are available in various app stores like iTunes, Android Market and BlackBerry App World, and can be downloaded and installed directly on to your mobile devices.

As you can rightly guess, these apps provide users with call/SMS blocking options. You can block all incoming calls or only those numbers not in your contact lists. You may also block individual numbers, specific contacts or even the numbers that start with a particular digit.

Additionally, some of these apps (such as Call Control) come with a community blacklist which is basically a list of callers flagged by the community (of Call Control users). Calls from these numbers are, therefore, blocked automatically. Users can also choose to block certain area codes (for example, you can block all numbers from the area code 022) or block private and unknown numbers (those shady calls where no number is displayed on the screen).

If users don't want to take the time to blacklist numbers, an option of whitelist is also available. Here, you can actually decide which numbers from your contacts need not to be blocked and the rest will be automatically blocked. For greater flexibility, you will have the option to modify blocking rules at any time.

Users also have the choice to opt for various types of blocking. They can choose to send a call directly to voicemail or the blocker app can automatically pick it up and hang up on the caller. A number of automatic answering modes like 'power off', 'busy', 'no service' and 'the number is not in service' are also provided. Also, users can also choose to send a custom text message to a blocked number.

Android: Advanced Call or SMS blocker (Rs 260), Call Blocker (free), Call Control – Call Blocker (free), Call Block (free).

BlackBerry: SRS Call SMS and eMail Spam Blocker (for $9.99 or approx. Rs 520), Call Blocker Pro ($1.99 or approx. Rs 104), SMS Blocker Optinno ($2.99 or approx. Rs 156), Call Blocker and Screener ($1.99 or approx. Rs 104).

iOS 5: Bad Decision Blocker ($0.99 or approx. Rs 52), Blacklist ($1.99 or approx. Rs 104).

Others: For Symbian: Call & SMS Filter (for Rs 60-Rs 75), BlackBaller Call & SMS Filter (Rs 125), Call Blacklist (Rs 99) and BlockMe (Rs 99).

But these apps are also not without their limitations.

TRAI guidelines dictate that for sending promotional messages, telemarketers have to use alphanumeric identifiers in the format 'XY-RZZZZZ' where X stands for the code allotted to the access provider, Y stands for service area and R being any digit from 0 to 7 where 0 indicates that the SMS is commercial communication but does not belong to any preference category and 1-7 indicates the preference specified (like banking and financial products, real estate and education, among others). Finally, ZZZZZ will indicate a five-digit unique identification code allotted to the telemarketer by the access provider. Additionally, the telecom resources, allotted by an access provider to the telemarketer, will be from the number series 140.

This, in turn, creates a problem for the call/SMS blocker applications since they have difficulty in identifying genuine calls and SMSes from spam and that diminishes the overall efficiency of the apps.

Moreover, some of the SPAM messages come from new numbers violating TRAI's guideline for sending promotional messages. So one has to keep adding a new number everytime the SPAM comes but then again there is no way to stop it if everytime it comes from a fresh number.

Vodafone Offerings

Telecom operator Vodafone also provides a service called Call Filter that helps subscribers block one or more numbers by dialling *514# (toll free) from their Vodafone mobile phones. Alternatively, one can call 55144 and follow the menu to activate the service. You can also create a list of numbers (called the Blacklist) and callers from those numbers won't be able to call you.

You can enter as many numbers as you want to the Blacklist and when the blocked callers call you, they get to hear a message that states: The Vodafone subscriber you are trying to reach does not wish to receive your call. Similar to the call-blocker app, Vodafone is also providing subscribers with the option of creating a Whitelist. Although the Blacklist and the Whitelist are mutually exclusive services, both cannot be active at the same time.

Subscribers have to pay a monthly rental of Rs 99 for the service and all calls to 55144 are charged at 50p/min.

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