Scam Shield: T-Mobile’s free new plan to fight robocalls. Everything to know – CNET

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We break down what T-Mobile’s Scam Shield tool can and can’t do. 
Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Robocalls, spam calls, fraudsters. However you name them, T-Mobile is taking on this class of unwanted incoming calls in the carrier’s latest bid to win subscribers’ hearts — and maybe aim a little spit at Verizon and AT&T’s eye. During an announcement last week, T-Mobile unveiled Scam Shield, a service to block robocalls and otherwise protect you from scams, like IRS impersonators out to get your money.

In the US alone, Americans received over 58 billion robocalls and nearly 30 million Americans were scammed last year, according to T-Mobile. COVID-19 scams increased 70% from May to June, T-Mobile added, citing the FTC, and says Americans lost over $80 million.

So what’s Scam Shield exactly and how does it work? The nuts and bolts get a little confusing. Here’s what we know so far.

What is Scam Shield and who can get it?

Scam Shield is the name of the whole package of software and services designed to better protect you from robocalls and spam. It involves several elements, including enhanced caller ID and call blocking. We’ll get more into the details below. It replaces the previous T-Mobile app known as Name ID.

Can I start using Scam Shield now?

T-Mobile said you can use Scam Shield on any phone within its wider network, which includes Metro by T-Mobile and now, after a mega-merger, Sprint. However, the company also said that Scam Shield will live as a dedicated app on your phone. On July 24, T-Mobile and Metro customers “can download the Scam Shield app,” T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during the taped presentation. 

However, the same customers can also sign up for one layer of the service, Scam Block, any time before then by dialing #662#. Scam Block is designed to keep unwanted calls from ringing your phone, but T-Mobile’s fine print admits that some legitimate calls you do want might also get blocked. Read more details here.

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 Scam Shield is basically five tools in one. 
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

What about Sprint customers?

T-Mobile is in the early stages of migrating Sprint customers over to its network. Meanwhile, the network is making Sprint’s Call Screener app, which has similar functions, free to users, T-Mobile said. 

Is it really free? What happens if I was already paying for it?

If you were already paying for T-Mobile or Sprint’s services, the new Scam Shield and Sprint’s existing Call Screener service will now be free — you won’t be charged going forward. 

Now playing: Watch this: T-Mobile CEO on the un-carrier’s scam and robocall-fighting…

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How do you know who’s really calling you?

Carriers may have more power over identifying callers than you know. CNET called the FCC protocol known as SHAKEN/STIR “caller ID on steroids,” and for good reason. It’s an enhanced form of identification that helps sniff out spoofed or unwanted calls that include fraudsters trying to steal your money. It’s not unique to T-Mobile — Verizon has already rolled out a free version of its Call Filter service to all customers. 

AT&T has also been rolling out the protocol, even teaming up with T-Mobile last year to verify calls between the two carriers’ respective networks. 

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Most phones should be able to work with T-Mobile’s new free service to block unwanted calls.
Angela Lang/CNET

SHAKEN/STIR (also known as STIR-SHAKEN) forms the backbone of T-Mobile’s Scam Shield. The protocol already exists to show you the caller’s real name (as much as possible) even if the person isn’t in your contact list. For example, the office of your doctor or dentist, or another business, like the local pharmacy.

You’ll also see the words “number verified” with a checkmark and the phone number, if T-Mobile has it, which indicates that it isn’t originating from a bot or a call center. A tip, “scam likely,” could also pop up on the screen when the phone rings from a suspicious source.

What are Scam ID and Scam Block?

These are T-Mobile’s names for the various features. Scam ID flags the suspicious calls and Scam Block automatically blocks these likely scam calls so you don’t see them.

Can I change how my Caller ID name displays to others?

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Enhanced caller ID means you can see who’s calling even if they aren’t in your address book.
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

T-Mobile customers: Log into My T-Mobile and go to Profile > Line Settings. Next, click Caller ID and add your business name (in the field for the first name), legal name or a nickname that’s a variation of your legal name. The changes should take effect within 72 hours. Profanity and special characters won’t work. Names will get cut short after 15 characters. Call 611 if it isn’t working.

Sprint customers: Log into MySprint and choose Profile > Settings > Limits and permissions > My preferences > Change Caller ID name. Enter the legal name or first name and the full surname — punctuation, profanity and special characters aren’t permitted.

How do you get a free second phone number?

T-Mobile Proxy is the carrier’s name for a second number you can give out to businesses and people who you don’t want to access your primary phone number. Those calls, texts and voicemails are removed from your main number so they don’t pester you and you can manage them from the Digits app. The whole family can use the proxy number.

The fine print: Magenta, Magenta for Business and Essentials plans get one free proxy number per account. T-Mobile can cancel it “for non-use.” Calls to 911 may be “limited.”

How many times can you change this number?

Each account is allowed one number change per year.

What if I have a landline phone?

T-Mobile also announced free scam blocking for Line Link, the carrier’s landline replacement.

What was T-Mobile saying about the dark web?

This one’s a little tricky. During the window from July 24 until Aug. 31, you can sign up for 12 months of free McAfee identity theft protection. It will alert you if your identity appears on the Dark Web and agents will help you reclaim and restore your identity, including if you lose your wallet and sensitive documents.

The fine print: Only one per line, you have to redeem your code in a “timely” fashion and not all service plans may qualify. 

Read more: Why T-Mobile’s CEO calls a 5G iPhone a “dream”

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