How Do You Block “Potential Spam” Calls?
Americans are drowning in spam and scam phone calls. While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has made shutting down phone scammers a top priority, Americans still lost nearly $40 billion to phone scams in 2022 alone [*].
In an effort to reduce spam calls and protect customers, most cell phone carriers try to flag potential spam callers on your caller ID — but they’re not perfect.
For example, Verizon customers will see a “potential spam” label — which is a feature of the phone provider, not your phone itself. But what does it mean if you’re constantly getting “potential spam” calls? And is there a way to block them for good?
Engaging with phone scammers can put you at risk of financial loss and identity theft. In this guide, we’ll explain how you can safeguard your family against phone scammers, block spam and scam calls, and avoid getting scammed.
What Are Potential Spam Calls? Why Do Certain Calls Get Flagged?
Potential spam calls are phone numbers that have been found in a database of known scam numbers. Numbers might also be flagged if your phone carrier can’t verify the caller.
For example, Verizon uses machine learning to determine whether it needs to issue a "Potential Spam" label when someone tries to call you. The metadata uses behavioral analytics to uncover call details, such as the call origin and type of call (audio vs. text). Suspicious callers are flagged by the algorithm, and Verizon displays “Potential Spam” on your caller ID.
Depending on the call and your phone carrier, you might see a different label. However, they all mean the same thing.
Here are some other labels that you might see on your smartphone’s call screen that indicate a spam call:
- Scam or Spam Likely: If your carrier is T-Mobile, you will see a “Scam Likely” label instead of “Potential Spam” if an incoming caller could be a scammer.
- Spam Risk: AT&T customers might see a “Spam Risk” label attached to an incoming caller ID if the carrier has indicated that the number is associated with a scam.
- Potential Fraud: Sprint’s fraud algorithm triggers a “Potential Fraud” warning if there’s a suspicious number trying to reach you.
- Neighborhood Spoofing: Scammers often “spoof” their phone numbers to look like they’re calling from local numbers. T-Mobile customers may see a “Neighborhood Spoofing” label if it’s believed that the caller is spoofing a local number.
- Telemarketer, Political, Non-profit, or Survey: More sophisticated technology can determine if the caller is a telemarketer, survey administrator, or a representative from a political campaign or non-profit organization.
- Robo Caller: If an incoming caller’s phone number is known to the carrier as a robocall or other pre-recorded message, you might see “Robocaller” pop up in the caller ID field.
The bottom line: Phone carriers can’t keep up with spammers. Scammers are always looking for ways to get around mobile phone carriers’ security settings. While “potential spam” and other similar labels are helpful, you shouldn’t rely on them to protect you against all scams.
Aura’s AI-powered Call Assistant screens calls on your behalf to ensure that only legitimate callers get through. Try Aura free for 14 days and protect yourself from phone scams.
What Happens If You Answer a Potential Spam Call?
There are many different types of spam calls. Telemarketers, sales calls from legitimate businesses, phone phishing scams, and illegal robocalls are all spam.
If you answer a potential spam call, there are several things that can happen:
- You could become the victim of identity theft. Scammers often impersonate trusted authorities in an attempt to get your sensitive information, like your Social Security number (SSN) or Medicare plan number. If you give away any of this information, criminals could use it to steal your identity.
- You could lose money to a phone scam. If you get tricked into giving phone scammers your financial information — like your credit card number or bank account login — they could drain your bank accounts or use your credit card for unauthorized purchases.
- Your phone bill could skyrocket. Some phone spammers use a “one-ring call" tactic, calling you from a number that looks local, in hopes that you’ll call them back. In reality, you’re charged exorbitant fees when you call back these numbers.
- You’ll receive even more spam calls. If you unknowingly answer a spam call and engage with spammers, they know that your phone number is active and that you’re willing to talk. As a result, they might target you with even more scam calls in attempts to defraud you.
- Spammers could hijack your phone number. Through phone scams like SIM card swapping, it’s possible for hackers to hijack your phone number — giving them access to your incoming calls and text messages.
💡 Related: How To Identify a Scammer On the Phone →
How To Block “Potential Spam” Calls on Your Phone
Unfortunately, there’s no single way to block all potential spam calls on your phone or through your carrier. To keep spammers from calling, you have to either block scam numbers individually or use a third-party tool to screen spam calls for you.
Here are a few ways to block potential spam calls on your phone:
1. Use an AI-powered spam call blocker
One of the most effective ways to stop scam callers is to use an AI-powered spam call blocker, like Aura’s Call Assistant. Here’s how Aura can protect you from phone scams and block spam calls:
- Verifies incoming calls against known spam numbers. Aura uses a constantly-updating spam number database to block known spam numbers and known scammers.
- Screens unknown callers on your behalf. If a number isn’t instantly recognized as spam but is coming from an unknown caller, Aura will answer on your behalf and ask what they’re calling about. Legitimate callers will be forwarded to you, while scammers and spammers will be hung up on or forwarded to your voicemail.
- Filters spam and scam text messages. Aura can also scan incoming text messages for spam or dangerous links, and will automatically send them to your smartphone’s junk folder.
2. Block individual spam numbers
Without a spam and scam call blocker, you’ll need to block individual spam numbers on your phone. You can also report the phone number as spam, which tells your carrier that the call came from a fake number or a scammer.
How to block spam numbers on Android:
- Open the Phone app.
- Find the spam number, then tap and hold on it.
- Select Block from the menu to block the caller.
How to block spam numbers on iPhone:
- Open the Phone app, and tap on Recents.
- Find the spam number, and tap on the “circled i” icon on the right side.
- Scroll down, and tap on Block this Caller.
3. Use spam blocking tools from your phone carrier
All the major phone carriers offer tools that can prevent spam callers from contacting you — with varying degrees of success. Some of these apps are free, and others cost money to use.
Here are some of the more popular spam-blocking apps that you can use, depending on your carrier:
- AT&T ActiveArmor. AT&T ActiveArmor offers a suite of tools, including spam call blocking, data breach notifications, identity monitoring, reverse number lookups, and public Wi-Fi protection. The free app is included with every phone plan, but the features are limited. You can upgrade to the paid version for $3.99 per month to get more features [*].
- Verizon Call Filter. Verizon’s free Call Filter app provides spam detection, a spam filter, a neighborhood filter, and the option to set allowable numbers. If you upgrade to the Call Filter Plus app for $3.99 per month, you also get access to spam number lookups, a personal block list, a spam risk meter, and more [*].
- T-Mobile ScamShield. T-Mobile’s ScamShield app blocks known spam numbers before you ever see the call come through. You also get free caller ID and a second PROXY number in case you don’t want to share your private phone number. The basic app is free, or you can pay $4 per month to get Scam Shield Premium — which offers additional features like texted voicemails, reverse number lookups, and categorized spam blocking [*].
💡 Related: The 10 Best Spam Call Blocker Apps of 2023 →
4. Silence unknown callers
There’s a feature on Android and iOS devices that lets you silence callers that aren’t in your contact list. If anyone calls you who’s not an existing contact in your address book, your phone won’t ring and the call gets sent straight to voicemail.
Silencing unknown numbers won’t stop scammers from contacting you, but it eliminates the risk of unknowingly picking up a spam call.
How to silence unknown callers on Android:
- Open the Phone app, and then tap on the three dots next to the magnifying glass icon.
- From the menu that appears, tap on Settings.
- Scroll down, and tap on Block Numbers.
- Tap on the Block Unknown Callers toggle to activate this feature.
How to silence unknown callers on Apple devices:
- Open the Settings app; then scroll down and tap on Phone.
- Scroll down, and tap on Silence Unknown Callers.
- Tap on the Silence Unknown Callers toggle to activate this feature.
💡 Related: Why Am I Getting So Many Spam Calls? →
5. Add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry
The Do Not Call Registry, which is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), allows you to opt out of receiving communications from telemarketers.
It’s free to register your landline number and cellphone number. However, signing up for the Do Not Call Registry won’t block all spam calls. It won’t filter unwanted calls from groups like political campaigns and non-profits, nor will it stop scammers from getting your number in the first place.
How to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry:
- Visit www.donotcall.gov and click on Register Your Phone.
- On the next screen, select Register Here (if you’ve never registered before).
- Enter the fields with your phone number and email, and then click on Submit.
6. Remove your phone number from data broker lists
One of the most common ways that scammers get ahold of your phone number is through data broker sites. Data brokers are companies that collect personal information through legal sources and sell it to marketers, retailers, and sometimes, spammers. If a scammer gets your number through a data broker, you can request for your listing to be removed.
To manually remove your contact information from data broker websites, you’ll need to submit a request to each website individually.
To simplify the process, you can use a third party, like Aura, to do this for you. As part of its comprehensive identity protection service, Aura sends requests on your behalf to remove your contact information from data broker sites.
Did You Answer a Spam Call? Here’s What To Do
Simply answering a spam call isn’t dangerous, though it does increase the potential for you to receive more spam calls. But if you’ve given the scammer any sensitive information, you could be at risk of identity theft, fraud, or other forms of hacking.
Here’s what to do if you gave personal information to a spam caller, said “yes” when prompted, or sent the spammer money or gift cards:
- Secure your online accounts. If you think you’ve disclosed sensitive account details or passwords, immediately update your passwords, and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all of your important online accounts.
- Ignore future potential spam calls. If the scammer tries to contact you again (or you get a spam call from someone else), simply let the call go to voicemail and then block the number. Do not try to engage with the caller.
- Freeze your credit report. To prevent hackers from opening fraudulent accounts in your name, consider freezing your credit. This restricts access to your credit report so that no one can open new credit accounts (even you). Submit a freeze request to each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) online, via phone, or by mailing a request [*].
- Try to get your money back. If you sent the scammer money or gift cards, see if you can recover the money. Call your bank or the gift card retailer (like Amazon) and explain that the transaction was fraudulent. There’s no guarantee of getting the money back, but the bank or retailer might be able to reverse the transaction if you act quickly.
- Submit a fraud report to the FTC. You should report the fraud to the FTC. While the FTC won’t assist with your individual case, it uses fraud reports to investigate known scammers and bring cases against them by partnering with law enforcement.
- Monitor your credit and accounts for signs of fraud. If you give sensitive information to a scammer, make sure to monitor your credit and online accounts regularly for signs of fraud. If you notice any strange transactions or unfamiliar accounts on your credit report, contact the company right away and report it.
- Make your phone number less accessible to scammers. An easy way to reduce the number of scam calls you receive is to hide your phone number from criminals. Remove your number from your social media accounts, add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry, and send a removal request to data brokers that might have your contact information.
- The last resort: Change your phone number. If you’ve done everything possible to reduce spam calls, a last resort option is to change your phone number. Your phone carrier can explain the process for getting a new number.
The Bottom Line: Keep Your Phone Free From Spam and Scams
More and more Americans are getting targeted by phone scams. And while scam calls aren’t a significant risk on their own, they can lead to serious consequences if you engage with the scammer or give up any sensitive details, like your SSN.
To protect yourself from spam callers, consider signing up for Aura’s all-in-one spam and scam security solution.
With Aura, you’ll get AI-powered spam call and text protection — as well as a data broker removal service, a full suite of digital safety tools to protect you and your family from cybercriminals, 24/7 U.S.-based customer support, and $1 million in insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft.