Why Are You Getting Spam Calls?
Even strict consumer protection laws do little to stop spam calls. Last year, 11 million people on the National Do Not Call Registry received pre-recorded voicemails from real estate company MV Realty [*]. These calls promised “several hundred to several thousand dollars” for signing a 40-year exclusive listing agreement with them.
And while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been clamping down on this case and others, incessant robocalls continue. For every scheme that’s shut down, a new one crops up.
Why? Because phone numbers are relatively easy for scammers to access.
Your number may be on a data broker list that’s in the wrong hands. It may have been leaked in a data breach. Or fraudsters may have peddled information that they collected about you on Dark Web marketplaces.
While you may not be able to revoke access to your phone number, you can take back control. Identifying and blocking scam calls can protect you against the worst-case scenario — identity theft.
What Are Scam Likely Calls?
Incoming calls are displayed as “scam likely” when a carrier suspects that they are spam. Each carrier has a different method for identifying scam calls, but most machine-learning algorithms detect suspicious phone numbers based on call frequency, duration, and origin. Carriers also differ in the way they notify users of scam calls.
- For example, for T-Mobile customers, scam numbers are displayed as “Scam Likely.” T-Mobile has also taken steps to prevent “neighborhood spoofing,” in which spammers match the area code and three-digit prefix of your number [*].
- AT&T offers free spam call protection and alerts, too. Customers that enable the “Call Protect” feature will see the words “Valid Number” along with a green check mark when calls from registered numbers come in [*]. Scam numbers will display as “Suspected Scam.” And if AT&T’s model has enough information about the number, a call may display as “Telemarketer,” “Political,” “Nonprofit,” “Survey,” or “Robocaller.” Because Sprint is a part of T-Mobile, Sprint customers benefit from the same level of protection.
- Verizon has spam protection features, as well. Its Call Filter screens incoming calls on iPhones, Android phones, and smartwatches for robocalls and potential fraud. These numbers are displayed as “Potential Spam,” “Robo Caller,” or “Potential Fraud” [*].
Why Are Calls Flagged as “Scam Likely?”
The FCC requires U.S. telecom providers to limit the number of spam calls that their customers receive. To ferret out spam calls, companies use what’s called the STIR/SHAKEN framework.
The acronym STIR/SHAKEN is a portmanteau of two different caller ID authentication standards — Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) [*].
Together, these standards help verify caller IDs on calls placed over Internet Protocol (IP) networks. Validating these calls is critical because scammers can mask numbers as those that victims might recognize.
The idea behind STIR/SHAKEN is that as a call passes through interconnected networks on the internet, carriers can work together to confirm its legitimacy.
Originating carriers can mark the call as being legitimate or not, and other carriers can validate that decision. The more carriers mark a number as legitimate, the more likely it is to have come from that number itself — i.e., a scammer has not hijacked it.
As of 2022, the FCC instituted strict compliance requirements for gateway providers to stop international robocalls. Today, all gateway providers must comply with STIR/SHAKEN protocols and take “additional measures to validate the identity of providers whose traffic they are routing” [*].
Other consumer protections include the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.
Since 1991, TCPA has been restricting telemarketers' use of automatic dialing systems and pre-recorded messages [*]. And in 2019, the TRACED Act helped the FCC to curb the most rampant (and illegal) robocalls [*].
💡 Related: The 10 Best Spam Call Blocker Apps of 2023 →
Types of Spam Calls
Spam calls are unexpected calls intended to convince recipients to surrender confidential information. The person on the line may tell you that your Amazon account has been suspended, pretend to be your child facing legal trouble, or notify you that you’ve qualified for an offer that’s too good to be true. Spam calls fall under the following categories:
Conventional telemarketing scams are fairly straightforward — someone tries to sell you something. But modern-day scammers are savvy. They craft compelling narratives and go after vulnerable populations.
In 2022, over 150,000 elderly victims were targeted by a $300 million nationwide telemarketing conspiracy [*].
A network of fraudulent magazine sales companies in the United States and Canada set up telemarketing call centers and trained their representatives to lure seniors into making recurring or large payments.
But telemarketers don’t just target the elderly. They’ll call just about anyone to share long-winded, persuasive stories aimed to get their victim to follow through with a “purchase.”
Believe it or not, some robocalls are legal. Calls related to political donations, debt collection, healthcare providers, and charities are all permitted under Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules [*].
While these calls aren’t necessarily harmful, they can be aggravating. Consider turning on your carrier’s advanced blocking features or blocking unknown numbers in your phone’s settings.
A third option is to use Aura's spam call and text protection. This feature can block known spam (or scam) callers and filter unwanted messages. You can even set up intent-based filtering to allow Aura’s AI Call Assistant to forward legitimate calls.
In 2022, the FCC proposed a $299 million fine against Cox/Jones Enterprises for conducting one of the largest illegal robocall operations in history [*].
Scammers amplify the likelihood of someone falling prey to their schemes by targeting a larger population. Although illegal, companies like Cox/Jones Enterprises use auto-dialers and spoofing methods to broadcast voicemails.
These scammers often prey on people already in debt — like car owners, students, or homeowners. Such vulnerable groups may disclose their Federal Student Aid (FSA) IDs, Social Security numbers (SSNs), and portal passwords in exchange for loan consolidation or forgiveness.
Technically, scam calls can be robocalls or telemarketing calls. But there are far more dangerous versions of scam calls designed to cause emotional or financial harm.
Last year, FBI Chicago warned residents about virtual kidnapping scams [*]. Criminals scrape the web for social media posts made by international travelers. They then contact friends and family, claiming to have taken the travelers hostage, and threaten not to let them go unless a ransom is paid.
Other scammers pretend to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), calling to tell you that your SSN has been compromised or that you’re under investigation for fraud. Scammers may even impersonate nannies or daycare centers, telling you that your payments are overdue.
How To Block Scam Likely Calls
Blocking scam calls can often feel like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. But the more actions you can take against scammers, the fewer calls you’ll get and the safer you’ll be from fraud.
Block specific numbers on iPhone and Android
To silence unknown numbers on an iPhone:
- Go to Settings.
- Scroll to Phone.
- Tap on Silence Unknown Callers and toggle it on.
With this feature enabled, numbers that aren’t in your contacts list will be silenced and sent to voicemail. You can check these numbers in your recent calls list.
There is one exception. If someone shared a number with you over email or you’ve been communicating with a new number over text, calls from that number will come through. Your iPhone must be updated to iOS 13 or later in order to enable this feature.
To automatically screen scam calls:
- Open the Phone app.
- Click on the three dots → Settings → Spam and Call screen.
- Turn on See caller and spam ID.
- Click on Call Screen and select the types of callers you’d like to screen.
- Tap on Automatically screen. Decline robocalls.
This setting will share a silent “Screening an unknown call” notification whenever a scam call is coming through, and you can accept or decline it.
You can also record what the caller says by turning on Save Call Screen Audio or by using your Google Assistant to answer the call. Note that calls will not automatically be screened if you connect your phone to Bluetooth or use headphones.
Third-party robocall blocking apps
Blocking every scam call manually is impossible. Third-party robocall blocking apps can do the work for you. Try using:
- Nomorobo: The basic plan stops robocalls ($1.99 per month), and the Max plan stops spoofed numbers and all other unwanted calls ($4.17 per month). The app is available in the Apple and Android app stores. Nomorobo has over 100k downloads on Play Store and has a 4.5-star rating on App Store.
- Robokiller: Robokiller is a more popular option, with 5M downloads on the Play Store and over 379k ratings on App Store, promising to stop 99% of robocalls and texts for $4.99 per month.
Be careful not to give up too much personal information while setting up your profiles here. Some call-blocking apps share their data with brokers, leading to more spam and possibly even identity theft.
📌 Please note that Aura does not endorse or guarantee the reliability of the services listed above. They are provided here for informational purposes only. Readers are advised to use them at their own discretion and risk.
Block telemarketing calls by using the Do Not Call Registry
The Do Not Call Registry won’t block every spam call. But adding your number will significantly reduce the number of scam calls you receive and may get you retribution if you’re part of a major scam.
Adding your number to the Do Not Call Registry is simple:
- Go to donotcall.gov/register.
- Enter your number and email address.
- Look for a verification email.
Telemarketers are required to stop calling you 31 days after your registration date. Your registration will never expire; but political groups, debt collectors, and charities are still legally allowed to contact you.
Use tools from mobile carriers
The three major mobile carriers, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, have tools specifically designed to block scam calls.
To use AT&T’s Call Protect:
- Sign in to your AT&T account.
- Go to My Services and click on Check or manage voicemail.
- Select Phone Features and select Call Protect under Call Filtering.
You can head to the same area of your account to turn off the feature. However, toggling it off will delete your whole call log.
Once you’ve enabled Call Protect:
- Turn on fraud blocking. Spam callers will get a busy signal, and the call won’t ring on your end.
- Press *61 to block specific numbers.
- Check your call logs periodically to see which calls are flagged, auto-blocked, or manually blocked.
To use T-Mobile’s Scam Shield:
- Download the Scam Shield app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
- Sign in to your account.
Once you’ve downloaded Scam Shield:
- Turn on scam blocking to stop spam calls from coming through.
- You’ll have access to T-Mobile PROXY, an additional number you can use to preserve your personal one.
- Change your number if you continue to receive spam calls.
Scam Shield doesn’t support prepaid accounts. But you can still enable Scam Block and Caller ID by dialing #662# and #436#, respectively.
To use Verizon’s Call Filter:
- Download the Call Filter app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. If you have an Android device, it may already be installed.
- Sign in to your account.
Once you’ve downloaded Call Filter:
- Blocked spam calls will go straight to voicemail or be terminated, depending on your preferences.
- Upgrade to Call Filter Plus to enable caller ID, spam lookup, and your personal block list. Call Filter Plus starts at $3.99/month.
Remove your number from data broker lists
When scammers purchase data broker lists, they may not just gain access to your phone number. They may also find clues about where you live, your socioeconomic status — even information about your mental and physical health [*].
These databases are legal in the United States and, as you can imagine, a goldmine for telemarketers. To avoid broker list-fueled scam calls, opting out is your best bet.
Go to each major broker’s website (Whitepages, Spokeo, and People Finder, for example) to search for your information, and follow their opt-out process.
- Be prepared to send physical letters (or faxes) and make phone calls. Create a template or script that you can reuse over and over.
- Some sites require your driver’s license; have that handy as you work through your list.
- Most brokers let you opt out for free, but some make you pay for removal.
💡 Related: What Happens If You Call Back a Spam Number? →
Did You Receive a Suspicious Call? Do This
- Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Anyone who really needs to reach you will leave a voicemail. Be extra cautious of calls from your local area code — they are often spoofed. If you think someone is posing as a friend or colleague, hang up and call the number you have saved under your friend’s name in your contacts list.
- Do not provide any personal or financial information. Customer service representatives should have ways to view your account information. If someone asks for mortgage, loan, or home ownership information, chances are that it’s a scam.
- Do not fall for pressure tactics. Legitimate callers will generally not use pressure tactics or demand immediate payment. If someone is pressuring you, hang up.
- Use known websites and phone numbers. Only contact your financial institution by using the information listed on its website or on a bill. Do not trust an unknown caller.
- Talk to friends and family who might be targeted. If you’ve been the victim of a phone scam, your friends and family may be at risk, too. Scammers can use your number to hack into social media accounts to conduct other phishing activity.
- Set a password for your voicemail account. Without one, scammers can spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voicemail.
- File a complaint with the FTC. If you suspect that you’ve been the victim of a scam, report it at FTC.gov/complaints to help the FTC take action.
Distrust by Default Is Your Best Bet
Criminals contrive new ways to victimize people with disturbing frequency. Maintaining a high level of distrust can help you avoid being scammed. Here are a few ways to protect yourself:
- Use secure passwords. Complex, strong passwords make your accounts harder for scammers to crack. Consider enabling two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA or MFA) on banking or work-related apps containing sensitive information.
- Be wary of seasonal scams. Scammers take advantage of tax season and open enrollment, posing as auditing firms or Medicare specialists.
- Report scam calls, emails, and text messages. The more incidents you report, the more the FTC can look into suspicious numbers and minimize spam campaigns.
Keeping up to date with anti-spam practices can be overwhelming — and, for the most part, requires manual efforts. Aura uses AI to answer calls from unknown numbers and only forward legitimate inquiries to users.
Aura also checks for suspicious links in text messages and blocks them if they are malicious. Aura’s AI call assistant is part of a suite of security enhancements that the company announced in May 2023.