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What Are “Spam Risk” Phone Calls? Why Do They Keep Calling?

AT&T identifies an unwanted or potentially harmful call as a “Spam Risk”. Answering these calls could do more than just increase scam call frequency.

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      What Is a “Spam Risk” Call?

      AT&T’s call blocking system — Digital Phone Call Protect and ActiveArmor — identifies an unwanted or potentially harmful call as a “Spam Risk” [*].

      Answering these calls could, at best, increase scam call frequency — and, at worst, risk identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers reported losing the most money to phone scams last year, with a median loss of $1,400 [*].

      AT&T isn’t the only provider that screens and labels suspected scam calls. Most major carriers offer some form of built-in spam protection. For example, Verizon’s Call Filter displays “Potential Spam” [*] — and T-Mobile labels similar calls as “Scam Likely” [*].

      These warnings don’t stop spam calls; but they can protect your personal information by helping limit your contact with scammers.

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      How To Block “Spam Risk” Phone Calls (6 Ways)

      To ward off fraudsters, first block spam calls and texts. Here are six straightforward ways to do this. 

      1. Use a spam call-blocking app

      Despite phone carriers providing "Spam Risk" or "Scam Likely" alerts, scam calls still get through — causing interruptions to your life and possibly leading you to engage with fraudulent callers. Spam call-blocking apps scour spam lists and use proprietary algorithms to automatically screen calls for you.

      Aura’s AI Call Assistant picks up unknown calls and screens them on your behalf so that you only receive important calls related to deliveries, emergencies, and appointments. 

      Aura’s app also offers SMS phishing (smishing) protection, filtering out texts from spam numbers and detecting harmful links within them. Aura’s call blocking features are available on both Android and Apple devices.

      2. Enable built-in features on your phone

      Both Android phones and iPhones provide native call-silencing and spam-blocking features. Activating these features may cause you to miss calls from legitimate companies, but you can find these calls in your call log. If a message is urgent, the caller will likely leave you a voicemail.

      On an Android phone:

      Android devices have a Caller ID & Spam Protection feature to avoid suspected spam. This feature is activated by default, but if you want to verify:

      • Open the Phone app.
      • Tap on the three dots for more options.
      • Select Settings, and then Spam and Call Screen.
      • Enable See caller & spam ID.
      • Turn on Filter spam calls.

      On a Google Pixel, Google’s Call Screen feature identifies callers for you. To activate this feature:

      • Follow the steps above to locate your phone’s Spam and Call Screen settings.
      • Pick Automatically screen. Decline robocalls.

      On an iPhone:

      One way to avoid picking up the phone for scammers is to silence all unknown calls. To do this on your iPhone:

      • Open Settings.
      • Select Phone
      • Toggle on Silence Unknown Callers.

      Keep in mind that this feature is only available on Apple iOS 13 or later.

      3. Block spam callers by using mobile carrier apps

      Your cell phone provider may extend additional call filtering or blocking apps to improve your security. Features from the most common providers include:

      • T-Mobile Scam Shield. Postpaid Metro and T-Mobile users can download the Scam Shield app from the App Store or Google Play. Scam Shield helps you report scam calls and use Caller ID to identify unknown callers. The app even lets you create and use a proxy phone number when you don’t want to share your personal information.
      • Verizon’s Call Filter. Call Filter allows you to block and report spam numbers, and has a neighborhood spoofing filter that can silence calls from specified area codes. Verizon’s premium plan, Call Filter Plus, offers caller ID, robocall control, spam lookup, and spam risk meters.
      • AT&T ActiveArmor® mobile security app. The free version of the app blocks unwanted and potentially fraudulent calls. Only paid plans offer features such as a reverse number lookup and public Wi-Fi protection.

      💡 Related: How To Screen Calls on iPhones (6 Methods)

      4. Explore third-party apps

      Third-party spam-blocking apps take your carrier’s plans a step further, excluding telemarketers and robocallers who mask their caller IDs.

      Most of these tools come with a free plan that offers basic functionality. Some examples include:

      • Hiya. Ideal for international travelers and expatriates, Hiya blocks fraud and spam in 60 countries. However, Hiya can’t prevent Android devices from receiving spam texts, and only flags them as possible spam [*]. The company was also found to have sent user data to brokers, who could sell it to scammers [*].
      • Robokiller. Robokiller uses a multi-pronged approach to block spammers — with predictive spam call blocking, answer bots, spam text blocking, and call recording forensics. That said, answer bots can lead to more spam calls, and some Robokiller users have reported spam identification inaccuracies [*]. Robokiller switches into a paid plan after a fifteen-day free trial.
      • Truecaller. Real-time caller ID and automatic call blocking come with Truecaller’s basic app — Ad-free, advanced spam blocking, with premium support, comes with a monthly fee. Truecaller’s paid messaging app also provides smishing protection. Bear in mind that Truecaller is one of the more expensive options. It also faced criticism in 2019 for gathering and storing user data [*].

      5. Stop telemarketing calls

      If you haven’t already, add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry, a free service from the FTC. Registering your phone number on DoNotCall.gov removes you from telemarketer call lists, limiting the number of unwanted calls you receive.

      If you receive unsolicited calls after your number has been included on the registry for 31 days, you can report it directly to the FTC for investigation. Note that adding your number to the Do Not Call Registry does not prevent you from receiving calls from charity call centers, political groups, or debt collectors.

      6. Remove your information from data broker sites

      Data brokers gather personal information that you’ve shared through apps or websites and resell it to telemarketers, regulatory agencies — and even fraudsters, who use your phone number to carry out phishing scams.

      Unfortunately, opting out of data broker databases isn’t as simple as putting your name and phone number on a no-contact list. 

      To remove your information, you must contact major brokers, such as BeenVerified and Acxiom, directly. Manual opt-outs are free, but they tend to require a litany of steps.

      Call-blocking and identity theft protection providers like Aura offer data broker opt-out assistants that can scan data broker sites and log removal requests on your behalf.

      How Do Carriers Identify Spam Calls?

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires most providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN, a framework for caller ID authentication. STIR/SHAKEN is meant to clamp down on spoofed caller IDs, but it’s ineffective when tracing international voice traffic [*].

      So, most carriers rely on analytics engines (AEs) to combat robocalls and spam. These engines combine machine learning (ML) models, call behavior analysis, customer reports of spam, and audio fingerprinting to determine whether a call is spam [*]. 

      Each carrier has its own AE, meaning that one carrier may mark a call as spam while another may not. 

      💡 Related: Should You Answer Calls From 888 Numbers? →

      Do You Keep Receiving Spam Risk Calls? Here’s What to Do

      Once you answer a spam call, scammers see you as a viable target, and they will keep contacting you until you fall for a scam.

      If you receive a call from an unknown number:

      • Do not answer. Block and label these calls as spam, and never call back — especially if your phone only rang once or you receive a suspicious voicemail. Robocallers use “one ring” scams and voicemail phishing (vishing) to prompt victims to return their calls. According to The FCC, these calls are spoofed to look like they originate from a domestic number when, in fact, they’re from outside the United States [*]. You’ll rack up fees every minute you stay connected.
      • Do not share personal details. Under no circumstances should you share sensitive information. Even a single-word response like "yes" can be risky. Scammers might record your voice and use artificial intelligence (AI) to manipulate it to say anything they want.
      • Use caution if you’re being pressured into taking any type of action. Con artists know that people respond to urgency — especially when directed by individuals seeming to hold authority. Fraudsters impersonate government officials, debt collectors, or law firms to make you comply.
      • Don’t trust caller IDs. Scammers can easily spoof caller IDs to display the names and numbers of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Amazon services, utility providers, or other businesses that you trust. If you think you missed an important call from a company, call its official support hotline to confirm.
      • Set a password for your voicemail. Without one, thieves can hack into your phone account. They might gain access to information that helps them guess your passwords, answer security questions, or scam your family and friends.
      • File a complaint with the FTC. If you’ve been a victim of a phone scam, share what happened at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Reporting to officials improves the likelihood of law enforcement catching the scammer — and strengthens your case when asking carriers to remove fraudulent charges.
      🚫 Screen calls using Aura. Aura's proprietary AI Call Assistant will pick up calls from unknown numbers on your behalf. Configure the intent-based filtering to meet your call preferences so you don't miss calls about real appointments, deliveries, or emergencies. Try Aura free for 14 days to see how our call protection works.

      Don’t Let Scam Calls Sneak Through. Aura Can Help

      For Valeria Haedo, a New York City resident, a scam call wasn't merely an annoyance; it was a terrifying experience [*]. On the other end of the line was someone claiming to be a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, alleging that she had a warrant for Haedo’s arrest.

      Haedo spent three harrowing hours denying her involvement in the alleged crimes to these so-called "law enforcement officials." When they demanded that she withdraw the maximum amount from her bank account and deposit it into a cryptocurrency account, she hung up.

      Sadly, not everyone escapes unscathed from such scams. In addition to blocking spam calls, here's what you should do to safeguard yourself and your family from these types of distressing situations:

      • Use a password manager and multi-factor authentication (MFA). A password manager generates and securely stores complex passwords that are tough for hackers to crack. MFA prompts additional authentication before you can sign in to an app. In addition to knowing your password, scammers must mimic your face or fingerprint, intercept text messages, or somehow gain access to your authenticator app codes to unlock your accounts.
      • Be cautious about seasonal scams. The holiday season is a prime time for scammers who pretend to seek charitable donations or offer special deals and discounts. Other times of the year provide  their fair share of opportunities for scams, too. Student loan or loan forgiveness scams are rife in the summer, while tax season heralds spam calls that supposedly come from the IRS.

      Knowing how scams work and taking baseline security precautions will only get you so far. To fully protect yourself from spam, you need an always-on monitoring solution like Aura.

      Aura proactively screens incoming calls and flags malicious links in text messages for you. Aura also gives you  access to 24/7 credit monitoring, data breach alerts, Safe Browsing tools, and antivirus software.

      Stay ahead of spam and scam calls. Try Aura free for 14 days

      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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