Get a Demo

All articles

  • Home
  • Blog

Unwanted Calls Explained: The Difference Between Spam and Scam

Spam and scam – two words that look and sound very similar. To many people, they essentially mean the same: trouble. Here at Hiya, we use these words a lot when we talk about phone security. As we continue to follow our mission of protecting our users from unwanted calls, we want to make sure that they know how to identify a spam or scam call.

We’ve found however, that the lines can become blurry between a spam versus a scam call. So we’re taking a moment to set the record straight and find out what the real difference is.  

A Bunch of Junk – Spam Calls Explained

Our Data and Reputation Services team are experts when it comes to detecting the newest phone spam or scam. They know what distinguishes a spam from a scam call and what you should do if you get one. This is how Jan Volzke, our VP of Reputation Services, explains a spam call,

“Spam calls are similar to email spam in the sense that they’re a form of unwanted communication. Spam calls and text messages are distributed in bulk and in most cases unsolicited, which means they occur without any prior request. Examples may include telemarketers, who are typically live agents hoping to sell their legitimate (albeit unsolicited) services. Another variant of spam calls are robocalls, which deliver a pre-recorded voice statement with the same goal of a sale. Like email spam, robocalls are illegal without prior consent.”

It is also interesting to monitor the call patterns of Spam calls. Call patterns exhibit unique characteristics that allow sophisticated heuristic algorithms to identify Spam calls. Here is a pattern for a number used by Telemarketers:


The pattern shows that Telemarketers consistently make a large number of calls over a long period of time. The daily volumes do not vary by much.

Cheats, Thieves, Swindlers – Meet the Scammers

Here is how Jan defines a scam call,

“Scam calls are a form of fraudulent activity with the goal of stealing your money or your information. Similar to email scams, phone scams often present a bargain for merchandise, or something completely free (such as a free prize or winning a contest). Others demand payment for actions that victims have not done or services not ordered, including missing jury duty or payments on an outstanding debt like unpaid taxes or utility bills. Scams may arrive in form of either calls or text messages and should be blocked or deleted.”

Call patterns for Scam calls are completely different. Since these are criminals, they use one number for a short duration of time and quickly discard it. Here is the call pattern for a number used to propagate an IRS scam. The lifespan of the number is very short and the volumes are bursty in nature – a few days of large amounts of calls, followed by a long period of no activity.




Scam calls are harder to identify because of how short their lifespan is. Criminals are getting smarter and frequently switching numbers to avoid detection. Most anti-spam solutions that rely on user reports are ineffective against scam callers for this very reason.  Advanced heuristics-based call pattern analysis and machine learning algorithms help detect scam calls.

Whether it’s a spam or a scam call, the best thing to do is avoid engaging with these numbers. If you happen to pick up a call that seems suspicious, hang up immediately. An unwanted call may at best be annoying and at worst may lead consumers into costly traps.

If you want to put an end to all those pesky calls, we’ve got you covered. The Hiya mobile app provides you with real-time alerts of incoming calls that are marked as suspected spam or scam. By blocking and blacklisting numbers, you can stop repeat spammers and scammers from ever ringing through to you. Say bye to spam and scam with Hiya.

Author Laura Mehrkens

Laura is a marketing professional from Germany who recently made Seattle her second home. She graduated from the University of Hamburg with a Bachelor's Degree in Japanese and American Literature.


Subscribe to the Hiya Blog

We publish a new post about once a week.