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What Is a Spam Risk Call or Scam Call? Unwanted Calls Explained

Spam and scam – two words that look and sound very similar. To many people, scam and spam essentially mean the same: trouble. Here at Hiya, we make protection from unwanted calls our mission To do so, we want to make sure you know a few things about spam and scam callers. For instance, what are spam numbers? What is the difference between spam and scan numbers? What do you do if you receive a spam risk call? How can you block these numbers from contacting you or your customers?

We’ve found that the lines can become blurry between a spam numbers and scam calls. So, we’re taking a moment to set the record straight, find out where these calls are coming from, and discover what you can do to keep your company and your customer safe.

A Bunch of Junk – What Is Spam Numbers Explained

What does spam numbers mean? You've most likely experienced dozens of annoying and unwanted spam calls that interrupt your day. And we're not just talking about that persistent ex or your local gym asking if you want to cancel your monthly membership. Based on Hiya's data from 2020, we estimate that there were approximately 157 billion spam calls just in North America and Western Europe in the last year. Consumers were hit by an average of 144 spam calls in the past year in these regions. Of all spam calls, 38% resulted in money loss for an average of $182.00 per call!

So what constitutes a spam risk call versus a normal unwanted call? This is how Matthew Matanovic, our Vice President of Mobile Apps, explains what a spam number is.

“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.”

A spam call can come from a telemarketer selling you a real product or service, or someone whose product or service is fake or doesn’t apply to you. 

What happens when a spam number calls you? Basically if you look up the definition of persistent in the dictionary you’ll see one word, spammers. First a spammer will call your number to establish whether it’s real or active. Then the spammer will try to call you again in order to sell a fake product, pretend to be from your bank or insurance agency, or trick you into handing over personal or company information. If the spammer is unsuccessful then your number will be marked as “try again” and you will continue to receive calls from the spammer. In order to help you avoid falling victim, when a spam number is calling you might see a warning of spam risk. 

What is a spam risk phone call and why do some numbers show as spam risk and others not? If a number is reportedly flagged by your phone carrier as a spam risk call or  robocall then that number will show up as a spam risk call when trying to contact you. You can flag a phone number as spam with your telephone carrier or with a mobile app such as Hiya that can help block incoming spam calls

Monitoring the patterns of spam calls can also help detect a spam number from a normal number. Just like how you can monitor your diet to figure out why you keep gaining weight or monitor your sleep patterns to understand your energy levels, we can extract conclusions based on monitoring patterns of phone activity and comparing them to known patterns of spam numbers.

Call patterns exhibit unique characteristics that allow sophisticated heuristic algorithms to identify spam calls from other 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.

Hiya uses these sophisticated heuristic algorithms to detect phone numbers with patterns that identify spam callers. The voice performance platform goes beyond just comparing a phone number to a third party list of known spammers. Hiya’s advanced spam detection goes far beyond a static caller registry which is why Hiya has the lowest error rate in the industry. Advanced machine learning models analyze reputation along 22 different dimensions, to better secure and protect consumers and provide businesses full visibility into their numbers' reputation status.

Cheats, Thieves, Swindlers – Meet the Scammers

In our highly digitalized world people have learned to be cautious of scams where they could fall victim to giving away money, identity, or personal information. People use passwords that resemble morse code. They have backup emails, phone numbers, and apps that require double identification. However, people often forget that scam numbers can be just as successful as scam emails or hackers. Here is how Matthew defines scam numbers.

“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.”

When scammers call, you might see a spam or fraud risk warning pop up on the caller ID. What is a scam likely phone number? Similar to a spam risk call, scam likely means that the phone number has been flagged by your cell phone carrier or mobile app such as Hiya as a scammer.

If a scam passes detection and the number comes through, how can you tell scam numbers from regular numbers? With spoiled milk you look at the expiration date, check to see if the smell has turned rotten and if you’re really brave take a little taste test. Scam numbers aren’t spoiled milk, but similarly you can ask yourself questions or run certain tests in order to detect a rotten phone number.

A call is more likely to be scam if the phone number looks odd and upon answering 

  1. The greeting is delayed or generic
  2. The caller can’t communicate
  3. The caller says there’s a problem on an unknown bank or other account 
  4. The tone of the conversation becomes heated
  5. You have to give personal or company information to identify yourself
  6. The caller warns of extreme circumstances 
  7. You are being threatened 
  8. You need to act fast to take advantage of an offer 

Scam calls are harder to identify because of how short their lifespan is. Additionally, scammers use algorithms to make their calls look like a local phone number, when the call is really coming from across the country. With billions of scam and robocalls every year, enough people fall for the tactics of scammers to pay for these pesky calls to continue.

What do you do if you’re a business who is trying to keep their numbers from being labeled as spam?

  1. Avoid using only local phone numbers
  2. Start displaying branded caller ID
  3. Avoid shared lines for multiple businesses
  4. Avoid mixed-use lines for the same business
  5. Limit use of public phone numbers
  6. Set up Do-Not-Originate lines
  7. Limit the window of time for contact
  8. Respect the do-not-call list
  9. Monitor call center activity

Call patterns for scam numbers are completely different from patterns of spam numbers. Scam numbers are purposefully hard to detect and therefore more difficult to add to a spoofing list. Since these are criminals, they use one number for a short duration of time and quickly discard it. However, Hiya detects and blocks spoofed calls with an advanced data model. Below 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.


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. To prevent this, the Hiya voice performance platform uses advanced heuristics-based call pattern analysis and machine learning algorithms to help detect scam calls.

Enough is Enough – Blocking Spammers, Scammers, and Robocalls

Whether it’s a spam or a scam call, the best thing to do is avoid engaging with these numbers. It can be tempting to pick up and give these callers a piece of your mind. But, if you happen to pick up a call that seems suspicious, hang up immediately. An unwanted call may at best be annoying and may at worst may you or your customers into costly traps.

Remember to never give personal or company information over the phone to someone who contacts you without warning. If a number claims to be from your bank, insurance agency, the IRS, etc. hang up and then call the agency yourself to make sure the call is legitimate. Especially use caution if pressured to give information immediately. Remember that the threats these callers use are illegitimate. Hang up and immediately report the number in the Hiya app, AT&T Call Protect, or Samsung SmartCall.

We know it’s tiring to constantly receive these calls and messages, even if you don’t engage. You might be thinking, how can I block spam phone calls once and for all? Use the Hiya app to block spam and scam calls for good.  

If you make more than 20,000 calls a month, see if any of your call center numbers have been marked as spam or received negative labels with a free Hiya Connect reputation analysis.

Author Hiya Team


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