Smartphone Alert Warning Message

Your smartphone rings and you see “Spam Risk” on screen. Who is this mysterious Spam Risk, and why do they keep calling? We’ll explain—and tell you what you can do about it.

The Quick Answer

If you see “Spam Risk” on your iPhone or Android Caller ID screen when you receive an incoming call, it means that your mobile carrier has already automatically detected that the call is likely from a fraudulent or deceptive source. In general, that means you should ignore the call and not answer it.

In particular, “Spam Risk” is the label that AT&T uses as part of its automatic fraud call blocking system, called AT&T Call Protect, which it first launched on December 20, 2016. It aims to automatically identify and block fraudulent calls (often in conjunction with a paid add-on service) and to also identify suspected spam calls.

The "Spam Risk" label on an iPhone call screen.

If you use another mobile carrier, you might see an alternate label such as “Spam,” “Telemarketer,” “Scam Risk,” “Scam Likely,” “Potential Spam,” or something similar. They all mean roughly the same thing: that your cell carrier has flagged the call as potential spam.

Wait, What Is Spam Anyway?

In tech, “spam” is a term for unwanted communications that come in at a high frequency. The term originated as a Monty Python TV comedy sketch reference that was applied to high volumes of disruptive messages in early online services, then to unsolicited emails on the internet in the 1990s. In the Monty Python sketch, a woman in a restaurant is confronted with a menu full of items made with Spam (the food product) to a frustrating and repetitive degree.

Since then, the term “spam” has generally become applied to any high-volume unwanted communications, including telephone calls and even physical paper mailings at times. Spam is a scourge of the modern connected world, and avoiding it is difficult.

Can I Silence “Spam Risk” Calls?

If you’re tired of being disturbed by calls labeled Spam Risk, you can turn on a feature called “Silence Unknown Callers” on your iPhone (in iOS 13 and up). The feature sends unknown callers (who aren’t in your Contacts list) straight to voicemail and silences any ring or notification from the call.

To do so, open the Settings app and navigate to Phone > Silence Unknown Callers, then flip the switch beside “Silence Unknown Callers” to the “On” position.

Flip the switch beside "Silence Unknown Callers" to "On."

On Android, you can turn on Verified Calls to screen unknown callers. To do so, you’ll need to install the Phone by Google app and enable it within the app itself.

RELATED: How to Avoid Spam Robocalls with "Verified Calls" on Android

After that, any “Spam Risk” calls you receive will no longer ring your phone. You can manually screen the “Spam Risk” calls later by checking your “Recents” list in the Phone app on iPhone or Android. Or you can review voicemails you’ve received on iPhone.

RELATED: How to Silence Unknown Callers to Stop Robocall Spam on iPhone

Can “Spam Risk” Be Wrong?

Since the process of labeling calls as “Spam” is automated by your mobile service carrier, it’s possible that the “Spam Risk” label is incorrect. In that case, if you’re expecting an important call and got “Spam Risk” instead, tap the Phone app on your Android or iPhone and check your list of recent incoming calls.

Go to the Recents tab in Phone app

Once there, review the numbers labeled “Spam Risk” to see if any look familiar, and if so, you can call them back or add them to your Contacts list so they don’t get mislabeled again in the future. Good luck!

RELATED: How to Add a New Contact to iPhone

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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