Spam area codes & numbers to avoid | 2024 Research

Unexpected as it may sound, the data published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) clearly show that the majority (59.81%) of calls reported as spam come from the victim’s own state. In some states, this average is much higher than that. 

The Incogni team analyzed the FTC’s data sets, which provide detailed information on unwanted call complaints filed by people registered with the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. 

Our researchers found that scammers now operate according to a targeted, state-level strategy, as very few reported numbers are shared across states, let alone used nationwide.

What are the area codes to be wary of today, if any? And should we change how we think about spam and scam calls? Let’s dive in.

Updated on: March 4, 2024

Key findings

  • Most recommendations on how to avoid spam provide misleading information, highlighting specific spam area codes to avoid across the US. Data shows that spam area codes differ for each state. 
  • Almost two out of three spam calls (59.81%) are made from a local number originating in the state in which the receiver lives (or at least it appears so as the number could be spoofed). 
  • With the exception of toll-free numbers, very few spam area codes are reported in more than one state.

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The majority of spam and scam numbers are from your own county or state

The FTC is an authority that supports the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its fight against illegal calls in the US, championing the development of preventive measures and solutions. One of these measures is the DNC registry, where private consumers can register their numbers to help prevent spam calls.  

The data published by the FTC lists phone numbers, including the area code, and what each unwanted call was about, on a state level. It shows that, on average, nearly 60% of the most frequently reported area codes originate from the recipient’s state.

If we take the example of California, which reports the most unwanted calls overall, 72.94% of all numbers people complain about start with a Californian area code. Texas, whose residents report receiving the second-highest unwanted call volume, also reports local codes most frequently (68.80%). The same is true for most unwanted calls reported across all states.

The percentage of same-state calls varies depending on where you live but remains very significant. How do phone scammers make their calls appear local in every state? They use a tactic called caller-ID or area-code spoofing.

Related: How to block No caller ID on iPhone

Why do you keep getting calls from random numbers in your area?

The reason why you keep getting calls from random numbers in your area may be area-code spoofing. Area-code spoofing is a tactic where individuals manipulate caller ID to display a phone number from a specific area code, making it appear as if the call was coming from a legitimate caller, such as a local company. Scam callers use this technique to increase the chance of having their call answered. 

Say you live in Western Iowa and receive a call from a number starting with area code 531, Nebraska—somewhere you’ve never been. It looks immediately suspicious, so you decide to ignore it. But what if the call is from an unknown number with a local area code? After all, this could be your car mechanic, your kid’s school, or a recruiter from the local job agency.

This is precisely why scammers use area-code spoofing. 

Caller-ID spoofing is forbidden under federal law when used with the intent to defraud or cause harm (the Truth in Caller ID Act). Those who use it to commit crimes face penalties of up to $10,000.

Worst spam area code in each state

Instead, each state has its own unique list of most frequently reported numbers.

Another important discovery the FTC data brings to light is that phone scams come from very different numbers and area codes depending on where you live. In other words, the numbers rarely overlap from one state to another. For instance, California and Colorado’s top-ten spam area codes are entirely different. This finding goes against the popular spam area code advice found online: that some area codes are more likely to be spam or scams than others.

If you want to know your state’s most frequently reported area code, check out our tool below.

Toll-free numbers most common source of spam across the states

Although spam area codes vary significantly from one state to the next, some are reported as spam in almost every state. These are not exactly area codes but toll-free numbers. According to the data published by the FTC, the most significant volume of unwanted calls across the US comes from numbers starting with 833, 855, 888, 800, 866, and 844.

The most frequently reported spam numbers

While toll-free numbers take up center stage on the list of numbers most frequently reported as spam, unwanted calls also come from “regular” numbers. Most notably 315 696-1920 and 773 788-4782, both ranked in the top five. Here is the list of not just area codes, but full numbers that have been a source of nuisance for US residents across all states.

To sum up, what numbers should you avoid answering?

As a rule of thumb, avoid answering calls from unknown numbers. Also, be aware that any call from a toll-free number starting with 833, 855, 888, 800, 866, and 844 or a local area code (from the same state where you live) is more likely to be spam.

How to manage scam texts and calls

It’s hard to know in advance if the unknown caller on your phone screen is a scammer. This is why the best approach is to always let it ring out rather than picking up. A scam caller will hang up without leaving a message. 

If you accidentally pick up a call from a scammer, do not talk or engage with them in any way; hang up immediately. Once you do, block the number on your phone to prevent further unwanted calls from it.

We all know that it’s not just about calls. Recent years have also seen a surge in scam text messages. These usually contain links and come from people pretending to represent legitimate companies. Once you click, you’re taken to a potentially fraudulent website and asked to make a payment or give up some personal information. The safest approach is not to click on these and contact the company’s support to verify the message instead. 

To find out how to start blocking numbers on your device, read our in-depth articles:

How to stop spam texts on Android and iPhone.

How to remove personal information from the internet.

How to prevent unwanted calls

To prevent spam calls, phone scams, fraudulent text messages, and robocalls from bothering you again, start by registering your phone with the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry. While it won’t completely prevent these calls from happening, it will significantly reduce their frequency. 

Second, take better care of your online hygiene. Many of us tend to overshare sensitive personal information online—like filling out social media profiles with our contact details, where everyone can see them. 

We also inadvertently leave digital breadcrumbs when, for example, installing apps and giving them access to our contacts. In the US, websites can also collect information about visitors without asking for consent. Scam callers and telemarketers take advantage of the availability of our data online and use it for their purposes. 

That said, your data is still (mostly) in your hands. Although it’s a tedious process, you can remove it from websites, people search sites, and social media. For comprehensive, step-by-step instructions for how to do that, read our guide on how to remove personal information from the internet. Alternatively, try the Incogni data removal solution and save hours on manual removal requests by letting us do the work for you. 

The future is now: data protection laws critical for fighting spam

The extent of the spam-call problem is ultimately related to the accessibility of personal data online. Careful digital hygiene is critical if you want to eliminate spam altogether. Taking proactive measures at the root by removing your contact information from people search sites, social media platforms, and the broader internet is unequivocally the most effective approach available today. Advocacy efforts for more comprehensive data protection laws will play a pivotal role in curbing spam in the future.

FAQ

How do spammers get my cell phone number?

Spammers harvest cell phone numbers from publicly available information such as your social media profile or a people search site. Be mindful of the information you share online and frequently remove your data from the internet. Use a data removal service to automate the process. 

Is the area code 531 a scam?

The area code 531 is not a scam. It’s a regular area code that covers Omaha, Lincoln, Norfolk, Superior, and most of eastern Nebraska. However, if you live in this area, you are more likely to be targeted by phone scams from this number. 

How can I check if a phone number is spam?

There is no official spam directory, so it’s best to be suspicious of all unknown numbers. Even more so if the call comes from a toll-free number or a local area code. Some spam-blocking apps provide a list of spam numbers, but it’s not always current, as spam numbers keep changing. 

How do you know if a number is suspicious?

You should be suspicious of all unknown numbers. Even more so when the number starts with a local area code or when it’s a toll-free number. When in doubt, let the call go to voicemail. A legitimate caller will leave a message.

Do spam callers use your area code?

Yes, we now know that spam callers use your area code to gain your trust and make you pick up the phone. If you see a call from a local area code, let it ring out and go to voicemail. If you answer it, do not engage with the caller and hang up as soon as you realize it could be a spam call.

What area code is 520 spam?

The 520 area code covers Tucson and most of the southeastern part of Arizona, and it’s an area code like any other. But because scammers and telemarketers frequently use caller-ID spoofing to gain your trust, you’re more likely to receive a spam call from this area code if you live in Arizona. 

What are the five area codes you should never answer?

The area codes you should be most suspicious about are those from your local area or toll-free numbers starting with 833, 855, 888, 800, 866, and 844. 

Methodology

Incogni’s researchers sought out and downloaded yearly Daily Data Files from the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call (DNC) registry, which is a database listing the phone numbers of individuals who have requested not to be contacted by telemarketers. 

The data represents 286,250 reports submitted to the Federal Trade Commission from 16th October to 8th December, 2023. Incogni researchers combined all the information into one database. Reports without a telephone number, or telephone numbers reported as “111111111” or “0” were removed from the database.

Limitations

Due to the reliance on the self-reports of people who have voluntarily registered their numbers to the Do Not Call Registry, the data may not capture all instances of unwanted calls or be generalizable to the US population as a whole.

The data used in this research is available here: Public dataset.

Sources

  1. Federal Communication Commission. “Consumer Guide. What Is a Toll-Free Number and How Does it Work?” Accessed January 3, 2024. https://www.fcc.gov/sites/default/files/what_is_a_toll_free_number_and_how_does_it_work.pdf.
  2. Federal Trade Commission. “Data sets. Do Not Call Data.” Accessed December 14, 2023. https://www.ftc.gov/policy-notices/open-government/data-sets/do-not-call-data
  3. Federal Trade Commission. “National Do Not Call Registry FAQs.” Accessed January 3, 2024. https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/national-do-not-call-registry-faqs.
  4. Google search engine results in the US for the keyword “spam area codes.” Search performed January 3, 2024. https://www.google.com/search?q=spam+area+codes&oq=spam+area+codes.

Other area codes often considered spam

When we examined Google search estimates for queries such as ‘is area code X + spam,’ we found that these area codes were among the most searched:

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