Spammers Are Turning to Group FaceTime to Harass People (Here’s What You Can Do About It)

Facetime Group Calling Bug Credit: Rene Ritchie / YouTube
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While lawmakers are doing everything they can to stop annoying robocalls and other unwanted telemarketers, it seems that scammers have decided to flip to a slightly different approach that’s outside the purview of the FCC and the carriers: Group FaceTime.

As reported by Ars Technica, many iPhone users are getting bombarded with calls during all hours of the day, with the spammers using Group FaceTime to bypass normal call blocking restrictions.

It’s not yet clear at this point what the purpose of the calls are, but according to the report, “Griefers behind the pranks call as many as 31 numbers at a time,” using Group FaceTime, creating a chain of chaos whereby well-meaning users on the receiving end may attempt to return the call, resulting in barrages of dozens of repeated calls in short succession.

The high volume of callbacks appears to be the result of other people receiving the call dialing everyone back when the initial call fails shortly after answering. As more and more people receive follow-on calls, they too begin making callbacks.

Ars Technica

This seems to be more of a very inconsiderate prank right now than something that’s being employed by telemarketers or robocallers, but it’s becoming widespread, nonetheless, with the Apple Discussion Forums filling up with people reporting this problem and wondering exactly how to prevent it.

What Can You Do About It?

Sadly, there’s not much that can be done to prevent this right now. Even though iOS 14 offers some call blocking features, many of these don’t apply to FaceTime.

For example, although Apple added a “Silence Unknown Callers” setting in iOS 13, this only works for normal phone calls — it doesn’t apply to FaceTime calls at all. The same also applies to the carrier-specific “Silence Junk Callers” feature added in iOS 14.

Frankly, we think that’s an omission that Apple needs to fix, and hopefully, this latest round of spam calls will be the wake-up call that Apple needs to do so. Meanwhile, however, there are a couple of things you can do to help mitigate the problem. Sadly, these won’t make the calls go away entirely, but they’re better than nothing.

Call Blocking

Unlike the unknown and junk call features, the call blocking list in iOS does apply to FaceTime audio and video calls, so you can block the offending numbers as they come in. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Open either the Phone or FaceTime app.
  2. If you’re using the Phone app, tap Recents at the bottom to see your recent calls. The FaceTime app will show recent calls by default.
  3. Tap the “I” in a circle beside the number that you’d like to block.
  4. Tap Block this Caller at the bottom of the screen.

To see or modify the list of the numbers you’ve blocked, open the iPhone Settings app, and then select either Phone, Messages, or FaceTime and tap Blocked Contacts. Note that this list is the same regardless of how you access it, and any phone numbers or email addresses on this list will be blocked from calling you or texting you via the phone, FaceTime audio or video, iMessage, or SMS.

Unfortunately, this solution likely won’t help much with the Group FaceTime spam problem, since the calls come in from dozens of different numbers, and the call blocking list doesn’t apply if the number is simply another member of the Group FaceTime call (although, arguably, it probably should).

In fact, one user on Apple Discussions recently reported receiving calls incessantly over a four-day period, and even blocking over 300 numbers over that timeframe didn’t succeed in stopping them.

I got my first facetime spam starting 4 days ago. It has been non-stop, over 300 numbers blocked so far. My 3 year old daughter has been accidentally answering them and going on video without a t-shirt on. I’m wondering at what point my daughter will end up in some archive of “children captured from facetime spam calls” and who I will need to sue and how much to sue for?

nathanh0, Apple Discussions Forum

Enable Do Not Disturb

Another setting that will block unwanted FaceTime calls is your iPhone’s Do Not Disturb feature. Of course, this will block just about every other type of notification you receive, but it’s not a bad idea to turn it on while you’re sleeping, especially if you don’t want to be awoken by notifications or phone calls.

Do Not Disturb will not prevent your built-in iPhone (or Apple Watch) alarm from going off, although it may block some third-party alarm apps, but most importantly it will block all unwanted calls. You can still allow calls from certain contacts through so that you’ll be reachable in an emergency, but you won’t be disturbed by anybody else — including Group FaceTime spammers.

Remove Your Number from FaceTime

If the harassment has reached an unbearable point, then you may be tempted to resort to the “nuclear option” of disabling FaceTime entirely.

While that’s certainly a possibility — you can find the switch for it by going into Settings->FaceTime on your iPhone — you might be able to take a less drastic approach by simply adjusting the numbers and email addresses you can be contacted at.

You see, while FaceTime is the most intuitive when you set it up to work with your phone number, it also works just fine with an email address as well. This is how Mac, iPad, and iPod touch users can receive FaceTime calls, even when they don’t have an iPhone.

Here’s how to disable your phone number from being used for FaceTime calls:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
  2. Scroll down and tap FaceTime.
  3. Tap on your phone number under “You Can Be Reached By FaceTime At” to remove the checkmark.
  4. Tap any other email addresses that appear here to toggle them on or off, as needed.

You will only be able to receive FaceTime calls at the numbers and email addresses that are checked on the above screen. While this can prevent you from getting a few legitimate FaceTime calls, if your circle of contacts is relatively small, it’s probably not a huge burden to just let them know that they’ll need to contact you at one of the other addresses.

If you want to add a new email address or phone number to this list, you’ll need to log into your Apple ID account page and add it from there, after which it should appear in the FaceTime settings on your iPhone:

  1. Sign in to your Apple ID at in your web browser of choice.
  2. Click the Edit button in the “Account” section.
  3. Scroll down to “Contactable At” (or “Reachable At”)
  4. Click Add More.
  5. Select Email address or Phone number.
  6. Type in a new email address or phone number, as appropriate.
  7. Confirm your new contact info by entering the verification code sent to the email address or phone number.

Note that to add a phone number it will need to be able to receive SMS messages. Unlike other scenarios like two-factor authentication, where Apple can send codes via a voice call, adding a phone number to your Apple ID requires verification via SMS only.

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