iPhone calendar spam: What it is, and how to remove it

If you open up your iPhone and see a variety of messages claiming that you’ve been hacked, your phone is not protected, that viruses have damaged your phone, or, my personal favourite, “Click to get rid of annoying ads”, fear not. It’s quite possible you’ve accidentally wandered into a common form of scam: Calendar spam.

Calendar spam is a way for scammers to insert nonsensical claims, offers, and warnings with potentially harmful links into your calendar, which triggers notifications on your device.

How you get it

The most common techniques for spreading calendar spam are bogus adverts, popups, and other forms of coding used on websites which may be of a questionable nature. They can be found on pornography sites, but also file sharing sites, unofficial streaming platforms, gaming sites, random blogs, pretty much anywhere at all.

Calendar applications like iCal make it easy to add public calendars, which are just URLs, and the scammers exploit that ease of use. The aim of the scammers’ game is to get unsuspecting users to accept a calendar subscription. Often, they will obscure the subscription with a distraction. For example, a user may be asked to confirm that they’re a human via CAPTCHA. The user clicks through, and before they realise it, they’ve also clicked “OK” to a follow-up message containing a calendar subscription.

Should you accept one of these subscriptions, the spam calendar and all related events will be added to your calendar app. The events in the calendar contain alerts, which generate notifications, which could leave your screen looking a little something like this. Should you venture into your calendar, a tangled mess of calendar entries awaits.

The links in the calendar entries lead to the usual range of spam, surveys, bogus apps, fake security tools, and more besides. They have nothing you want or need to be wasting your time on. With this in mind, what can you do about it?

How to remove it

This is such a problem point for Apple that a dedicated page exists for just this problem. There are two ways to remove calendar spam, and it’s dependent on which iOS version you use. From the help pages:

iOS 14.6 or later

  • Open the Calendars app.
  • Tap the unwanted Calendar event.
  • Tap Unsubscribe from this Calendar at the bottom of the screen.
  • To confirm, tap Unsubscribe.

Earlier versions of iOS

  • Open the Calendar app.
  • At the bottom of the screen, tap Calendars.
  • Look for a calendar that you don’t recognize. Tap the More Info button next to that calendar, then scroll down and tap Delete Calendar.

If this doesn’t fix the issue, delete the calendar subscription in Settings:

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Tap Calendar > Accounts. Or if you use iOS 13, tap Passwords & Accounts > Accounts instead.
  • Tap Subscribed Calendars.
  • Look for a calendar that you don’t recognize. Tap it, then tap Delete Account.

Not just iPhone

Spammers will try and abuse all sorts of devices, apps, and systems in order to besiege you with calendar spam (or even calendar-style spam) notification alerts. In 2019, Google Calendar users were hit with a wave of spam notifications, and Calendly users were impacted by phishers abusing the service in 2022. In that same year, new safety features appeared for Google Docs users in order to give users a little more confidence that notifications were not bogus.

No matter the device or service, anything with notification ability could be a target. In many ways, phone calendar spam is a perfect fit for phones where everyday misclicks are very common. It only takes one spam calendar prompt hidden behind something else and a split second lapse in attention for the scammers to stake a claim on your phone.

The good news is that once you understand how the scam works, it’s very easy to remove the notifications and keep your phone free from endless spam notifications.

Keeping your calendars spam free

  • Be careful where you click. Scammers have to fool you into subscribing to a calendar for this to work, so read before you click! If you do add a calendar prompt, don’t panic. Follow the removal instructions above.
  • Use Malwarebytes for iOS. It can block rogue websites and adverts, the two primary causes of unwanted calendar prompts.

Stay safe out there!

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