These days your cell number is almost like your email address. Vendors ask for it all the time so they can connect it to your account for logins, messages and ID.
Since many of us don’t have a landline anymore, it makes sense for us to share this on business cards and accounts.
Velma and I have one thing to say…
I’m not the only one who wants to warn you about this
Check out these articles before you purse your lips and decide I’m being too paranoid:
- I Shared My Phone Number. I Learned I Shouldn’t Have. (New York Times)
- A Growing Threat to Your Finances: Cell-Phone Account Fraud (Consumer Reports)
- How brands get your phone number and call after they see you on their website (CNBC)
- I was hacked (TechCrunch)
- Cybersecurity 101: How to protect your cell phone and why you should care (TechCrunch)
Here are three reasons why you need to protect your cell phone almost as much as your social security number.
One: Sim Swapping
Hackers have always been horrible, but they’re taking it to another level with a new scam called sim swapping.
When wannabe sim swappers get ahold of your cell phone number, a quick and cheap online search will help them discover enough information about you to fool your telecom company into believing that they’re you. I spent about $20 this morning searching for information based on my cell phone number. Within about 10 minutes I had…
- My telecom provider
- My mother’s maiden name
- About 20 previous addresses
- My present location
- My social media accounts
- My spouse’s name
- My birthdate and city of birth
- My court records, and more
Hmmm. Those facts sound a lot like the information that telecom companies use to verify identity. The list is missing things like favorite pizza topping, high school, favorite sport, preferred musical style, etc. But searching social media posts can easily provide that info, right?
When the scammer convinces the telecom company that he is indeed you, here’s what he may do:
- Intercept your phone calls and messages.
- Hijack your social media accounts by verifying password changes because he is getting the 2-factor authentication texts.
- Pretend to be you and reach out to your contacts and social media connections to try to scam them (“Hey, mom. I’m in a jam….”).
- Drive you crazy with spam calls.
- Cause headaches and stress and theft and loss of sleep and you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me moments.
Two: Loss of Privacy
Take a look again at that list of easily discoverable information that can be associated with your cell phone. Truthfully much of that can be found by just Googling your name, but using your cell phone further exposes your personal information. I tried my nephews’ numbers (they are 13 and 16), and nothing substantial came up. Whew! But we should protect their numbers early before they start registering for stuff.
Three: Aggressive Marketers
Hackers are not the only bad actors when it comes to your cell phone number. Shady marketers want your digits, too.
- Send unwanted text messages
- Add you to robocall and telemarketing lists
- Target me with more personalized (and manipulative) ads
- Associate your number with other information about you to further track my buying and surfing habits
What Can You Do to Protect Your Cell Number?
From here on out, protect your digits like you protect your home address. Here are some techniques:
- Add extra security with your telecom provider
You can contact your phone company to set up an additional pin number or other security steps to ensure no one can steal your phone number with easily found information.
- Turn off your caller ID
This article from Kim Komando tells you how to prevent people on the other end of a call from seeing your number. Note: Don’t be surprised if the person doesn’t answer because we’re all paranoid about blocked Caller ID calls these days. #RobocallersRuinedItForEverybody
- Use a phone service with a separate number
Services like Google Voice (free) and Burner (paid) will give you a separate number that can disguise your real one. I use my VoIP number through Vonage as my business number, and it rings through to my cell.
- Stop using your cell phone as an identifier
Whenever you can, avoid giving your phone number when you register for stuff.
- Take your mobile phone off your site and business cards
As I mentioned before, you can get another number that will route to your cell. Put a barrier between you and hackers in your business live as well. Also take the number out of your social media profiles.