We often think of our social security number as being the only crucial key to our identity. However, it’s been changing in a last few years. It’s because there’s one more number that could become a serious threat to your personal life and identity. Yes, we’re speaking of your phone number.
At first, here are some facts. Nowadays, more than a half of Americans do not have a landline and, instead, solely rely on mobile phones. And what’s more: it’s not about “just mobile phones” anymore.
Our smartphones have a lot of functions: we can use them to control our smart homes or to finish financial operations. We carry them whenever we go, which means our smartphones can track our every step. Usually, mobile phone is also connected to everything we do online (like, for example, logging in to our email through a two steps authentication).
To sum up: our phone number can reveal more than we’d like to. Even when we don’t realize it at all. And it’s no wonder that the phone number-related identity theft are more and more often. Because our cell phone numbers are the gateways to our identities.
What can hackers do with your mobile phone number?
In 2016, more then 160 000 US citizens reported that their mobile accounts were taken over (in 2015, it was “only” 80 000). Considering the fact that only a small percentage of victims report the identity theft, we can presume that, in fact, the real number of victims is much higher.
It’s because cybercriminals and hackers are always looking for new ways how to misuse our phone number. And they’re becoming more and more resourceful. Here are some of most often scenarios.
1. Gathering information about you
This is an underestimated problem. But here’s the fact: mobile phone numbers are often used as an identifier on social media sites or webpages, which means that typing your number into a search engine or website can reveal a lot of information about you. The result? Your cell phone number can reveal, who you really are.
2. Scamming you
Either via phone calls, or via text messages, scamming is still a huge threat not only to your time, but to your money as well. Since the scammer can be very, very convincing.
3. Stealing your identity
Imagine this: whenever you call the support line of a company where you’re a customer, they use many different pieces of information about you to confirm your identity. If someone knows your phone number, then, after digging more information which we described above, they can call to a company with your address, the last 4 numbers of your credit card or social and with a phone number.
Here’s another scenario: a lot of financial services (like internet banking, for example) use the text based two-factor authentication. If someone achieve to control the phone number attached to your accounts (and for hackers, it’s not only possible, but also easy – when you’re not careful enough), then any phone calls or texts sent to verify your identity will be sent to them instead of you. Which means that they can change your passwords or get access to all your accounts.
How to protect your phone number
It’s easy. Don’t give it out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Whenever asked to confirm your identity via the phone number, you might ask whether you can instead provide a zip code or email address (you should have an email address set up for this purpose first).
For non-critical use, you can have a virtual number as well. And make sure you’re using a good protection against phone scam as well. Establish a PIN or password when logging in to your mobile account and when communicating with your mobile carrier as well.
If your phone suddenly becomes disconnected and restarting it doesn’t help, then you have to be quick. Make sure you contact your mobile carrier immediately. The sooner you can catch a scammer in action, the quicker you can get the situation under control and prevent them from causing more damage.