Do you freely give out your phone number when you’re signing up on a shopping website or meeting a new acquaintance? If so, you should know that criminals can use your phone number to commit identity theft.

For example, scammers may try to spoof (impersonate) your legitimate phone number to contact your friends and family, pretending to be you. Or they may attempt a SIM swap scam, porting your phone number to a SIM card in their possession to take over your personal accounts.

One of the ways you can help protect your identity is to use a virtual phone number to conceal the one linked to your home or mobile phone. Here’s how it works.

What is a Virtual Phone Number?

Virtual phone numbers are ten-digit numbers created online that aren’t bound to a single location or device. You can use them to make and receive phone calls from your laptop, mobile phone and other devices.

You can also link virtual phone numbers to your existing phone number. Then, when you place a call, you have the option to use your virtual phone number instead of the number associated with your phone. And if someone calls your virtual number, that call can be routed to your landline or cell phone. You can even send and receive text messages.

Several virtual phone number companies are out there, but many are geared toward businesses because virtual phone numbers are well suited for business lines and remote workers. However, some low-cost and free alternatives, like Google Voice, are suitable for personal use.

How Virtual Phone Numbers Can Protect You

Criminals can run scams using your phone number, but first, they need to know what it is. If your phone number is listed on social media, exposed in a data breach or otherwise compromised, your number is vulnerable to exploitation.

That’s where virtual phone numbers come in. You can use them in place of your existing phone number to minimize your exposure. For example, whenever you sign up for a website or app, list your number online or share your number with someone you meet, you can use your virtual phone number. This helps protect your privacy and restrict the number of people and organizations that have access to your “official” phone number.

Scammers can’t run SIM swap scams on virtual phone numbers because the number isn’t tied to a SIM card. And friends and family who have your landline or mobile number can be more easily be able to spot an impersonator using your virtual number.

Phone numbers are valuable information, but unfortunately, they’re often left unprotected. Consider using a virtual phone number to safeguard yours.