Phone scams are surging. In the last decade, the rise in phone scams has put millions at risk.
Last year, more than 70 million Americans lost nearly $40 million to phone scams.
Given that number, the need for vigilance and effective countermeasures is evident. Read on to find out how scammers can get a hold of your phone number, the tricks they use, and what you can do to defend yourself and your data.
How Scammers Get Hold of Your Phone Number
Scammers have numerous tactics up their sleeves to get your phone number.
Some directly purchase mobile numbers in bulk from the dark web, where this data is being sold illegally. Others get numbers from social media, websites, online phone directories, and even raffle tickets. If you’ve ever shared your phone number in any of these public spaces, scammers could grab it.
Another method is using an auto-dialer with a number generator. This application randomly generates phone numbers and automatically calls them. If you pick up, you’re added to their target list.
Then there’s SIM swapping. In this scheme, a scammer pretends to be you and contacts your mobile provider. They claim your phone is lost or your SIM card is broken and request that your number be transferred to another SIM card. If they pull it off, they can even bypass two-factor authentication via SMS to access your accounts.
What Can Scammers Do Once They Have Your Phone Number?
Once scammers have your phone number, they have a variety of tricks to manipulate you, steal from you, and even impersonate you. Here are some of the tactics they use:
Steal Your Personal Information
When a scammer has your phone number, stealing your personal information becomes easier. They often start by sending phishing text messages, which appear to be from trusted sources like your bank or a government agency.
These messages usually require immediate action, such as clicking a link or sharing sensitive data. Once you comply, the scammer gets your Social Security number, bank account information, and online account logins.
Take Over Your Phone With a SIM Swap Scam
In a SIM swap scam, the criminal contacts your mobile carrier and impersonates you. They might already have some of your personal information, like your full name and address, to make the act more convincing.
Once they have the carrier’s trust, they request to transfer your phone number to a SIM card they control. They can immediately access your phone’s text messages, calls, and data after the swap.
Reroute Your Number
Scammers can reroute your phone number to intercept all incoming calls and text messages sent to your number. Imagine the scammer receiving your private conversations, text messages, and two-factor authentication (2FA) codes.
This isn’t just an invasion of privacy; it provides the scammer with plenty of information. For instance, they can gain access to one-time passwords sent via SMS for your online accounts. With these passwords, scammers hijack your identity, opening a Pandora’s box of exploitation.
Target You With Phone Scams Using Spoofed Caller ID Numbers
When scammers have your phone number, they can manipulate what appears on your caller ID. This tactic is known as caller ID spoofing. The scammer uses software to make it look like the call is coming from a legitimate source, such as a government agency or a known company. Imagine getting a call from your bank’s official phone number. You’re more likely to pick up, right?
Once you answer, the scammer will often pose as a representative from the organization they’re mimicking. They may claim suspicious activity on your account or that you owe back taxes. The goal is to make you anxious enough to share your personal details.
Prey on Your Family and Contacts
Posing as you, a scammer can send text messages or even make calls to people you know. The messages often claim you need financial aid immediately. The scammer might tell your contacts that you’ve been arrested, had a car accident, or are stranded while traveling. They’ll ask your family and friends to send money quickly, often through untraceable methods like wire transfers or gift cards.
Blackmail You Using Your Sensitive Data
Once scammers collect enough personal data through various methods, they may decide to use it against you in a blackmail scheme. The scammer may threaten to release private photos, text messages, or financial data, known as “doxxing.”
They may send you a message outlining what they have on you and demand payment. In more severe cases, they may even involve your family or workplace, aiming to corner you into complying with their demands. This type of scam doesn’t just aim to steal your money; it seeks to hold your reputation and peace of mind hostage.
Hack Into Your Online Accounts
By controlling your phone number, scammers have the ability to bypass the security of your online accounts. How does this work? Many platforms send a security code via SMS when you attempt to sign in or reset a password. Instead of you receiving these codes, scammers who have your phone number can get them.
The consequences can be severe. They could block accounts, send fake messages, or make purchases without your consent. They could also get your financial statements or messages from these accounts.
Receiving Scam Calls? Here’s What You Should Do
Getting suspicious calls is a common issue, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling. Know what to do when you’re on a scammer’s radar. This section will guide you through the immediate actions you can take to protect yourself and thwart the scammer’s plans.
Block the Number(s)
The most straightforward action you can take when you receive a scam call is to block the offending number. On most smartphones, this is a simple task you can do directly from your call history. Once blocked, calls and text messages from that number will not reach you anymore. However, this isn’t a foolproof solution.
Contact Your Mobile Carrier
Many carriers offer services that can help identify and block fraudulent calls. Plus, they can give you advice regarding your specific situation. In some cases, your carrier may even be able to trace back suspicious activity to its origin, giving you an added layer of security.
Ignore One-Ring Phone Calls
Do you get calls that ring once and hang up? It’s easy to get curious and call back, but you should resist the urge. This is a common scamming tactic. The scammer wants you to call back so they can rack up charges on your phone bill, which go into their pockets. The best thing to do is simply ignore these one-ring calls. If it’s genuinely important, the caller will leave a message or try to reach you another way.
Never Click on Links From Unknown Senders
You might get text messages or emails that contain links, promising you prizes or alerting you to “urgent” account issues. These are often attempts to trick you into downloading malware or visiting a phishing site. As tempting as it might be to see what’s behind that link, it’s far safer to just delete the message and block the sender.
How to Protect Your Phone Number and Identity
Now that you know about threats you may face, you should plan for protection. This section provides strategies and tools to stop scammers.
Remove Your Phone Number From Data Broker Lists
Data brokers collect and sell personal information, including phone numbers. Getting your number off these lists can be a powerful step in reducing your exposure to scams. You might not even know that your number is on such a list until you start receiving random calls and text messages. Many data brokers have opt-out procedures on their websites, so it’s worth taking the time to visit these sites and remove your information.
Lock Your SIM Card
A simple but effective measure you can take is locking your SIM card with a PIN. Even if they manage to get your phone, they can’t access your SIM without the PIN. This step helps keep your calls, text messages, and data usage secure. Most mobile carriers provide easy ways to set this up through their customer service or account settings.
Secure Your Online Accounts With Strong Passwords and 2FA
Simple or reused passwords make it easier for scammers to break into your accounts if they have some of your information. Take it up a notch by enabling 2FA. With 2FA, even if someone figures out your password, they’ll still need a second form of verification (usually a code sent to your phone) to access your account.
Sign up for Identity Theft Protection Services
IdentityIQ identity theft protection services offer a range of features to help keep you safe. They monitor your personal information, alert you of possible suspicious activity, and even provide coverage for losses caused by identity theft.
What to Do If You’ve Been Scammed Over the Phone
Realizing you’ve been scammed can be shocking and stressful, but you need to act fast. This section outlines a step-by-step plan for what to do if you find yourself caught in a scammer’s snare.
Step 1: Contact Your Mobile Carrier
The first thing you should do is reach out to your mobile carrier. They have protocols for situations like this and can take immediate action to secure your phone number. Whether it’s blocking certain incoming calls or helping you change your phone number, your carrier is your first line of defense.
Step 2: Contact Your Bank
Your next move should be to contact your bank. Explain the situation and ask them to monitor your accounts for unusual activity. They can also help by temporarily freezing your accounts or even issuing new cards. Your bank has protocols for situations like this, so they can guide you on the best actions to take.
Step 3: Freeze Your Credit
As soon as you suspect you’ve been scammed, it’s a good idea to freeze your credit. By doing this, you make it impossible for anyone, including scammers, to open new accounts in your name. You’ll need to contact the three major credit bureaus — Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® — to get this done. It’s a quick action that can have a major impact, making it much harder for scammers to continue exploiting your personal information.
Step 4: Update Your Security Information
After contacting your mobile carrier and bank and freezing your credit, the next move is to update your security information. This means changing passwords for your critical accounts like email, social media, and banking. Also, update your security questions and answers.
Step 5: Tell Your Friends and Family
After securing your accounts and finances, notify friends and family. Scammers often use stolen information to trick people in your network. By giving your loved ones a heads-up, you’re not just protecting yourself. You’re also helping them stay vigilant against possible scams.
Step 6: Report the Scam
The final step in dealing with a phone scam is to report it to the authorities. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through its website: ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Should you change your phone number after identity theft?
If you’re wondering whether you should change your phone number after falling victim to identity theft, the answer isn’t straightforward. It depends on your situation. To assess the extent of the damage, your first move should be to check your credit report. If you find unauthorized accounts or charges, that’s a clear sign you should consider changing your phone number along with other contact information.
Changing your phone number can be a hassle, but it adds an extra layer of safety. This stops the scammer from further abusing your current number and gives you a fresh start in securing your personal data.
What are some warning signs that you may be speaking to a scammer?
Knowing the warning signs can help you steer clear of scams before they escalate. One big red flag is when the person you’re talking to asks for money upfront before delivering any services. This is often a telltale sign of a scam in progress.
Additionally, be on high alert if they ask for sensitive personal information like your Social Security number or bank account details. Scammers use this information to commit fraud and theft. Another sign to watch for is urgency. If someone pressures you to act immediately, it’s usually to prevent you from thinking or consulting. Always trust your instincts. If something feels off, it probably is.
Can someone hack my bank account with my phone number?
The short answer is yes. It’s possible, but it usually requires more steps. Having just your phone number doesn’t give scammers direct access to your bank account. However, they can use it as a starting point for phishing attacks or SIM swap scams.
If they succeed in these methods, they could potentially access your bank’s 2FA codes sent via SMS. From there, gaining control over your bank account becomes easier. So, while your phone number alone isn’t a golden ticket for scammers, it can be part of a larger, more concerning puzzle.