When it comes to helping prevent identity theft, there’s a lot of personal information you should safeguard, so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. This information ranges from your name and physical address to your Social Security number (SSN).
But you might not think twice about giving out your phone number whenever someone asks for it.
While criminals can’t open financial accounts and credit cards in your name using only your phone number, they can use it in other ways.
3 Ways Scammers Can Use Your Phone Number to Steal Your Identity
1. Texting Scams
If scammers have your phone number, they can send you text messages to trick you into providing sensitive information (known as smishing). These text messages may claim to be from your bank, the IRS or other official organizations, but their real goal is to get you to give out personal data or information about your financial accounts.
2. SIM Swapping
SIM swapping is a scam where criminals get your real phone number transferred to a SIM card in their possession. They need your name, address, and phone number to do this (and, in some cases may need your SSN). Once they have this info, they can call your wireless provider, pretending to be you, and have your number moved over to their cell phone.
They can then try to use your phone number to gain access to your accounts, from bank accounts to social media profiles and more. If you have set up two-factor authentication using text messages for your accounts, they can request to reset your password at the point of login and use the code sent to your number to get into your account.
3. Spoofing Your Number
Criminals may even use your phone number to call or text people you know (or just people in your area), hoping that your number prompts them to pick up or respond. Then they try to trick the person into going along with whatever scheme they’re running.
How to Protect Your Phone Number and Identity
It can be easy for criminals to get a hold of your number if it was compromised in a data breach. You may even have your number listed publicly online and on your social media pages.
It can even be obtained using an old bill with your number on it. Even so, you should take steps to protect your phone number.
What is a Virtual Phone Number?
Avoid giving out your phone number to anyone besides trusted friends, family and your doctor. You can set up a virtual phone number that forwards calls to your phone for other uses, so you don’t have to give out your phone number.
Virtual phone numbers can be set up through services like Google Voice. Take down any public listings of your phone number, such as on your social media profiles.
Call your wireless provider to find out what security measures they have in place before they transfer your phone number to a new carrier or a new SIM card. They might be able to add a personal identification number to your account, which would need to be provided before they take any action.
What is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)?
You can also set up two-factor authentication that doesn’t use text messages to get you into your accounts. In many cases, two-factor authentication can call you on a landline or use an authenticator app on your phone to get you access.
If your mobile phone stops working and you can’t send or receive texts, don’t assume it’s a tech issue. Report the problem to your wireless carrier as soon as you can to find out if you’ve been a victim of fraud.
Never click on links or download attachments sent to you in text messages, even if they appear to be sent from a trusted person or organization. If your bank, credit card company or other organization contacts you via text, call them back using the verified number on their website instead of following links or texting back.
If you feel like your personal information is at risk, consider signing up for identity theft protection. These identity theft and credit monitoring services, like IdentityIQ, can provide real-time fraud and SSN alerts, dark web and internet monitoring and identity theft insurance. These services specialize in helping protect your information.