Scammers Are Coming for Your Phone Number: Here’s how to protect your data
Personal data is more valuable than ever, often referred to as the oil of the digital age. Unsurprisingly, scammers are waiting to exploit it. This includes a seemingly innocuous piece of our identity: our phone numbers. From phishing to identity theft, the consequences of phone scams can be worse than what you might expect.
In this post we'll go over the tactics scammers use, how they get your number, and most importantly, how to protect your data.
Why Your Phone Number is Valuable
In today's interconnected world, a phone number is more than just a series of digits–it's a part of your identity and, more alarmingly, a gateway to more of your personal information. That could explain why Americans collectively deal with 3 billion spam calls every month.
Phone numbers are often linked to various online accounts–from social media to financial services. While this can be super convenient it also means that this piece of data, in the wrong hands, can act as a key to those accounts.
Here’s what can happen if you don’t keep your phone number private and protected:
- Exposure on people search sites. It only takes a phone number to look someone up on people search sites. If scammers have this, they can quickly find out your address, workplace, family members’ identities, hobbies, and more. Unauthorized Access to your accounts. Your phone number can help scammers identify your online accounts. Combined with other personal information they can easily find online, they can break into these accounts.
- Account Hijacking and impersonation scams. Once they have access to your accounts, scammers can not only steal from you but also lock you out of them by changing your passwords or resetting your PINs.They can then easily pose as you to contact and scam your friends, family, or coworkers.
- Spear Phishing. If they’ve got your phone number, and especially if that has led them to more of your personal information, scammers can target you with highly sophisticated and convincing phishing attacks.
- Identity Theft. Ultimately, any of these dangers can lead to identity theft.
Recognizing and Avoiding Phone-Related Scams
Scammers are getting increasingly creative, employing more and more sophisticated methods in an effort to exploit your phone number.
This can include smishing and vishing attacks where scammers try to steal your personal information by impersonating customer service reps, bank officials, government agents, and even your loved ones. Scammers use AI to impersonate your loved ones and call, in distress, asking for help. One poor mother received a call from her 15 year old daughter, claiming she had been kidnapped.
Some fraudsters can even go as far as to use SIM Card Swapping. This is when scammers convince your mobile carrier to transfer your phone number to a new SIM card–one that they have under their control. If successful, they can wreak all sorts of havoc such as intercepting 2FA authorization codes and targeting your contacts.
If you don’t want any of this happening to you, here’s how you recognize a scam:
- Trust Your Instincts. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t let scammers fool you with prizes, freebies, or deals that are just too enticing to resist.
- Be Skeptical of Urgency. Scammers will often use urgency to pressure you into acting before you think. Legitimate organizations will never do this so it’s a dead giveaway.
- Verify Requests. If you receive a call or message asking for sensitive information or financial assistance, verify the identity of whoever is making the request before you give them anything. Always use official contact information, not the details provided along with the request. So if it’s a customer service rep, making the request, visit the website and reach out to their customer support team to verify.
- Check the Sender Information carefully. Scammers often use email addresses, phone numbers, or website URLs that look very similar to the real thing, with tiny variations. For example, a 3 may be replaced with an 8, or an m with an rn.
- Watch out for Poor Grammar and Spelling. A lot of scams originate from abroad. This often results in grammatical errors and misspellings.
- Be Wary of Unsolicited Calls or Messages: If you weren’t expecting a call or message, be cautious. Scammers will try to catch you off guard to prevent you from thinking critically.
How to Protect Your Phone Number and Data
While it’s always a good idea to stay aware and watchful for scams, the best way to keep yourself from falling victim to one is to avoid becoming a target in the first place. That means flying under the radar of scammers–keeping your data protected.
1) Strengthen Your Passwords
There were 1802 cases of data compromises in the US in 2022 alone. These breaches exposed the data of millions of Americans, putting targets on their backs. Oftentimes, a weak password is all it takes.
Use strong, unique passwords for all of your online accounts, including your email and social media profiles. You should never use information that can be guessed or is somehow linked to you (for example your birthday). Avoid any words in the dictionary too. A strong password should be at least 8 characters long and include numbers, special symbols, and upper and lower case letters.
If you struggle to come up with unique and strong passwords, use a trusted password generator.
2) Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
Whenever possible, enable 2FA for your accounts. This adds an extra layer of security so that even if scammers still manage to get your password, they won't have to access your accounts.
2FA is often linked to your phone number, but since SIM swapping is always a risk, it’s better to use a reputable authentication app.
3) Avoid Suspicious Links and Attachments
Be wary of unsolicited messages or emails containing links (especially if they sound urgent or too good to be true). Scammers send too many malicious links to take any chances. Don't click on any links or download attachments from unknown sources, suspicious or otherwise. They could lead to phishing websites or malware.
4) Regularly Review Account Activity
You should check your online accounts periodically–especially any accounts linked to your finances. Keep an eye out for any unauthorized access, unfamiliar transactions, or otherwise suspicious activity. If something looks off, take immediate action to secure your account and report the incident to the relevant service provider.
5) Keep Personal Information Private
Protecting your phone number isn’t just a matter of securing an entry point—it's about safeguarding your entire digital identity. Following our tips, such as strengthening passwords, enabling 2FA, and staying vigilant against suspicious messages, can help you protect it.
Online privacy and security takes ongoing and consistent effort, but it’s an investment in your peace of mind and your future. By taking action now, you're ensuring a safer online experience for yourself and those you interact with.
The best way to stop spam on your phone – is to prevent spammers from getting your phone number in the first place. Data brokers – companies that collect, aggregate, and monetize personal data – are playing a big part in sharing your details with spammers, and the law requires data brokers to stop doing that if they’re asked to do so. So you can ask them, but there are a lot of data broker companies. So that would be extremely labor-intensive and take a long time. Plus, you’d have to keep checking back, as data brokers can add you back into their databases after time passes.
But there’s an easier way to fix this problem. Incogni’s automated personal information removal service will ferret out the data brokers most likely to be dealing in your personal data. It will then send out wave after wave of opt-out requests on your behalf.
Incogni, which was created by cybersecurity company Surfshark, jumps through data companies’ hoops, adhering to each one’s particular removal procedure so that you don’t have to. It will deal with extra data broker interactions like rejection appeals, so you don’t have to do anything. Incogni restarts the whole process every three months to keep your data out of circulation.
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