Every time a business asks for a phone number, many of us give it to them. After reading this the next time someone asks you for your cellphone number, you may want to think twice about giving it.
The cellphone number is more than just a bunch of digits. It is increasingly used as a link to private information maintained by all sorts of companies, including money lenders and social networks. It can be used to monitor and predict what you buy, look for online or even watch on television.
For many of us Cellphones are life lines. They hold pictures, contacts, schedules, some even act as a mobile wallet. That’s why losing a device can feel devastating. All of your personal information in a stranger’s hand.
Nearly half of all American households have given up their landlines and have only wireless phone service — a figure that has risen more than 10 percentage points in just three years. Among people ages 25 to 29, the share of homes that have only wireless phone service stands at 73 percent, according to government statistics.
What if you were told that a stranger didn’t need your actual device to get private information about you? All they need is your cell phone number. Yet the cellphone number is not a legally regulated piece of information like a Social Security number, which companies are required to keep private. And we are told to hide and protect our Social Security numbers while most of us don’t hesitate when asked to write a cellphone number on a form or share it with someone we barely know.
With just your phone number hackers are known to steal money, blackmailing people with sensitive information, taking over social media, or get access to private documents such as tax returns and passport numbers.
But it doesn’t stop there, they can now get access to additional information like address, number, birthday or last four of your Social Security Number take that information to an unsuspecting customer service rep who knowingly then lets them into your account where they then proceed to have your phone number forwarded to their phone or “ported” to another carrier or their personal device.
Let’s take it one step further… With all this information in hand they can now access your email accounts or your online bank account, with full access they can click “forgot the password” and resets the password by getting a code texted to your phone number, which is now directing all its messages to their device.
What you should do
• Be cautious - Simply don’t give out your number unless you must. You really need to think twice before giving out your cell number. Make sure any site that asks for your number is trustworthy.
• Use two-factor verification - When available, use two-factor verification. This will send a security code SMS to your smartphone whenever someone tries to log into one of your accounts from an unknown device. This code, together with your password, will add extra layers of security to your account.
• Get a Google Voice Number or a Sideline Number - This allows you to have a second phone number assigned to your cell.
• Check your credit - You should check your credit report on a regular basis. This can tip you off if you are a victim of identity fraud. Make sure there are no credit accounts under your name that you did not open.
• Keep track of your bank accounts - If you believe there is a chance you are a victim of fraud it's a good idea to check your bank statements. Look for any suspicious activity and if you do find it, report it to your financial institution immediately.