Our mobile phones are nifty little devices once used only to communicate over long distances. Today, they allow us to do almost everything in the palm of our hands, whether for work or personal transactions.
Powerful though they may be, they’re not invincible to the dangers of the online world. You may find yourself under the threat of a data breach.
This could mean that your phone number may have been compromised, which can lead to criminals accessing sensitive information for identity theft and fraud.
Data breaches happen more often than we think, so it pays to be always prepared. Placing a safety measure for your mobile phone is paramount, so we’ve looked into official government sources and sought insights from security experts.
We’ve also read real-life stories from people who got scammed because their phone numbers were compromised.
Below, we discovered the worst thing that can happen with how much information scammers can get by using your phone number.
So keep reading and don’t miss out on essential tips to prevent scammers from using your phone number in fraudulent activities.
What should you do to recover if your data is exposed in a data breach?
Having your data exposed in a data breach can be frustrating and disheartening, but not all hope is lost.
There are steps you can take to minimize the damages, and here are some of our recommendations:
1. Modify your mobile phone passwords and PINs
After a data breach, ensure to modify your mobile phone passwords and PINs immediately. Having different passwords for each account is important because using a single set of passwords across all your accounts makes it a breeze for cybercriminals to access your accounts.
Experts recommend using passwords with diverse alphanumeric characters, preferably away from identifying data like birthdays and names. These are much more difficult to crack, ensuring that all your accounts remain safe even under the threat of a data breach.
2. Apply multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication, or MFA, is an added layer of protection for your online accounts. Apart from trying to break a comprehensive password, hackers will find it even more difficult to access your phone account because of an MFA.
With MFA in place, sites and apps will send you codes via email or text before you can sign in. Because criminals usually can’t access these, they can’t sign into your accounts.
3. Freeze your credit
Experts recommend that you monitor your credit reports for any changes, as this could indicate identity fraud in action after a data breach.
However, this isn’t a proactive approach to protection. It tells you what has happened and doesn’t help you prevent anything from further escalating.
On the other hand, asking for a credit freeze can help you protect your accounts. All you need to do is contact the three major crediting bureaus for help—it’s free and convenient!
4. Wait for updates from your mobile company
If a data breach exposes your personal information, your mobile company should be responsible for communicating any updates, efforts made, and disclosures about the case.
You should watch your inbox for any company updates. Also, check their social media pages for any news. They should take proactive steps to minimize damages, such as automatically logging you out of your accounts.
You should also wait for an official series of advisories or measures to take following a breach. Remember: not all data breach cases are the same!
5. Consider identity theft protection services
You have the power to protect yourself online, but if you want a more thorough layer of security, consider identity theft protection services.
The only catch is that these services can cost money. Often, companies provide victims of data breaches with free credit monitoring, a feature you typically have to pay for in an identity theft protection service.
An additional benefit from these services would be insurance coverage policies, which can go up to $1 million.
6. Visit IdentityTheft.gov
IdentityTheft.gov is a government website that can help you assess your situation and determine the best option if you find yourself dealing with a data breach.
They offer countless resources to read, along with additional tips and advice on what to do when your personal information is part of an identity theft scam.
How does a data breach happen?
A data breach happens when unauthorized parties access, retrieve, or steal sensitive or confidential information. It can be a highly damaging situation for companies and their users.
Keep in mind that criminals don’t have to access data illegally for it to be a breach—it simply takes unauthorized access to a given network or system.
Data breaches happen after cybercriminals gain access to networks and local files and bypass existing network securities.
Many believe that data breaches happen through malware or hacking, but they can also happen through credit card fraud, loss or theft of hard drives, insider leaks, employee negligence, and other types of human error.
Some of the most common cyberattacks criminals use in data breaches are phishing, malware, and ransomware.
How do you know if your data has been breached? Usually, state laws require private businesses and government agencies to notify users of data breaches.
If you receive an official notification from companies or government agencies, it’s a clear sign that cybercriminals may have leaked your data and that of other customers.
T-Mobile’s August 2021 data breach: A recent case of cyberattacks
One recent example of a data breach is the one that T-Mobile encountered and confirmed on August 17, 2021. The data breach occurred due to a cyberattack that affected millions of customers’ data.
Even former customers’ and prospective customers’ data weren’t safe in this breach. It’s a massive leak that compromised over 40 million former and prospective clients’ information, along with that of 7.8 million active postpaid customers.
The cyberattack leaked some names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, ID information, billing statements, and Social Security Numbers, but T-Mobile claims that hackers didn’t access financial information.
The 2021 data breach isn’t the only one that T-Mobile suffered—the company also encountered other leaks in 2018 and 2019. The attacks compromised customers’ phone numbers, account details, and email addresses.
T-Mobile also reportedly had a data breach in 2022 following cybercrime group LAPSUS$’s attack, but the company hasn’t released a statement regarding this as of writing.
These instances show that cybercrimes and data breaches are commonplace, and while you can’t prevent them entirely, it’s always best to know what criminals can do with your information and how you can protect yourself from identity theft and other crimes.
What can criminals do with your phone number?
Your phone number may not seem like much compared to the plethora of things a cybercriminal can harvest from your accounts, but they find it just as valuable.
When your phone number is exposed in a data breach, here’s what cybercriminals can do with it:
1. They can mine your personal information
Criminals can use your phone numbers maliciously by running them through people search sites.
These sites reveal personal information about you simply by your number, making it a goldmine for fraudsters. Popular people search sites include the following:
These search sites have the power to purchase your personal information, which criminals can then sell to people who wish to exploit your information. Data on these sites include the following:
- Family member details (such as names and addresses)
- Criminal records
- Records of bankruptcy
So, what can criminals do with this data? They can use it for blackmailing, social media hacking, doxing, stalking, and identity theft.
2. They can send you texting scams
Apart from data mining, fraudsters also have the power to send you texting scams and other malicious content.
Many refer to this as “smishing,” where links can infect your phone with viruses designed to steal your personal information.
In other cases, scammers can also pretend to be representatives of companies you’ll likely trust, including your bank, clinic, and the IRS.
From there, they can trick you into providing information like credit card details and social security numbers.
How to prevent data breaches from compromising your data
We’ve covered all the bases needed to understand how data breaches work. Now, it’s time to learn how to protect your mobile information from breaches.
Rebecca, our personal friend, had been a victim of a data breach once. She received a notification on her Facebook account one day; the next thing she knew, it was all over the news. Unfortunately, cybercriminals have mined her credit card information from the breach.
The hacker made unauthorized electronic and appliance purchases on Amazon using her credit card. She was one of the lucky ones, though, as Rebecca immediately received notification of these purchases and blocked her card. She was also able to cancel all the purchases.
From her experience, we came up with these best tips.
- Be on the lookout for data breach notifications or letters. The best thing that Rebecca did was to NOT ignore the data breach, along with other notifications that followed suit. Remaining vigilant allows you to think on your feet and ultimately protect your personal information from becoming a commodity in cyberspace.
- Be aware of phishing emails. Identity thieves are notorious for creating malicious links and websites to extract your data. When you receive a suspicious email, take a step back and assess before clicking on anything. Any grammatical errors or layout mistakes should be a top sign that something is amiss.
The cyberworld offers undeniable convenience, especially when accessed through our mobile devices. We can work, play, and connect with our loved ones and complete financial transactions without the need for bulky devices or physical presence.
However, the risks are higher than ever—with data breaches happening more frequently, it’s essential to take extra measures to ensure our data remains protected.