Do you often receive spam text messages or random calls from telemarketers? You’re not alone. Like many Americans, you’re probably already tired of blocking so many numbers from people saying you’ve won the lottery or that you need to claim prizes from contests you didn’t even enter.
You wonder—how do scammers get your phone number? Is there anything you can do?
Your phone number is an important piece of information, and it can be dangerous when it falls into the hands of scammers.
We use our mobile phones for almost everything, and it’s one option for multi-factor verifications. With your phone number, scammers could have access to almost everything, such as your email, bank accounts, and more.
That’s why you should be aware of how these thieves get your phone number and how they could use it. Read to know the top mistake people make that can compromise their phone numbers. Don’t miss out on essential tips to protect yourself against scammers!
How scammers get your phone number
Scammers can get your phone number in several ways. They could get it randomly, or you could be targeted. Either way, it is still a great risk for your number to fall into the hands of these criminals.
Here are some ways these bad guys get your number:
1. Dark web
The dark web is basically an eCommerce platform for everything illegal, and scammers can get a list of mobile numbers from different sources.
Often, these numbers are from information lists. For instance, they could get a list of phone numbers of members of a certain gym, users of certain phone service providers, or club members.
Phone numbers are required in some memberships or accounts, and as a collective information of all members or users, the list should be kept confidential. Unfortunately, hackers can get such lists through data breaches and then sell them on the dark web.
If you have accounts with a business or organization that has experienced a data breach, your number is probably compromised. You might receive spam texts or calls sooner or later.
2. Number generator
This method is as straightforward as its name. It generates a random number through an auto-dialer to get a hold of anyone who would bite the bait.
3. SIM swapping
SIM swapping is a method wherein the thief pretends to be you and asks your provider to transfer your mobile number to another sim card by saying that the phone is lost or the sim is broken.
If they successfully transfer your number, they can easily access your accounts even if you have two-factor notification using SMS.
Another straightforward method of SIM swapping is where they just steal your sim card. This is why you must keep your phone secure at all times.
4. Social media
Scammers can get your phone number through your social media profiles or posts.
Here’s the common mistake people make—forgetting to set their personal information private on their social media profiles, including the associated phone number.
Most people would sign up for an account, fill out the information, and just leave the default privacy settings. Scammers can harvest such information using their updated techniques.
5. Lost or stolen ID
Your IDs, such as your driver’s license or company ID, also contain your phone number. If you lose it or someone steals it from you, they can use your information for malicious intent, including scams and identity theft.
How to protect yourself against phone scammers
Being aware of the methods on how to steal a phone number is not enough—you should also know how to stay secure. There are several ways to protect your phone number from being stolen or hacked.
Use two-factor or multi-factor authentication
Even though you’re prone to SIM swapping, it’s still better to use two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA/MFA). This way, you get notified when someone tries to access any of your accounts.
You could stay secure by opting for multi-factor authentication, which could include email authentication, PIN, passwords, or even security questions.
I know it may look like it’s too much work to have all these processes before you’re able to access your account. But it’s also too much work to retrieve hacked accounts or settle fraudulent activities under your name if you’ve been victimized by identity theft.
Which one is worth the effort?
I bet you’d agree that the effort in securing your account is worth it if you’re able to avoid being hacked or scammed.
Lock your SIM
SIM cards usually have a default PIN from your mobile service provider. Locking your SIM provides you security just in case your phone gets stolen. This will prevent the thief from transferring your SIM to another phone and using it to commit fraud.
Locking your SIM would also give you time to report loss or theft to your service provider so they can do precautionary measures, such as blocking your stolen SIM.
Don’t click links from unknown senders
If you receive unknown text messages or notifications, observe if they came from legitimate sources.
Sometimes we receive SMS notifications from our bank and other accounts. If it’s asking for more information instead of just notifying, then you should be careful, as most phishing scams do this.
You should look for misspelled words, and if the sender is an unknown number, it didn’t come from your bank.
Ignore one-ring phone scams
One-ring phone scams happen when someone is trying to call you, and you call them back, curious as to whom it might be. These calls come from an international number that runs up on toll, and it’s paid to the scammer.
If someone you know is trying to reach you, they wouldn’t hang up a call, or they will reach you through a message if they need anything.
Never call back a number from an unsolicited text
There are times that we get a message that we won a raffle or that we have an unsettled bill with the government.
Note that if you didn’t join anything, there’s little to no chance that you would win something. This is one way to get your attention and possibly get more information from you.
For messages that say that you have unsettled bills with the government, you can always confirm this by calling the mentioned government agency directly. Also, government agencies rarely send texts or calls. Instead, they will send you a postal mail.
Get fraud monitoring
Monitoring everything can take time and effort, so you might want to sign up for a fraud monitoring service.
Fraud monitoring services or identity theft protection services can monitor your social media and other platforms for you. Then, they will alert you if someone uses your information—from full name to address and even your credit card information.
Some of the best identity theft protection services include IdentityForce, IDShield, and Aura.
Keep your phone safe in public
SIM swapping could be as easy as stealing your SIM from your phone. So, you have to secure your phone when you’re out in public.
As much as possible, only take it out when you really need it. You should also not leave it unattended on tables or restrooms.
Install antivirus software
If your phone has been compromised, some signs could be unnoticeable. Installing antivirus protection or even anti-malware could help in preventing your phone from being hacked.
Having malware or virus installed on your phone could mean that hackers may have ways to gather more information just by your overall activity on your phone. They could get your passcodes, credit card details, and more.
Some of the best antivirus apps are Norton, Bitdefender, and Avast Mobile security.
When clicking on a link, inspect if the URL is encrypted. Secured websites always have https:// instead of just http://. If you’re looking for the website of a company like your bank or your mobile service provider, check if the domain has the correct spelling of their names.
Sometimes, hackers use a similar spelling of a certain company to create a phishing website so that they can bait a victim. For instance, they could use bank0famerica.com to lure Bank of America customers into clicking their links.
Shred old documents
Thieves can also get your information from your trash. This is why you should shred old documents just in case you need to throw them out.
If you’re having trouble keeping your trash safe or if you think shredding documents is such a hassle, you may consider going paperless when it comes to your billing statements. But make sure to secure your email too!
What can scammers do with your phone number?
Scammers can do a number of things with your phone number. Here are some of them:
Mine your private data
Your mobile number, as much as it is personal information, could still be available online. Some people could search for you using your mobile number, and they could obtain more information, such as your full name, address, email address, and birth date.
It means that if a scammer already has your number, it can open doors to everything else they need to commit identity theft and other fraudulent activities.
Reroute your number
SIM swapping allows scammers to reroute your number into their phones, which they can use to pretend to be you and commit more crimes.
They could also have access to your two-factor authentication process if you have it on SMS, which means they could also create changes in some of your accounts.
Even calls and text messages can be rerouted to the scammer if your mobile number was successfully hacked. Then, they can scam your friends and family who contact you.
Spoof your number
Spoofing is a scam where thieves pretend to be from a legitimate organization and persuade you into giving them some of your personal information. These include your credit card details, Social Security number, address, and other relevant information that they can use to commit identity theft.
Send you a text scam
Scammers will send you texts that may trick you into believing their tactics or clicking phishing links.
Blackmail you using your sensitive data
Hackers could gain access to your intimate or confidential conversations or digital media and use them to blackmail you.
Having security measures on your phone could be too much work, but it’s worth it for overall safety. Invest your time in protecting your mobile phone – and even your other accounts – to avoid being scammed in the future. Being scammed or having your identity stolen is harder than securing your phone.