Surely there isn’t much to worry about. After all, what can someone do with your phone number apart from maybe make nuisance calls? You might want to rethink that it might be more serious than you think.
I’m going to explain how vulnerable your phone number can be and how dangerous it can be in the hands of scammers and hackers. I’ll cover how they can get hold of your mobile number and what they can do with it. It isn’t pretty.
But don’t worry I will also cover what you can do if you have been targeted and look at some security measures you can take to stay safe.
Let’s get to it.
Can Giving Someone Your Phone Number Be Dangerous – What Are the Risks?
Let’s keep things real here. We all give our phone numbers out to friends and family as a matter of course. This shouldn’t lead to any problems. But, maybe we should be a little more cautious about other people and places we give access to our phone number.
How many websites and online accounts have you entered in your cell phone number? The local restaurant, did they get your number. If you stop to think for a minute you might be surprised at just how many times you have given out your number.
And we haven’t even looked at how scammers can steal your phone number – that’s coming later!
But is it really dangerous to give out your phone number in this way? Well unfortunately it can be. What an individual does with a phone number can be harmless or it can have serious consequences.
It can range from sending unwanted marketing texts or spam calls to phone hacking and complete identity theft.
Later in this guide I’ll cover what they can do with just your number in detail.
Can a Scammer Steal My Phone Number?
I talked about how just giving out your phone details can be a risk in some circumstances but can scammers steal your phone number? Yip!
Scammers love to get their hands on phone numbers. Your phone is the perfect starting point for scammers and hackers. The more information scammers have about you the better (for them).
Your phone number offers up access to all kinds of personal data, even if they can’t get control of your SIM card itself, they can often use the phone number to gain access to other online accounts.
How Can Scammers Get Your Phone Number?
The most common way that scammers can get your phone number is by buying huge databases of phone numbers stolen in large scale data breaches.
You know when you hear some social media or shopping giant has been hacked. These hacked details are for sale on the Dark Web. Here you can just be unlucky and get swept up in a mass attack.
Other ways someone can get your number include using phone number extraction tools advertized online. A little research on the internet will find software that can automatically extract millions of phone numbers from trusted sources like: The Telephone Database of the US, The National Do Not Call Registry and Social media websites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
There’s even a tool that can extract phone numbers from photos on Google Images… Creepy huh! So be more choosy with what you share about yourself online.
What Can Someone Do With Your Phone Number
Ok, so there are people out there who want to get your number and they have the means to do so. What can a scammer actually do with just your phone number?
Again this includes a wide range of threats. On the lower end of the seriousness scale you could just be bombarded with junk marketing SMS text messages or phone calls asking about that car accident! Bad enough if you have experienced this.
Then we go to the other end of the scale where using your phone number they might clone your phone (or SIM card) and use your phone number to impersonate you and gain access to your online accounts – including banking!
Let’s take a closer look.
Easy to Find Information From Just Your Phone Number
It’s shocking how much information can be exposed with just your phone number – and you don’t need to be a sophisticated hacker to get this data.
Widely available reverse phone lookup websites and people search databases like Whitepages and Fast People Search can give a mountain of personal information. All someone needs to do is enter your phone number and they can get things like:
- your full name and address
- marital status
- email address
- driving records
- any past criminal convictions
- social media accounts
- financial data – mortgage status, bankruptcy records
and lots more scary stuff – and this is just the easy to find information!
More Serious Risks from Stolen Cellphone Numbers
Having your phone number stolen can lead to very serious consequences for your security.
A common question I get asked is can your phone be hacked using just your phone number – I cover that in detail in that guide. The short answer is that just using the number isn’t enough for someone to hack your phone. But what they do next can lead to phone hacking.
If someone is able to hack into your phone and get control of it they can almost become you – at least in the tech side of your life. This can lead to them being able to access your personal accounts – everything from your Facebook to credit card and banking accounts.
This isn’t an exaggeration, this can and does really happen. Scammers and hackers have a number of ways to gain access to your phone once they have your number to get started. Here are a few common attack examples:
Port Out Scams
Often confused with SIM Swapping. This is where the hacker basically scams their way to getting your phone number ported to their SIM card and then they have use of your number. Think of the risk to resetting your online account passwords and 2FA here. For this reason your Two Factor Authentication might not be as secure as you think – have a read here.
Phone Cloning or SIM Card Cloning
This isn’t as common today due to tech advances in SIM card security but it is still possible for someone to clone your SIM and use it as if they are using your phone number. To do this they would need physical access to your SIM card and use a SIM Writer to make a copy of your card.
Phishing, Smishing and Vishing Scams
These all involve techniques to get your information by impersonating you or a company you use such as your bank or phone carrier. The terms relate to how the scam is carried out.
Phishing – uses email to get you to visit a fake webpage and enter personal data
Smishing – uses SMS text messages to get your data
Vishing – uses voice calls to impersonate you or one of your main account companies.
I have articles explaining each of these in greater detail so take a look to find out more.
Unfortunately hackers and scammers have numerous methods to take control of your phone and your information and they keep finding more ways to do this.
As I mentioned once they have control of your mobile phone you could be open to having every account you access online compromised. They can impersonate you, logging into your accounts and changing your passwords.
Obviously the biggest threat is identity hacking and taking control of your financial accounts. It’s seriously scary stuff and it is real.
But there are things you can do.
What To Do If a Scammer Has Your Number
If you suspect that a scammer has your phone number and is attempting to hack your phone you need to act quickly. Here are some steps to take right away:
First you should let your phone carrier or mobile network operator (MNO) know that you believe someone is using your number or has taken control of it for scamming purposes.
You should be able to contact them via their website, head office number or by calling a customer service line. Let them know that you think your phone may have been compromised and provide as much information as possible about the breach including what happened and when it occurred. Your carrier will validate this with their security team and decide how to move forward.
The next step should be to contact your bank or other financial institutions and let them know of the potential hack. They should be able to help secure your accounts and refer you to their security team if they need more information.
Next up you should quickly change all your online passwords for your email, social media and financial accounts. You will need to use a different password for each account so I recommend using a password manager – they are the best way to generate and securely store unique passwords for every site you use.
I would also recommend using two factor authentication where possible and add extra security such as an authenticator app for your phone – this is separate to the 2FA SMS codes delivered to your mobile number which scammers can intercept.
Contacting friends and family is a good idea to let them know you might have been hacked. Ask them to look out for any strange texts or calls that seem to come from your phone and let your phone carrier know if this is happening.
You’ll find that the phone carriers and financial institutions will react quickly to secure your accounts. They deal with these attacks all the time and will instruct you what you need to do in each case.
Now, let’s take a look at how you can protect your phone number from being stolen and used in the first place.
How to Protect Your Phone Number From Scammers
It amazes me how many people don’t even take the most basic security measures on their mobile phones. Basic online security may not protect your phone number itself but it will reduce your risk of getting totally hacked.
Everyone seems to understand the importance of a good antivirus program on their laptop or PC – but on their phone they think it doesn’t matter! It does.
Lock your phone – duh! Every phone has even a basic phone lock system and there are more locking apps (for free) that can make you more secure.
Passwords – use a good password manager app and make it secure. Remember don’t reuse the same password everywhere – and no birthday numbers for passcodes!
Remote Wipe – if you are worried about being hacked enable remote wipe so you can remotely delete everything if your phone is lost or stolen. All the carriers have it available so check your mobile carrier for more information.
Private Browsing – We all love Google Chrome but you should use a strong private browsing setting to stop some of the tracking that goes on in this browser. You will need to enable some different settings on Android and iPhone devices so do it!
Use A VPN – If you are want a further level of privacy online using a good Virtual Private Network is a good idea.
This should be your aim for just the basic level of security on your mobile phone. Take a look at how your phone and accounts are set up right now and think how you can improve things.
Take your most important accounts to another level of security, especially financial accounts. 2FA is a good start but even it has its problems. Look at using authenticator apps to secure your most important data.
Many banks and credit card companies already have these set up but you should check if yours does. These apps provide another level of security when things go wrong. Check out Google Authenticator or Authy.
Keep your online security under review and make changes where you find any risks. Don’t wait for that hack to happen. Prevention is always better than the cure.
So, I hope you are now aware of what someone can do with your phone number. I hope I’ve scared you enough to take your security a little more seriously. Our use of tech these days means we will always be at risk from hackers and scammers but with a few simple steps you can make their job a lot more difficult.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to have a good look around my online security section – lots of tips and advice to find.