Most people are familiar with the need to protect their identity and to safeguard personal information online. Unfortunately, it seems like we are under a constant barrage of threats. The latest tool that hackers are using to compromise our online safety is using a cell phone number to steal your identity.
Try a scary experiment. Open Google and type your phone number into the search bar. Now, click on the maps tab that appears under the search bar. The odds are that you can find your address with your number. Now, think about how easily we give out our phone numbers for various reasons and it seems a bit chilling.
We use our cell phone numbers each time we buy online, subscribe to a service, sign up for in-store programs, or meet new people. Our phone numbers appear on virtually every piece of paper we ever fill-out as well as every online form. So, you can see how someone with nefarious intent could easily gain access to your phone number. Now, with just your phone number, they can easily determine your name and where you live.
With the information above, a hacker can contact your mobile provider claiming to be you. The hacker then asks the carrier to port out your number to a different phone. Carriers receive legitimate requests like this all the time. Customers lose, break, or otherwise change their phones and now need their number ported to a new phone.
The hacker now has a physical phone with your phone number and can receive calls and texts intended for you. To further complicate the situation, you may continue to receive them too, so you may have no idea that anything has happened.
Once the hacker has access to your phone, the next step is usually to access your email address. The address is stored on the phone, and the hacker can easily reset the password, often choosing the option of not requiring a new sign in from other devices. Again, you can still access your email, so you have no idea anything has happened.
Once the hacker can access your email, gaining access to your other accounts is easy. The hacker goes through your email, identifying which financial and credit card companies you receive correspondence from. They then use the “forgot password” option, and a password reset link is sent to the phone in their possession. Most hackers will be working quickly at this point, accessing and changing the passwords to as many accounts as possible.
The hacker can even access your bank account, assuming that they find enough information via your phone and email address. Remember, when they call your bank, the caller I.D. will come up as you. The hacker can requests that checks or a new card be sent or can set-up an automatic transfer to an account the hacker controls.
Cryptocurrency owners are at a heightened risk because cryptocurrency cannot be reversed, and there is no way to track where and how it is spent. You do not have to deal in cryptocurrency to be at risk, as this scam can happen to anyone at any time.
How to protect yourself
Carriers are ramping up ways to protect their customers from this type of fraud. You can contact your mobile provider, via phone or online, and request to add the extra layer of security to your account. When this extra security is enabled, anyone seeking to make changes of any kind to your account will have to provide a unique password.
Contact your cell phone carrier immediately if your phone stops working, or you receive an “emergency calls only” alert on your phone. Assuming your account is in good standing, this is a strong indication that your number might now be attached to another phone you do not control.
Carefully monitor the communication you receive. Be alert for phishing attempts or alert messages from financial institutions. You might also receive texts in response to two-factor authentication requests. All of these things are red flags that your phone number may have been hacked.
If you are a victim of this scam, contact your mobile carrier right away. Then, you should immediately reach out to the fraud department of all your financial institutions and credit card providers. Once you have reported the fraud and protected yourself, consider filing a report with the Better Business Bureau to warn others about the scam.