Prevent Your Phone Number From Being Stolen In SIM Swap Fraud

October 1, 2020

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Crazy Fraud Risks From Phone Number Loss.

On top of everything else you have to worry about in your daily life, did you know that phone number theft is an actual concern? Here's what to look out for, and how to prevent hackers from getting the keys to your online accounts.

Scammers are always trying to find a way trick you into handing over private data through various social engineering tactics. For example, at the onset of the COVID19 China virus pandemic, scammers advertised cures and access to test kits, but in the end all the scammers wanted was to collect your personal info. They'd take advantage of peoples' fear and then turn around and use that data to do things like open various accounts in your name, or even take over your phone number, granting them full access to your online life. Despite carriers putting safeguards in place, this can still happen.

The SIM card inside your phone is a small plastic chip that tells your phone which data network to connect to, and which phone number it is authorized to use. SIM swapping occurs when someone contacts your wireless carrier and is able to convince the call center employee that they are you using your personal data. They can do this by using information that's exposed in hacks, data breaches, or information you publicly share on social networks to trick the call center employ into switching the SIM card linked to your phone number and replace it with a SIM card in their possession. This is why protecting your privacy and being careful and following privacy best practices is so important. Once your phone number is assigned to a new card, all of your incoming calls and text messages will be routed to whatever phone the new SIM card is in.

One big gain for someone who takes over your phone number is the instant access to any Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) codes you receive through text messages.As most people have phone numbers to linked to their banks, email, and social media accounts, you can see how a determined criminal can cause you major life problems. And if someone gains access to your email account, they can change passwords and search through your email archive to build a list of your entire online presence. Using app-based codes rather than being texted codes is wiser for increased security.

What can you do to prevent SIM swapping on your account?

You can decrease your chances of someone gaining access to and taking over your phone number by adding a PIN code or password to your wireless account. T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T all offer the ability to add a PIN code. AT&T subscribers, T-Mobile users, and Verizon Wireless customers can all either login or call customer care to set this up. If you have service through a different carrier, call their customer service number to ask how you can protect your account. Most likely, you'll be asked to create a PIN or passcode. Keep in mind that using a birthday or other known number for a pin code is not wise as the attacker might have researched that data.

How do you know if you're a victim?

The easiest way to tell if your SIM card is no longer yours is if you completely lose service on your phone. This could be a local network issue, or it could be signs of this problem. You may get an SMS message telling you the SIM card for your number has been altered, and to call customer support if you didn't make the change. But with your SIM card no longer working, you won't be able to place a call from your phone, making fixing this a bit of a logistical challenge for some people who just have the one phone.

There are some measures you can take should you happen to be a victim of sim card swap fraud.

The truth is, if someone wants access to your phone number bad enough, they will do all they can to trick your carrier's support representative and could succeed given enough time and effort. Criminals can be masters of persuasion and dirty tricks to figure out the data. Once you realize you've lost service on your mobile device, call your carrier immediately and let them know you didn't make the changes and you might be a victim of fraud. The carrier should help you recover access to your phone number. Do not wait to call and get this resolved: the longer a crook has access to your phone number, the more damage they can do to your life. You'll also want to reach out to your bank, credit card provider, and double-check all of your online accounts to make sure that the criminal hasn't changed your access passwords or made any fraudulent transactions. If you find transactions that aren't yours, call your bank or visit a branch right away and talk to a manager. At the very least, now you're a little more prepared for this activity and know why securing your online data is of such critical importance.

We hope you enjoyed reading this guide and learned something new! Check out our Learning Center to learn more about online privacy and security or consider subscribing to our Online Privacy Service to remove your phone number, name, and address from Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo search results and hundreds of data broker sites.