Our cellphones are one of our most widely utilized security tools, but that also makes them an attractive target for identity thieves. Think briefly about how many websites, logins, and apps have your cell phone number tied to them. We use our phones as a method of securing almost everything, from our Facebook accounts to our bank accounts. This means that if a criminal is able to obtain your cell phone number, they can access a huge chunk of your personal life.
What Can Scammers Do With My Number?
With enough malicious creativity, a person who steals your number in effect can become you. Once they have your number, a criminal can start taking over your digital profile, account by account.
This often begins with the hacker taking advantage of password resets, which are usually directly backed up by your phone or phone number. Advanced criminals can even fool automated and two-factor authentication systems commonly used by banks and other financial accounts. In very extreme cases, hackers can use your stolen number to hack into your personal or work email, exacerbating the identity theft and potentially stealing sensitive documents.
How Scammers Steal Your Phone Number
So how do hackers do this? Short of stealing your physical phone, it doesn’t seem like it should be that easy for a criminal to hijack your accounts and information like this. After all, methods like two-factor authentication are designed to protect you against this — if somebody tries to log in to a website as you, a message is sent to the phone you have in your physical possession to confirm that it is you. In theory, that should alert you if somebody is trying to break into one of your accounts.
Port Out Scams
Savvy criminals get around this problem by using “port out scams.” In a port out scam, a criminal can actually use your phone number to switch your number to a different cellular carrier. Normally, this process (“porting”) allows you to keep your existing phone number when you decide to switch carriers. If you’ve ever kept your phone number while switching from AT&T to Verizon or vice versa, then you’ve probably legitimately used porting in the past.
The problem is that identity thieves can assume your identity to abuse porting. By pretending to be you, they can switch your number over to a different carrier or phone. Unfortunately, this is far easier for criminals to do than it should be, due to the high number of social security numbers that are compromised due to hacks and data breaches.
Once a scammer has fooled the cellular carrier, they essentially have your phone. Any and all calls, messages, and data that is supposed to go to your actual phone is now being diverted to a phone in their possession. Until you notice this is happening and rectify the scenario, your phone is basically a brick, and the scammer is free to start abusing password resets, two-factor authentication, and any other security checks that are safeguarded by your phone.
Protecting Yourself From Being Scammed
To protect yourself from falling victim to a port out scam, you should follow many of the same rules you would to protect yourself from any other kind of identity fraud. Remember that port out scams rely upon the scammer having your personally identifiable information in one form or another. While you can’t help it if a company holding this kind of information gets hacked, there are some best practices you can follow to minimize your risk of identity theft. These include:
- Checking your bank statements and credit card statements frequently
- Keeping on top of bills and due dates so you notice if one goes missing
- Checking your health insurance statements for claims discrepancies
- Checking your credit ratings at least once a year
- Shredding any sensitive or personally identifiable documents when throwing them away
You can also help to guard yourself against port out scams specifically by avoiding SMS-linked two-step security whenever possible. Consider utilizing alternative methods, including authentication apps such as Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, or Authy. These apps are designed to generate authentication codes on your device itself, without having to rely on the SMS linking that criminals abuse in port out scams. While not all apps or websites allow you to use these kinds of authenticators, you should do so whenever possible.
What To Do If Your Number Has Been Stolen
If you are the victim of any kind of identity fraud, the first thing you need to do is report it. IdentityTheft.gov is a great starting resource for anybody that suspects they have been targeted by identity theft. If you would like to report an instance of identity theft, you can do so through the FTC Complaint Assistant. Other steps you should take include:
- Calling any businesses or organizations where you know fraudulent activity occurred
- Checking your credit and immediately putting a fraud alert on your credit reports
- Filing a report with your local police department
Speak To The Consumer Fraud Attorneys At Parnall & Adams
Regardless of how you fell victim to identity theft, working with a professional consumer fraud attorney is paramount to making a successful case. Our experienced consumer fraud attorneys can be a valuable asset in working with you to file a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (the federal body responsible for stopping unfair and deceptive business practices). They can also help you understand your unique situation (whether your case is legitimate), help you understand your rights, and help to make a case that will hold its own in a court of law.
Parnall & Adams Law. is a trusted fraud law firm that provides representation to Albuquerque residents. Our expansive knowledge of the intricacies of consumer fraud protection and litigation guarantee that we will come prepared to help you in your fraud case, while saving you time and money in helping you understand your rights and next steps. Give Parnall & Adams a call at 505.886.4446 or request a consultation online.