Mobile Phone Numbers Are as Sensitive as Your Social Security Number
All of us have cell phones these days, and if you are like the vast majority of the population, you access everything from social media to banking information right from your mobile phone. However, if you do this, which everyone does, you are putting yourself in the position to get hacked. With only your mobile phone number and a couple other pieces of information, a hacker can get into these accounts and your life could drastically change.
How does this work? If a hacker already has your mobile phone number, they can get other information, such as you address, birthday, or even the last four digits of your Social Security number, through social engineering schemes via email or on social. Once they have this information, it’s like handing your phone over to them and letting them do as they please, including accessing your accounts.
The scam may not even begin with you, it may begin with the mobile phone companies themselves. There have been many incidents where the carriers are scammed into handing over troves of personal identifying information to scammers posing as the victim. In many cases the phone companies are even allowing the scammers to get phones with the actual victims phone number by transferring everything to a new phone the perpetrator charges to the victims account.
Here are some things that you can do to keep your mobile phone number safe:
Use Your Passcode – You can and should put a passcode on your phone, you should definitely do it. This isn’t totally foolproof, but does give you an extra level of protection.
Add a Passcode – Your mobile carriers online account should have an additional second passcode to make any changes to your account. This additional passcodes works with both the web and calling customer service. Nothing happens unless this additional passcode is presented.
Disable Online Access to Any Mobile Phone Account – This is frustrating, of course, but it certainly can protect you. If you need to change your account, you should go to the store or call your provider.
Use Google Voice – Google Voice is an excellent choice for many, and you can even forward your current number to your Google Voice number. This helps to mask any call you make, which means no one can have access to your real number.
Access Your Cell Phone Account with a Carrier-Specific Email Address – Most of us use our email addresses and phone numbers to access our online accounts. However, you should really have three separate emails. One should be your primary email address, one should be only for sensitive accounts, like your bank or social media accounts, and one for your mobile phone carrier. This means, even if your main email is hacked, the hackers cannot get into your other accounts.
Talk to Your Carrier – Consider asking your carrier to make a note in your account to require a photo ID and special passcode before any changes are made. Though it’s possible that a hacker could pose as you with a fake ID, the chances are quite low that this would happen.
Use Complex Passwords – One of the best ways to protect online accounts is to use complex passwords. Or at least a different password for every account. You should also use a password manager. If you don’t, make sure your passwords are very random and very difficult to guess like “58&hg#Sr4.”
Do Not Be Truthful – You also might want to lie when answering your security questions. These are easy to guess or discover. For instance, it’s probably easy to find out your mother’s maiden name. So, make it up…just make sure you remember it!
Don’t Use Your Phone Number for Important Accounts – Also, make sure that you aren’t using your phone number for any important account. Instead, use that Google Voice number.
Use a Password Generator – This is part of two factor authentication. Protect yourself by using a one time password generator, as part of a two-factor authentication process. It may be your mobile or they look like keyfobs and produce a new password very frequently. The only way to get the password is to access the generator or your mobile.
Use a Physical Security Key – You should also think about using a physical security key. To use one, you must enter your password into the computer, and then enter a device into the computer’s USB port. This proves that you are the account owner. So, even if a hacker gets your password, they must also have the physical security key to access the account.
Think About Biometrics – Finally, to really protect your accounts, when available, use biometrics. You can buy biometric scanners that read your fingerprints, your iris, or even recognize your voice. When you use these, you cannot access any account until you scan your finger, eye, or speak.
Yes, it’s true that some of these seem time consuming, it is much more time consuming to have to deal with getting hacked or a stolen identity. So, take these steps to remain as safe as possible.
Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.