The Downsides of Sharing Your Phone Number
If you're like most people, you've become more careful about how you use the internet. You know the risks of sharing personal information online, you're getting smarter about how you use social media, and you watch for potentially harmful email scams. But there's one thing you might not be as careful about as you should be — sharing your phone number.
Why Shouldn't You Share?
Your phone number is connected to just about every part of your life these days. It's no longer just a number connected to a landline in a building — your mobile phone number follows you everywhere. You use your phone number to access membership benefits at the places you shop. You use your cell phone to communicate with your bank and take pictures of your kids. So when that number gets into the wrong hands, it can cause problems.
With a little digging, criminals can find out:
- Where you live, how big your house is, and how much you pay in taxes
- Past addresses
- The names of your family members
- Whether or not you have a criminal record
- Information about where you've traveled
Some of this information may seem innocent enough, but in the wrong hands, it can expose you to criminal activity.
What Can Happen When Your Number Is Compromised
Hackers, identity thieves, and scammers can use your phone number to find out where you are (and where you'll be), impersonate you, hijack your phone, or use your accounts.
If you've used your phone number to connect to any social media accounts, as social media companies often encourage you to do, a smart hacker can use your phone number to easily find your account and access it. This leaves anyone you're connected with on that account vulnerable to phishing messages, viruses, and possible identity theft. Hackers can also use what they learn about you from your social profiles to answer security questions like, "What is your mother's maiden name?" or "What was the name of your first pet?" — which can put all of your online accounts at risk.
Hackers can also use your phone number to hijack that phone number through a process called SIM swapping. Your phone number account is installed on the hacker's phone, and they can use it to trick automated services — such as your bank — into believing the hacker is you.
Once your phone has been hijacked, you're open to identity theft, your bank accounts are at risk, and your voicemail, text messages, and email are compromised. Email, in particular, can contain an abundance of personal and financial information, putting you in even more danger of further criminal activity.
Scammers can use your phone number to target you using phishing texts and robocalls, trying to trick you into giving up valuable information or money. They can also use your hijacked phone number to trick your friends and family into sharing passwords or sending money to your compromised number.
But criminals aren't the only people who will exploit your phone number. Unethical marketers may not steal from you, but they may use your phone number in their shady marketing practices. For example, these marketers may add you to robocalls lists, even if you're on the Do Not Call list. They may also upload your phone number into a database to create a complete digital profile of you, which can then be used to follow you around the internet with ads and, potentially, malware.
Be Smart and Cautious
Use common sense to keep your phone number safe from hackers and scammers. Don't make your phone number public on websites, and don't share it with people and businesses you don't know. Treat your phone number with the same care you'd treat other personal information. That extra bit of caution can go a long way.
How to Protect Your Phone Number
Here are a few simple things you can do to keep your phone number safe from hackers and unscrupulous marketers:
- Don't give out your phone number online. Unless you trust a person, don't give them your number, even if you bought something from them. If you must share it, do it privately (via email or a direct message) and not on a public message board.
- Use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is a second code that you have to enter to gain access to an account. Setting it up on your phone account can prevent SIM swapping.
- Get a phone number with Google Voice. It's free and the number is not connected to your entire life.
- Use a strong password for connected services. You can use an online service like Have I Been Pwned to check if you've already been compromised.