Cell Phone Identity Theft - Learn To Protect Yourself
Cell phones are now an inextricable part of our lives. We use them to call friends, pay bills in cafes and restaurants, make online purchases, as irreplaceable work gadgets - the list goes on. Despite all their help, however, cell phones are also dangerous devices. If left unsecured, your cell phone can be a target for bad actors attempting to steal your personal information.
Cell phone identity theft is something you should know about before using your phone to pay a bill in a local coffee shop or make an online purchase. Our guide will explain to you what cell phone fraud is and how to protect yourself.
What Is Mobile Fraud?
Mobile phone fraud is every unauthorized activity influencing your mobile device or service. It happens when a person’s phone or phone card is stolen or manipulated by another individual who wants to, for example, take money from a bank account, get a credit card, or even a loan.
Identity theft is far from unusual - around 17 million Americans were affected by it. But unlike other fraudulent acts, identity theft using your cell phone account is much harder to discover.
This allows thieves to use your identity for months to take money from your account. What’s worse, convincing your bank or other service providers you’re not the one behind those fraudulent transactions will take a lot of effort.
As most consumers are still unfamiliar with the ways cell phone fraud is committed, we’ve decided to explain how it can happen and what you can do to protect yourself.
Types of Mobile Fraud
There are several ways someone can use your phone to draw money from your bank account and commit other crimes.
1. SIM Card and Cell Phone Cloning
Phone identity theft is the most likely outcome of someone cloning your phone. Each phone has an electronic serial number (ESN), as well as a mobile identification number (MIN), which experienced scammers can use to clone your phone and your SIM card.
After they do that, there are practically two phones with the same ESN and MIN. In the eyes of your cellular provider, that will be the same phone, and you’ll be charged for all expenses the thief incurs.
Phone cloning is not easy to do unless your unlocked phone falls into a scammer’s hands. Therefore, the best option for preventing phone hacking is to create a strong password or use your fingerprint to unlock the screen.
2. SIM Card Swapping
SIM swapping is another way scammers steal your identity. This fraudulent activity occurs when someone uses your personal information (name, address, Social Security number, etc.) to convince your cellular provider they are you.
In fact, before SIM swapping happens, a scammer usually already has some of your personal information they can use against you. Although it is not easy to do, very persuasive criminals can convince providers over the phone that they are you.
Then, as part of their cell phone fraud schemes, these people use your personal information to have a new SIM card issued in your name so they can put it in their mobile device. Then, all the calls and text messages you receive will be transmitted to the cloned SIM. Not only will the scammers have complete control over your SIM, but they can also jeopardize you in other ways.
For example, if you use your phone number as a form of authentication on your social media, scammers can take over all your accounts. Your online presence will be tough to recover if the scammers decide to ask for a ransom, even if you have ransomware protection installed.
This type of cell phone fraud is also one of the risks that come with someone stealing your phone and thus physically taking your SIM card. If you want to reduce the risk of stealing a SIM card, you can use an embedded SIM card, or eSIM.
This new type of phone ID is basically a digital certificate of your account with a given service provider, and is much harder to steal.
3. SMS Phishing - Smishing
Scammers can get ahold of your private information in different ways: Data breaches are one way, but they can also use SMS phishing (a.k.a. Smishing) to collect private information on your phone.
It works very simply: Scammers send phishing messages trying to introduce themselves and convince you that they are good guys. It’s an identity theft through a phone that relies on psychology. Scammers will pretend that they are a charity and send you a message like this: Send HEART to 7777 to donate $1, baiting you to react.
For example, scammers can also send you a message that your cousin from a foreign country died and left everything they owned to you, but you need to send them your bank account details to get the money.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to protect yourself from smishing. Do not reply to unknown numbers and, if possible, disable the option to receive promotional materials. You can also use ID theft protection tools to safeguard your devices and personal information from bad actors.
4. Cell Phone Hijacking
Cell phone hijacking is another common phone fraud. Scammers don’t need to steal your phone or SIM to commit fraud with your phone. Instead, they can use your phone number in a type of fraud called hijacking.
Identity thieves and scammers can get your information from the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE). It’s a legit agency that manages your personal data and payments, overseen by Equifax. Thankfully, you can freeze your credit with the agency, thus protecting your cell phone number from being hijacked.
If your credit isn’t frozen, thieves can open a new phone account or upgrade your old package. First off, your legitimate account will be closed instantly, so you won't be able to make phone calls or use any other services, but it can still take hours for you to notice something is wrong with your account.
Secondly, the scammers will then use this account to access anything else connected to it, like your bank account, etc.
What To Do When Your Phone Is Stolen
A stolen cell phone doesn’t have to be the end of the world: Depending on your device, you can protect yourself from thieves even if they end up taking your phone.
For example, iPhone identity theft can be stopped via the tools that come with each device. You can turn on the Find My iPhone feature and locate your device, as well as delete everything from your phone quickly. This way, stealing data from your iPhone is completely disabled.
Android theft protection works similarly, with a Google Play app called Where’s my Droid. This app can help you locate your phone and backup your data on Google Drive.
You can also search for apps that take pictures of thieves when they try to unlock your phone, and install ID monitoring tools, like LifeLock, that will inform you about anyone attempting to commit fraud with your device.
Identity theft with a cell phone number is a common type of fraud. It can happen when someone steals your SIM from its mobile device or when someone uses your personal information to convince the cellular service provider that they are you.
If a scammer clones your phone number, he can try to access your social media accounts and take them over. If your phone number is connected with your bank account, well-versed thieves can use it to draw money from your bank account, as well.
Both iOS and Android come with tools and features that can prevent someone from stealing information from your cell phone. For example, modern devices have fingerprint or face recognition features, so you are the only one who can unlock your phone. You can also set a password to unlock your phone. If someone steals the device, you can activate the apps you have previously installed to locate your phone and erase everything from it if necessary.
If a scammer has your number, you should go to the police and report it. You should also call your bank or credit card insurers to inform them that your phone number is compromised. You can also find more information about cell phone identity theft and what to do about it on the Federal Commission Trade Consumer Information website (FTC).
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