What can hackers do with just your phone number?

Kfir Yeshayahu

January 26, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection

While you might think that your phone number is harmless to share, it’s actually a key that hackers covet to unlock your personal information. In fact, it might surprise you what hackers can do with your phone number once they get their hands on it.

Here’s everything you need to know about how hackers use phone numbers, what they’ll do to try to get yours, and how you can protect yourself from these hacking attempts.

Why do scammers want your phone number?

Once you know the dangers of giving out your mobile number, you’ll think twice before sharing it. In the hands of a scammer, your number can become a potent tool for fraud and identity theft. Here are a few ways scammers can use your phone number:

  • Data mining: When scammers enter your phone number into people-finder websites, they can uncover your personal information. These websites aggregate data from other online sources, providing details like your address, family connections, and past financial transactions.

  • Rerouting calls and messages: This technique involves scammers contacting your mobile carrier and convincing them to redirect your phone number to their device. By doing this, they can intercept your calls and messages, potentially accessing one-time passwords or sensitive personal information.

  • Account infiltration: If a scammer can get hold of your number or intercept messages to your phone number, they can steal your two-factor authentication (2FA) codes. This would give them the ability to access your social media, banking, or other sensitive accounts and change the passwords.

  • SIM swap: If a hacker gets hold of your phone number, they may try to trick your mobile carrier into transferring it to a new SIM card in their possession. Once they have control of your number, all your calls and texts will go to their phone, and they can easily grab your 2FA codes to access your accounts or scam people you know by sending messages pretending to be you.

  • Number spoofing: Scammers can falsify caller ID information, making it appear as if their phone calls are coming from your number. They often use this tactic in phishing scams to gain trust or in robocalls to spread misinformation or fraudulent requests.

  • Smishing attacks: In this type of scam, fraudsters send text messages that seem legitimate but contain malicious links. Clicking on these links can install malware on your device or trick you into revealing sensitive information.

  • Impersonation: Using your personal information, scammers can impersonate you in calls or messages to your contacts, often attempting to gather more details or continue fraud schemes in your name.

  • Extortion and blackmail: With access to your data, scammers can resort to threats or blackmail, demanding money or other benefits under the threat of releasing sensitive information.

  • Google Voice scams: Scammers can use your phone number to set up a Google Voice number, impersonating you to conduct various scams online.

How can someone hack your phone number?

If you’re not careful with how you use or manage your phone, a cyber criminal may try to exploit any gaps in your security. Here's how hackers try to steal phone numbers or compromise people’s mobile devices:

  • Social media platforms: Hackers often scour social media sites where users list their phone numbers publicly or within less secure privacy settings.

  • Phishing scams: In phishing scams, cyber criminals send deceptive communications via text, email, and other messaging apps. They’ll mimic legitimate organizations to trick you into revealing your phone number and other personal details.

  • The dark web: This hidden part of the internet is notorious for trading stolen personal information, including phone numbers. Data lost in security breaches often lands here before making its way into the hands of cyber criminals.

  • Shoulder surfing and public Wi-Fi hacking: In public places, scammers may listen in on conversations or hack into public Wi-Fi networks to capture personal information shared over calls or online forms.

  • Stolen mail and garbage diving: Some scammers resort to physical means, like rifling through your mail or garbage, to find documents containing your phone number.

What to do if a scammer has your phone number

Knowing how to respond if cyber criminals access your phone number can help you act fast and preserve your security. If you suspect hackers have compromised your phone number, consider these seven steps:

  1. Inform your mobile carrier: Immediately notify your mobile carrier about the compromise. They can help secure your account and offer tools to block spam calls.

  2. Lock your SIM card: If a cyber criminal gets their hands on your SIM card, they may try to convince your mobile carrier to transfer your number to a new device they control. To prevent this, add a security PIN to your SIM card as soon as possible. 

  3. Avoid one-ring scams: Don't return calls from unfamiliar numbers, especially if they only ring once. These are often international scam phone numbers designed to charge you for the call time.

  4. Be cautious with links in texts: Don't click on links from unknown senders in text messages. These could be phishing attempts to install malware on your device.

  5. Strengthen online account security: Use complex passwords and enable 2FA on all accounts, ideally using an authenticator app instead of SMS. For even more robust security, use IronVest’s biometric authentication tool, which asks you to provide a scan of your face before you unlock any accounts. 

  6. Block unwanted calls: Use the call-blocking features on your phone or any similar services from your carrier to reduce scam calls.

  7. Freeze your credit: Contact credit bureaus to freeze your credit, preventing cyber criminals from opening new accounts in your name without your permission.

How to protect your phone from hackers

To avoid getting attacked, you need to proactively manage your security. This involves using the right tools and adopting a cautious mindset when using your phone or the internet. Here are a few practical measures you can implement to actively take charge of your digital well-being:

1. Use a virtual phone number

Using a virtual phone number for online activities can shield your real number from exposure. Services like Google Voice offer such numbers, and you can use them for online sign-ups to keep your actual number private. You can also use a masked phone number from IronVest. This number isn’t tied to your real phone number, and messages to that number are simply rerouted to your real number. What’s more, you can use it for 2FA alongside IronVest’s biometric authentication and receive your 2FA codes securely once you’ve provided a face scan.

2. Exercise caution with clicks

Be wary of any links you receive through emails, texts, or social media messages — especially from unknown senders. These could be phishing attempts aiming to steal your personal information or install malware on your device.

3. Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Add an extra layer of security to your accounts with MFA, whether you choose 2FA, biometric authentication, or any other method. That said, if you do use 2FA, avoid using SMS for codes, as hackers can easily intercept this. Authenticator apps and biometric technology are better alternatives with more security.

4. SIM card security

Lock your SIM card with a passcode. This way, if you ever lose your device or become the target of a SIM swapping attack, hackers won’t be able to use your SIM card on another device.

5. Conduct regular security checks

Keep your phone’s operating system and apps up to date. Regularly updating your phone fixes security vulnerabilities and protects your device from hackers looking to gain entry through security gaps.

6. Stay informed about phone scams

Awareness is key. Familiarizing yourself with the tactics that cyber criminals use in common phone scams, like one-ring scams, smishing, or vishing, can help you identify and avoid these encounters.

Safeguard your smartphone from potential attacks

Your phone is a treasure trove of personal data, and protecting it from hackers and scammers is essential. You can significantly enhance your digital safety by implementing the security measures discussed, such as using virtual phone numbers, being cautious with links, and employing strong passwords and two-factor authentication.

For those seeking an additional layer of protection, consider IronVest. The IronVest super app offers advanced security features like masked phone numbers and email protection, providing a robust shield against cyber threats. Discover IronVest’s solutions to secure your digital privacy and stay one step ahead of cyber criminals.

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