You’re at a store, and the cashier asks for your cell phone number to add you to their rewards program and you would receive an instant 15% discount. For a moment, the discount is so attractive, but you start wondering about the potential risks associated with giving out your cell phone number.
It can be tempting to give your cell phone number in exchange for a discount or other reward, but as someone who values privacy and security, it’s important to be aware of the risks of giving out cell phone number too freely. This is a common scenario that leaves people wondering when it’s safe to share their personal information.
Unfortunately, giving out your mobile number is never safe!
There are many dangers giving out your mobile number including spam calls and texts, phishing scams and social engineering, identity theft, location tracking, and the risk of harassment. All of these are possible if our number gets into the wrong hands.
This article will explore these various risks and provide tips on how you can safeguard your privacy and security. With this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the world of digital safety and protect yourself from its dangers the next time you’re asked for your cell phone number.
1. Spam Calls and Texts
One of the most common risks associated with giving out your cell phone number is that you may start receiving a lot of spam calls and texts. When you give out your cell phone number to your favorite store to join their rewards program or when you register for a free online webinar, you are giving away your information to companies that may use it in ways you were not aware of.
These companies may use your phone number to send you unsolicited marketing messages or calls. While you might occasionally receive some valuable offers and deals, for most people these calls can be a nuisance.
Another downside of using your cell number is that these businesses may also sell your information to third-party marketers, or share it with their partner businesses who in turn may use it for their own marketing purposes. You may start receiving sales calls from companies that you have not done business with in the past, which can be very intrusive, especially if you are not interested in what they are selling.
2. Phishing and Social Engineering Scams
Giving out your cell phone number may also expose you to phishing scams.
A phishing scam is a type of social engineering scam and is a common tactic used by cybercriminals to steal personal information. These scams often involve an unsolicited text message, phone call, or email that appears to come from a reputable source, such as your bank or your favorite online marketplace like Amazon, asking you to click on a link to update your account information or verify a purchase. If you click on the link, you may be taken to a malicious website that is designed to look like the official website and will prompt you to enter your username and password or other personal information.
If you provide this information, the fraudster will be able to access your accounts and steal your money or make purchases on your account.
Here’s an example I recently came across: I got a text message from a number claiming to be Canada Post on Christmas Day, asking me to click on a link to update my billing information and reschedule delivery for a package. The only problem was I was NOT expecting any packages from Canada Post on Christmas day!
3. Identity Theft
Identity theft is by far the most serious risk associated with sharing your cell phone number freely. This may occur when someone gains access to your personal information, such as your name, address, Social Security Number, and/or your cell phone number, and uses this information to commit fraud or another crime in your name.
Identity thieves often use phishing scams or other social engineering scams to steal your personal information. They can also get it from other sources such as data breaches, gather it from your social medial accounts or public records, or by gaining control of your cell phone number using scams such as SIM swapping or phone porting.
If you provide your cell phone number to an untrustworthy source, you are giving away yet another piece of your personal information that could be used by identity thieves. Once they have access to your information, they can use it to take out credit cards or loans in your name, which can damage your credit score.
4. Location Tracking:
When you give out your cell phone number, you are also giving away information about your location. While tracking the location of a cell phone requires a more sophisticated method than simply having the phone number, including requiring access to cell phone provider network data or advanced Wi-Fi tracking technology or apps, it is still possible for fraudsters to get access to this information.
Location tracking can be a significant invasion of privacy as well as a risk to your safety.
Protecting your digital footprint is essential. With location tracking, someone who has access to your phone number can follow your movements—which puts you and your security at risk. This level of monitoring is intrusive and shows just how vulnerable our privacy is in a digital world.
There are several ways a cell phone number can be used for location tracking:
- GPS tracking: Most smartphones have a built-in GPS chip that can be used to track the location of the device. This information can be accessed by apps and services that have been permitted to access the device’s location data.
- Cell tower triangulation: Cell phone providers can determine the approximate location of a phone by measuring the signal strength from multiple cell towers. By measuring the signal strength from three or more towers, they can triangulate the phone’s location with a high degree of accuracy.
- Wi-Fi triangulation: If a phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, the location of the phone can be determined by measuring the signal strength from multiple Wi-Fi access points.
- Location data in metadata: When a call or text message is sent or received, the location of the phone can be inferred from the location data included in the message’s metadata. This data can be accessed by the phone carrier, and in some cases by other parties with access to the network.
- Mobile apps: Many mobile apps use location tracking to provide additional features or services. For example, a weather app may use location data to provide the current temperature and weather conditions for your location. Some apps may also share this data with advertisers or other third parties.
- Location tracking services: There are location tracking services available that can be used to track a phone’s location in real time. These services can be used by parents to track the location of their children, by employers to track the location of company-owned devices, or by spouses to track the location of their partners.
It is important to remember that if you permit apps or services to access your location data, they can track your location. It is important to be aware of the permissions you grant to apps, and limit them to the necessary ones.
5. Risk of Harassment and Mental Distress
Finally, handing out your cell phone number freely can put you at risk of stalking, harassment, and mental distress because it allows someone who may have malicious intentions to have constant and direct access to you.
Harassment can occur when you give out your phone number freely. An abuser or harasser can use your phone number to repeatedly contact you, sending unwanted messages and calls. This can cause increased fear and anxiety and severe emotional distress and can make it difficult for you to feel safe in your own home or wherever you are. The constant barrage of unwanted messages and calls can make it difficult for you to focus on your daily activities, leading to a decline in your overall quality of life.
How To Protect Yourself from Dangers Giving Out Your Mobile Number
Our cellular phones have become a major part of just about every aspect of our lives, but with this convenience comes the potential for danger. To ensure your safety and privacy, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from the risks involved with giving out your mobile number.
Some simple steps you can take to protect yourself include
- Be selective about who you give your number.
- Stay wary of unsolicited calls and messages and don’t open messages or click on links from unknown senders.
- Set up additional security measures such as PIN numbers and two-factor authentication to secure your devices and accounts.
- Be aware of the apps you have installed on your device and the permissions they have access to (e.g., location data).
- Consider using use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured, making them a prime target for hackers. A VPN encrypts your connection, making it much more difficult for hackers to access your personal information.
While these measures can help minimize the risks associated with using your phone number, they can only do so much. If you are serious about your security and for more effective measures to safeguard your digital footprint when using your cell phones, consider the following options:
Use a Burner Phone for Sensitive Information:
A burner phone is a temporary phone that you can use and then discard once you’re done, helping to protect your personal information from hackers and scammers. For example, you can use a burner phone when signing up for online competitions or services, when selling items through an online marketplace like Craigslist or OfferUp, or for making a purchase from an unknown website.
Take Steps to Protect Against Porting-Out and SIM-Swap Scams:
Don’t let your phone number be stolen by a hacker! Phone porting is when a hacker can switch your phone number to another carrier or a new phone, while SIM swapping happens when they gain access to your account by swapping out your SIM card associated with your accounts with a SIM card that they control. To protect yourself against such attacks, here are some measures you should take:
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your phone account: Many phone carriers now offer 2FA, which requires a second method of verification in addition to your password, such as a code sent to your phone or an app-generated code. This can help prevent hackers from gaining access to your account.
- Use a PIN or password to lock your SIM card: Some phone carriers allow you to lock your SIM card with a PIN or password, which can prevent hackers from swapping out your SIM card.
- Monitor your phone account: Keep an eye on your phone account and look out for any suspicious activity, such as calls or texts to numbers you don’t recognize.
Switch to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Number:
A VoIP number is a virtual phone number that can be used to make and receive calls and text messages just like a traditional cell phone, however, the connection is made over the internet, rather than through cell towers. This can provide a level of anonymity and help protect your personal information.
There are several providers of VoIP numbers, such as Google Voice, Hushed, and MySudo. These providers offer different features, such as the ability to make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, and even create custom voicemail greetings. Some providers also offer advanced features such as call forwarding and custom caller ID.
With a VoIP phone, you can have more than one number associated with your account. This allows you to give out a different number for different purposes or people. For example, you can have one number for personal use that you can give out to family and friends, and another to use for your online banking, and a third for online purchases, and so on.
If at any point you think a number has been compromised, you can easily deactivate it without having to change your phone number. This makes VoIP numbers a great option for those who want to maintain their privacy and stay secure online.
Another everyday-use example of a VoIP number is for small businesses. For small business owners, using a VoIP number can be a great way to maintain a professional image while protecting your personal information and privacy.
When running a small business, it’s important to maintain a professional image and to be easily reachable by customers. However, giving out your personal cell phone number to customers can put your privacy and security at risk. You can also read about why should not use your home address for your business here.
By using a VoIP number, small business owners can provide a dedicated phone number for their business, separate from their personal number. This can help protect the owner’s privacy, while also allowing customers to reach the business easily. Additionally, many VoIP providers offer advanced features such as call forwarding, voicemail, custom caller ID, and local area code VoIP numbers which can enhance the professional image of the business.
For example, a small business owner can set up a VoIP number with a local area code, even if they are located in a different area. This will enable the business to appear more local to the customers.
These are just some of the ways you can use a VoIP number to protect your privacy and security while still being accessible to customers. With the rise of cybercrime, it’s becoming more important than ever to keep our information secure. By taking measures such as using a VoIP number, we can do our part in protecting ourselves and our data.
Overall, it is important to be mindful of the risks associated with giving out your cell phone number. These include spam, phishing scams, identity theft, location tracking, and social engineering. By taking simple steps such as being cautious of unsolicited calls/texts, and using a VPN, you can help to protect yourself from these risks. Additionally, make sure to activate 2FA on your phone account and secure your SIM card with a passcode or PIN, and keep an eye on your account for any suspicious activity. Finally, if you want an extra layer of privacy while still staying accessible to customers, consider getting a VoIP number that allows you to have multiple numbers on one account. With all these tips in mind, we hope this article has helped equip you with knowledge so that you can stay secure when sharing your cell phone number!