Ever-evolving technology continues to fascinate and impress us, but with these incredible advancements come alarming risks. Keeping pace with the progressing tech, hackers and identity thieves are now hijacking cell phone accounts at an increasing rate. In 2016, 2,658 instances of mobile account hijacking were reported, more than twice the number reported in 2013. What’s more alarming is that burglars are getting away with it. So, how does this phenomenon occur and what can average cell phone users do to protect themselves from these cyber criminals?
How It Works
By the time you notice something is wrong, it’s already too late. Victims of this ploy report being in the middle of a call when suddenly they lose service. When they call the service provider they are informed that their cell phone number has been transferred to their new iPhone, only they did not buy a new iPhone. What happened? As it turns out, the only information required to make changes to your cell phone service account is your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number, so anyone with that data can access your account. If the thief takes it one step further and obtains a fake ID with your name and his or her photo, they can go into any store of your provider and walk out with hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise charged to your account.
In most cases, if the thief steals a couple of new phones under your account and sells them, you can contest the charges and the cell phone company will shoulder the cost of the stolen merchandise. But if the thief holds on to the phone or phones, the troubles have just begun. Plenty of users have their bank accounts linked to their phones, and with a few more bits of information, their checking accounts and credit cards could be compromised as well.
What Goes Wrong
The more information about you that the phone hacker has, the easier his or her job is. If identity snatchers have your basic information, they have been known to pour over social media sites and spend hours searching Google to track down any data that may be relevant to your passwords the names of streets you’ve lived on, the names of pets, your children’s birthdays, etc. Most tech users don’t think twice about posting a dated photo and caption of their child’s birthday party on Facebook, but they may be unknowingly handing thieves the password to their cell phone accounts.
How to Prevent It
These identity thieves want to make you feel helpless, but there are several measures you can take to protect yourself from falling victim to this scheme:
- Examine phone bills thoroughly and frequently. If irregularities appear, contact your provider immediately, and if possible, go into the store to meet with customer service.
- Many cell phone service accounts require two-factor authentication when logging into an account; a notification or push is sent to the corresponding cell phone to verify identity. This is a great security feature, assuming that the perpetrator who steals your sensitive information doesn’t also have your phone.
- Creating an extra pin, password or security question doubles your security as long as the second pin, password or question is guarded better than the first.
- If you receive unsolicited or unexpected emails from your phone carrier, do not click any links within the email. Contact the carrier at the phone number listed on your bill or through your account on the carrier’s website.
Though technology has made life easier for the average person, it has also made it easier for the average thief, and the most sought after merchandise is often your sensitive data. Know the signs and be ready to protect your identity from cell phone account hijackers.