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Are Mobile Numbers the New Keys to Your Identity?

April 23, 2017

Mobile phones have made us safer in countless ways. We can call for help in an emergency, call for a ride if we had a drink too many, or keep in touch with our kids when they’re away from home. And recently, businesses have started using mobile phones to add security to financial and other accounts, texting one-time access codes to ensure that the person logging into the account is who they claim to be. But there’s a dark side to all this goodness: because your cell phone number has become part of your identity, it is also a way for thieves to steal your identity. So you need to guard your number as you do other personal information.

There are multiple ways criminals can get to you through your cell phone. They can steal your phone or just steal your mobile phone account, so those one-time access authentication codes are sent to them instead. And since our cell phone numbers are tied to more and more online accounts, once they have your number, they can do a lot of damage including sending you scams via your cell phone. In fact, a recent Harris Poll survey found that over 10% of American adults had lost money in the last year in a phone scam.

There are several ways to protect yourself from theft of your cell phone number. First and simplest, set up a lock-screen with a strong password on your phone so it is protected if it is lost or stolen, and install a “find my phone” app to track your device if it goes missing and a remote wipe app to wipe data on the phone if you think it is in the wrong hands. (And, of course, back up your phone regularly in case you ever have to wipe it.) Second, check with your carrier and find out how to protect your mobile account. Third, to help minimize scams via your phone, use your mobile privacy settings.

Finally, think twice about where you share your mobile phone number. Experts have said that mobile numbers are becoming almost as important to our identities as our Social Security numbers, so we need to get serious about protecting them. We’ll talk more about how to do that and even some apps that can help in a future post.

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If your children don’t have mobile phones yet, odds are they really, really want you to give them one this holiday season. For a young person, a phone might be a toy, fun convenience, or status symbol, while for you as a parent, it can make sense as a safety device—a means for calling for…

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