A Scary New Scam Can Steal Your Phone Without Thieves Touching It

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Photo (c) MoMo Productions – Getty Images

If you have a prepaid or postpaid wireless phone, law enforcement officials are warning you that you could be a victim of the so-called “SIM card swapping” scam. You could not only lose your phone number, but also your money.

What makes this fraud particularly scary is the fact that the scammer can steal your phone without ever touching it.

CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, says a criminal only needs to gather personal identifying information about the victim – things like name, physical address, email -email and mobile phone number. Unfortunately, much of this information is available on the Internet.

“Once the fraudster has this information, they can call your wireless service provider and pretend to be you to transfer your phone number to a new SIM card and device,” the group warns.

A SIM card is a small memory card that fits into a cell phone. It contains all the information about the mobile account, including the phone number. Once a thief successfully transfers the phone number to a new device, the victim’s phone breaks down and the fraudster gains access to a wealth of sensitive information.

A victim’s story

A report from WHBQ-TV in Memphis told the story of a local resident who said she contacted Cricket Wireless after receiving a text message about changes to her account. After that, his phone broke down.

Upon investigation, she discovered that another name had been added to her cell phone account. After that, she learned that someone had taken $3,500 from her bank account. A few days later, she discovered that someone had opened new credit cards in her name.

“I understand, if I lost my phone, but they just took the number off the phone, like in the air,” the victim, identified only as Jenna, told the station.

How to protect yourself

According to the CTIA, cellphone users can protect themselves in several ways. To begin with, consumers must establish a PIN on the account which is required for account access. Just like passwords, PINs should not be based on other identifiers, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

Downloading the mobile provider’s mobile application can help consumers stay up to date with updates and security alerts. If you are no longer receiving calls or text messages and you are not sure why, contact your wireless service provider immediately. Even if you don’t use your mobile device often, you should check provider and account alerts regularly.

Limit sharing of your phone number to situations where it could be widely published or distributed.

Follow your provider’s security advisories and use tools like multi-factor authentication.

Finally, keep personally identifying information – no matter how insignificant – off social media. Beware of pretense or “phishing” attempts.

If you receive a call, email, or text message asking for your Social Security number or part of your Social Security number, bank account number, driver’s license number, or other identifiers or financial information , do not provide them even if the call, email or text appears to come from a trusted entity. Instead, contact the trusted entity separately and directly.

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