Most people are vigilant about the safety of their social security numbers, credit cards, bank account credentials, and the like. But your phone number is a critical piece of information, too, and could compromise your privacy and safety if misused. In fact, it’s a personal identifiable information or PII. This means your phone number is a unique identifier that is assigned only to you. So, you would be inviting more trouble than you may know by frivolously leaving it online for anyone to access.
Why should you protect your phone number?
Before you delete your number from the internet, it’s essential to understand what warrants such a drastic measure. There are several critical reasons to keep your cell phone number safe and away from the internet. We can broadly narrow down the potential threats into three categories.
Scams and fraud
A criminal could target you for countless scams and frauds with just your phone number. Voice phishing or vishing is one such common threat. They are often designed to extract personal information that could compromise your safety. Smishing is another technique that could lure you in with malicious links shared via text messages.
With the help of a few other personal details, fraudsters could even convince your phone company to port your number to another sim. This is known as sim swapping and could severely compromise your identity and security. For instance, if you have signed up for a text-based verification service with your bank, criminals could easily access your bank accounts and conduct transactions using a sim swap.
It gets worse; they may even spoof your phone number and commit fraud under the guise of your identity. And criminals could sell phone databases on the dark web, too, providing more malicious actors with access to them.
Telemarketers and robocalls
Last year, Americans received nearly 46 billion robocalls. Whether from humans or bots, telemarketing calls could be a severe nuisance and a source of frustration. They could be highly persistent, too. The fact is, robocalls are pretty cheap to initiate these days. So, they’ve become a cost-effective method for businesses to target mass audiences for their campaigns and promotions. And many of them don’t even profile their phone databases. They simply acquire mass phone lists from data aggregators and launch a barrage of robocalls in the hope of a random positive response.
Leaving personally identifiable information such as your cell phone number out in the open is an obvious beckoning to unwanted prying. You’re simply encouraging intrusive practices and providing more ammunition for data aggregators like people search sites and marketing companies. These businesses build profiles of millions of individuals with the help of data mining, aggregation, and profiling tools. And providing them access to your phone number will only nudge them towards building a more comprehensive profile of you.
This can expose you to various threats. For instance, just about anyone could carry out a reverse phone search today. It means, with only your phone number at hand, they can find out your full name, address, date of birth, email address, workplace, debt, mortgages, and even traffic violations. And all these link to a single identifier—your cell phone number.
Not only that, data exchange hands all the time. For example, aggregators could sell their databases for advertising, promotions, and even political campaigns. They could also come under threat of hacking attacks, severely compromising data security.
How can you protect your number from these threats?
Getting your phone number off the internet will not be straightforward once it’s exposed. But it’s certainly possible to minimize access with these essential steps.
- Delete your number from account profiles. Many websites have a contact number field under each user profile. But often, it doesn’t serve a real purpose other than providing site owners with access to your data. So, scan all your accounts and delete your phone number wherever possible. These can include social media, online retailers, dating sites, emails, memberships, loyalty programs, and anywhere else you have set up a personal account.
- Delete from published content. These can include content you have posted yourself, such as personal blogs and even old online advertisements on Craigslist. But sometimes, it would involve content owned by third parties. These are more difficult to remove. So, check their data removal policies and reach out to them in writing.
- Delete apps. Apps on your smartphone could be collecting your personal data, too, often with permission that you’ve already granted when installing them. So, go through each app, review permissions, and remove access to your phone number. If you’re not allowed to use the app without allowing the required access, consider deleting it altogether.
- Reach out to data aggregators. Many aggregators will often accommodate requests for data removal. So, prepare a list of the main sites and check their data removal processes. Some may require an online form submission, while others may expect an email request or a phone call.
- Request google. In some instances, Google will remove data from its online search results if they appear to place you in danger. This could be particularly useful if you’ve become a victim of doxing.
- Opt for a paid data removal service. Getting your phone number removed from each site could be a time-consuming process, especially if you have an extensive online data trail. If that’s the case, you can get the help of a paid service provider to undertake the data removal process.
Keep your phone number safe
The best way to protect your cell phone number is to limit sharing. Keep your personal number only for close friends and family. Of course, some may consider using a second number. But this doesn’t really resolve the issue. Remember, that number will also link to your name and other personal data. So, the risks remain the same.