Every person has a unique amount of personally identifiable information (PII), as well as a unique combination of different types of information. This includes their birthdate, home address, email address, educational background, profession, place of employment, marital status, and many other types of PII that create a profile of each individual. As you would imagine, most people would prefer to keep all of this information private. But there’s one more example of PII that you wouldn’t think to be that important, and that’s their personal phone number. Yet it’s the one very important piece of data you really want to keep from public view – and that includes the Internet.
It’s surprising to most to learn that their personal phone number is one of the most important pieces of information to keep out of view, but it’s true. The reason: in the wrong hands, it can result in a very serious privacy risk, as cybercriminals could end up hijacking your phone through a process known as SIM Swapping. In addition, your phone number could become an entry point for cybercrooks to find out other information about you, which could easily lead to identity theft and many other types of fraud. The bottom line: removing your personal number from the Internet should become a priority.
Reasons to Delete Your Number
The decision to delete your number from the Internet should be an easy one, once we delve into all of the reasons why it should be done. First, your phone number is considered a “gateway” piece of data that can lead cybercriminals to other personal information not only about you but also about your immediate family members.
Additionally, bear in mind that your smartphone receives text messages and emails from financial institutions and might store other sensitive data, and in the wrong hands, it can lead to financial fraud and other types of theft, including medical identity theft, synthetic identity theft and IRS identity theft.
Another key reason to keep your personal phone number off the Internet is a result of changes made by smartphone manufacturers. Not that long ago, when you purchased a smartphone you received a physical SIM card, which made the phone work. Today, there aren’t that many physical SIM cards, as many are now electronically built-in. It’s an ESN, an electronic serial number, which is susceptible to theft. So, a scammer only has to convince your carrier that you’re moving your number over to a new device, and the scammer ends up controlling your phone. That gives them access to your texts, emails, contacts, social media, financial information, and all the data they need to commit additional fraud. If they’re controlling your phone, they can even listen in to your conversations.
SIM swapping is only one way a cybercriminal can do damage. They can spoof call your contacts, friends and colleagues to gain other key data. Even more worrisome, they can track your location using your phone’s GPS, so they’ll know where you are at all times, and when you’re not at home if they’re planning to commit a break-in.
Keeping your PII Out of the Hands of Cybercrooks
The key to preventing all the damage a cybercrook can do is to delete your personal phone number from the Internet. It can show up in many different places, and you can get a good idea of how many by Googling your name. Remember, Google only collects information they find on the Internet, from social media sites, work-related sites, and other places.
One place that might display your phone number, as well as other PII, is people-search sites. They present all the info they’ve gathered on you from the Internet basically to anyone conducting a search of your name. Thus, your personal information is readily available to anyone interested in it, and that includes criminals. But most of those sites allow you to opt out, which means delete your profile. There are more than 100 people-search sites, including USSearch, Pipl and Intelius. Each one has their own rules for deleting your data. You may do it yourself following their instructions or you may hire a service to do it for you.
Another important tactic is to review your social media activity and delete any personal references. That includes any and all references to your personal phone number. Facebook, Twitter and other sites have specific ways to remove your phone number, so check each one to ensure that it is off of their site. The less information about you that’s on the Internet, the better.
Obviously, you still want to be in touch with friends and family so the best way to do that is using a VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) service that gives you a phone number to use – but not your own. Some of these services include Grasshopper, MightyCall and Google Voice, among others. They keep your personal phone number off of the Internet. Make sure you reveal your real number only to people you truly trust, or in places that really need it.
By familiarizing yourself with the information contained in this article and following the suggestions provided, you’ll be able to keep your personal number out of the wrong hands, and keep your PII safe.