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SIM swap scam: how to prevent your phone number from being stolen



SIM cards

SIM swapping is a serious trend that you should be aware of.

Jason Cipriani / CNET

Scammers are always trying to find a way to get your attention and trick you into disclosing sensitive information. For example at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, Phone calls and text messages offered remedies and access to test kits, but in the end all the scammers just wanted your personal information. You would then turn around and use this information to do things like opening accounts on your behalf or even taking your phone number and giving them full access to your online accounts.

In January, a study published showed how incredibly easy it is, and potentially thousands of dollars in fraud ̵

1; this is it Your Money on the line. The practice of SIM exchange is becoming more common and despite the introduction of security measures by network operators, researchers have been able to prove that you can take over your phone number quickly and easily.

The SIM card There is a small plastic chip in your phone that tells your device which cellular network to connect to and which phone number to use. We rarely think of SIM cards, except maybe when we get a new phone.

SIM cards

SIM cards seem so small, don’t they?

Jason Cipriani / CNET

A SIM swap happens when someone contacts your cellular provider and can convince the call center operator that they are indeed a cellular provider youusing your personal data.

To do this, they use data that is often exposed in the event of hacks, data breaches or information that you share publicly on social networks, in order to trick the call center into changing the SIM card associated with your telephone number and by a SIM in their possession – to replace card.

Once your phone number has been assigned to a new card, all incoming calls and text messages will be routed to the phone that has the new SIM card on.

At first glance, it seems a little harmless. However, when you consider that most of us have our phone numbers linked to our banking, email, and social media accounts, you will quickly realize how easy it would be for someone with access to your phone number, all of your online -Take presence.


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Matthew Miller, an employee of CNET’s sister site ZDNet, was the victim of a SIM swap fraud last year and experienced the effects for months afterwards. Whoever took over Miller’s phone number got access to his Gmail account and immediately changed his password. Then he deleted every email, deleted every file on his Google Drive account, and finally deleted his Gmail account altogether.

Miller later discovered that he was being targeted because he had a Coinbase account and his bank account was linked to it. Miller’s phone received his Coinbase account’s two-factor authentication codes so the hackers could log into his cryptocurrency trading account and purchase $ 25,000 worth of Bitcoin. Miller had to call his bank and report the transaction as a fraud. That adds to the immense vulnerability he felt.

An unlawful gain for someone taking your phone number is instant access to any two-factor authentication codes you receive via SMS. This is the PIN that an institution sends you to verify that you are who you say you are. That means, once they have your password, they are just a few clicks away from logging into your email, banking, or social media account.

If someone gains access to your email account, they can change passwords and search your email archive to compile a list of all of your online presence. Take the time to walk away from SMS 2FA codes and use app-based codes instead. Seriously.

at-t-extra security

It only takes a few minutes to add an important layer of security to your account.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani / CNET

What can you do to prevent SIM swaps in your account?

You can reduce the chances of someone gaining access to your phone number and taking it over by adding a PIN code or password to your WiFi account. T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T offer the option to add a PIN code.

If you’re not sure whether you have a PIN code or need to set one up, here’s what to do for each of the major US airlines.

  • AT & T. Subscribers: Go to your account profile, sign in, then click Credentials. If you have multiple AT&T accounts, select your WiFi account, then go to Manage additional security under the Wireless passcode Section. Make your changes and enter your password when prompted to save.
  • T-Mobile user: Set up a PIN or passcode the first time you log into your My T-Mobile account. Choose Text messaging or Security question and follow the instructions.
  • Verizon Wireless customers: Call * 611 and request a port freeze in your account. Visit this webpage to learn more about how to enable step-up authentication on your account.
galaxy-s10-lite

If your phone goes out of service, call customer service immediately.

Juan Garzon / CNET

If you have a service through another provider, call their customer service number to see how you can protect your account. Most likely, you will be asked to create a PIN or passcode.

When creating a PIN or passcode, keep in mind that someone who has enough information to fake that they are actually you is using a birthday, anniversary, or address as the PIN code won’t intersect them. Instead, create a unique passcode for your carrier and save it in your Password manager. You use a password manager, right?

How do you know if you are affected?

The easiest way to tell if your SIM card is no longer active is to completely lose service on your phone. You may receive a text message stating that the SIM card for your number has been changed and you can call customer service if you haven’t made the change. If your SIM card is no longer active, you will not be able to make a call from your phone – not even from customer service (more on this below).

In a nutshell, the quickest way to tell if you are affected is if your phone is completely out of service and you cannot send or receive text messages or phone calls.

Pixel-4-xl-google

There are a few steps you can take if you become a victim of a sim swap scam.

Juan Garzon / CNET

What should you do if you are a victim of SIM swap fraud?

The truth is, if someone tries bad enough to access your phone number, they will do whatever they can to trick your carrier’s support rep. What we’ve outlined above are best practices, but they’re not foolproof.

Researchers were able to pose as account holders who had forgotten their PIN or passwords and often provide up-to-date outbound calls from the destination phone number called by the actual account holder. How do you know these numbers? They either got the account holder to call. Even more frightening, researchers could sometimes enter phone numbers for incoming calls on the account they wanted to take over. That said, the bad guy just had to call the target’s phone number himself.

If you find that you’ve lost service on your mobile device, immediately call your wireless service provider and let them know that you haven’t made the changes. The network operator will help you regain access to your phone number. I cannot stress this enough – Don’t wait to call. The longer someone has access to your phone number, the more damage they can do.

Here are the customer service numbers for every major carrier. Enter your mobile operator number as a contact in your phone:

  • AT & T: 1-800-331-0500
  • T-Mobile: 1-800-937-8997
  • Verizon: 1-800-922-0204
Privacy-Security-Hacker-Hacking-Unlock-iPhone-0991

Once someone has access to your phone number, they will have access to most of your online accounts.

James Martin / CNET

With your SIM card disabled, you won’t be able to call from your phone, but at least you’ll have the number on hand to use on another device.

You should also contact your bank (s), credit card company, and check all of your online accounts to make sure the perpetrator has not changed your passwords or made fraudulent transactions. If you find transactions that are not yours, call your bank or go to a branch immediately and explain the situation.

Remember, no matter how many PIN codes or passwords we add to our online accounts, there is still a chance that someone could find a way to break in. But at least by setting a passcode for your account and knowing what to do when you find one, you’re a victim of a SIM swap yourself and ready to go.

Another critical aspect of strong online security is the use of a Password manager to create and save unique passwords on your behalf. Activate in addition Two-factor authentication on every account it offers. And make sure you are not fall for robocalls or fraudulent text messages.


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