Mark Pribish

Your Cell Phone Number is a Threat to Your Personal Privacy

By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

I read with great interest an article titled Phone numbers are the new Social Security numbers (please see here) that highlights how "cellphone numbers have become a primary way for tech companies like Facebook to uniquely identify users and secure accounts, in some ways becoming a proxy for a national ID."

The article goes on to say that cellphone numbers are becoming Americans' latest national identification number as Congress mandated that consumers could take their phone number from one provider to another.

This means that consumers can have a de facto "cellphone number for life" system.

Think about how your cell phone number / smartphone is used as a personal computer to do your banking, watch movies, and more including the following:

  • Texting
  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Camera
  • Banking
  • Reading news
  • Online shopping
  • Checking the weather
  • WhatsApp
  • Watching videos on YouTube

Now think about how your smartphone is also a potential threat to your personal privacy. While you can install some privacy related apps, you still give up most of your privacy.


Here are some examples of how your personal privacy can be at risk through your smartphone:

  • Geotracking — a smartphone is able to locate itself via the integrated GPS chip. While disclosing location data may seem harmless, it is still an invasion of privacy. This data can be used to build a profile on you or a family member, which can subsequently be used for a phishing attack.
  • Wi-Fi tracking — as cellular connections often falter indoors, retailers have offered free Wi-Fi to their shoppers. While consumers click to accept the terms of service, an invasion of privacy is taking place as retailers can determine which departments the shoppers have visited and how long they spent there.
  • Microphone eavesdropping — every smartphone has a microphone, and it's another security risk. While the main concern for many of us may be someone eavesdropping on private conversations, microphones also can be used for data collection.

So let's conclude with your personal privacy risks related to your cell phone number.

The next time someone asks you for your cellphone number, remember that it is increasingly used to connect to private information maintained by all types of companies including financial institutions, retailers and social networks.

Your cell phone number can also be used to monitor and predict what you view and purchase online or even what you watch on television.

It is important to know that your cell phone number is not regulated and no companies are mandated to keep it private. Studies indicate that half the U.S. population no longer have a landline. Many consumers in the 20-30 year age bracket have never had a landline. Many young consumers have no credit history and therefore no link to their social security number.

On the other hand, most teenagers are equipped with a cell phone number at the average age of thirteen years old. That cell phone number often remains with them for decades providing a detailed digital identification system of information.

This detailed digital identification system of information applies to all of us, so be smart with your cell phone number and who you share it with.


To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Scam Alert: IP Address Scam Uses Scare Tactics to Fool Consumers

By Better Business Bureau. March 22, 2019.

Scammers have been duping consumers with a tech support scam that claims your IP address has been compromised. BBB is seeing an increasing number of these cons reported to BBB.org/ScamTracker. There are two versions of this scam you should be ready to spot.

How the Scam Works

In one version of the scam, a pop-up suddenly appears on your computer screen with an ominous warning from a well-known tech support company. The pop-up will ask you to call a number to resolve the issue. When you call, a "technician" will tell you your IP address is being used by shady individuals. In some reports, scammers claim child pornography websites are using your IP address, and you could be held responsible for their actions. In a second version of the scam, you simply receive a call out of the blue from someone making similar claims.

In both cases, scammers say they work for a reputable company and can fix the problem, but you'll need to pay a fee and give them remote access to your computer first. Of course, the claims are false! If you believe them, scammers will make off with your money and gain access to any personal information stored on your computer.

How to Protect Yourself from Computer Scams

  • Never open attachments or links in emails from unknown senders. These can generate the fake warning pop-ups that prompt you to make a call to scammers. If you do get a suspicious pop-up alert, don't click on anything and restart your computer.
  • Be wary of unsolicited calls. A common scam tactic is to make cold calls. Scammers then try to scare you into giving them access to your machine. Don't fold under pressure, simply hang up the phone and block the number.
  • Never give strangers remote access to your computer. You should only allow remote access to technicians of trustworthy companies that you contacted through a legitimate customer service number or chat.

For More Information

For more information on computer tech support scams, check out BBB.org/TechSupportScam, as well as these videos and tips from the Federal Trade Commission.

If you've been the victim of a tech support scam, report it on the BBB Scam Tracker. By reporting your experience, you can help others avoid falling for the same scam.

To learn more about other kinds of scams, go to BBB.org/ScamTips.

If you've been targeted by this scam, help others avoid the same problem by reporting your experience at FTC.gov/Complaint and BBB.org/ScamTracker.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today!