There’s a new cyber crime sweeping the nation: Cell-phone account fraud. You might not know it, but the repercussions are ominous.
Published reports indicate fraudulent phone accounts increased by 78 percent in 2018 to 680,000 victims. There are no signs the trend is easing.
Cell-phone account fraud occurs when someone opens a bogus account in your name, and is able to get an entrée to your checking and savings accounts, and then applies for credit cards or sells your phone number on the dark web.
This, of course, creates havoc for your reputation and finances. Worse, it’s hard to fix such identity theft.
Don’t give social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, your phone number. They frequently will ask you for it under the guise of protecting you.
But as you probably know, Facebook has failed miserably in protecting private consumer data.
Your problem will easily start if a criminal spots your phone number on social media or elsewhere, or if the hacker steals your information from Equifax or other companies.
From such companies, a hacker can also easily obtain your Social Security number, driver’s license number and address.
Some information is often available on search engines. Don’t believe me? Google your name.
Cell-phone account fraud can go unseen for some time. By the time you find out, your phone service will stop working or your bank accounts will be empty.
Plus, credit-card debt collectors will be calling you, and you might find yourself falsely accused of committing crimes (more on that later).
The first thing to do is freeze your credit information so you can’t be hurt by agencies inserting black marks on your credit report.
The agencies include the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), a credit reporting agency fed by data from cell-phone companies, pay-TV companies, and utility service providers.
NCTUE manages credit reports supplied to cell-phone, cable, gas, or electric utilities providers.
You can freeze your credit with NCTUE online, by telephone (866-349-5355) or by mail (NCTUE Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105561, Atlanta, GA 30348).
Secondly, get a PIN for your cell-phone account. This will stymie cybercriminals from being able to move your phone number to another account, which is called porting. Porting is a big danger.
Thirdly, carefully monitor your bank accounts, cell-phone bill, and other transactions.
What else can happen
When your bank or credit union texts you a verification code (two-factor identification), the six-digit code is wrongly sent to the criminal, not you.
Criminals who have your number from porting can open a new phone account and have the bill sent to their address. Once they have the account long enough, they then apply for credit cards and loans using your name.
They can also sell “your” new phone number to other criminals who might be dealing in human trafficking or drugs. Yes, if this happens, you will be pursued by law enforcement.
Many of the criminals apply for new phone plans in order to acquire a new, expensive device. Then, they will sell the phone and desert the account. This means you’d be stuck for the cost of a new phone worth $1,000 or more.
Unlike personal bank account or credit-card consumer protection, there are no liability limits. This means you don’t have such protection from phony cell-phone bills.
That’s why it’s worth considering taking advantage of a free credit report from each credit bureau under the Fair Credit Reporting Act once each year.
Contact your cell phone company right away if you stop receiving calls or texts.
Never, ever, give your banking or other passwords and personal ID numbers to anyone.
If someone contacts you – either by phone, email or text – and requests any personal information, don’t give it to them and report the number and person to the phone company and authorities.
Keep your personal information off social media – details about your first car, maiden name, date of birth or your phone number.
Tell your bank or credit union to notify you of any financial transactions in two different ways (e.g. text and email).
Compartmentalize your email addresses. Use different email addresses for your financial transactions and social media, etc.
From the Coach’s Corner, more cybercrime information:
Security Steps for Your Mobile Device in Online Banking, Purchases — Almost 90 percent of Americans use a cell phone and more than 50 percent have smartphones, according to published reports. That’s a recipe for trouble.
Security: What You Really Need to Know to Stay Web Safe — An advice article on Internet security at SeattlePI.com caught my eye. Not because it contained great information. Something was amiss. The information was wrong. Such advice needs to be more authoritative. Here’s a checklist to stay safe.
Using Starbucks’ WIFI? Expert Issues Warning, Security Checklist — The WIFI service at Starbucks has prompted a security warning and checklist from a go-to Internet security guru, Dr. Stan Stahl.
Phishing and Other Concerns about Internet Security — Cyber issues are garnering major headlines. Phishing and other Internet security risks pose new dangers and raise concerns, according to three new studies, two of which include Facebook.
Best Practices to Buy Cyber Insurance for Business Security — Security has become problematic in all sectors – business, nonprofits, government, politics and individuals. The aggregate financial losses are so staggering, cyber insurance is a necessity.
8 Tips for Security of Your Company’s Wireless Network — Business wireless routers present dangers. Your router is vulnerable to hackers and, hence, security issues. So, you must take these precautions.
“Security is always excessive until it’s not enough.”