Caller ID Spoofing: Don't Let It Happen To You
How Does Caller ID Spoofing Work?
Although cell phone hijacking and caller ID spoofing are quite new forms of attacks, they are mostly unknown to consumers, but it is a crime that is growing rapidly. In 2017 the number of victims of this crime grew as much as 63% from the previous year. So, what can someone do with your phone number?
‘”Phone numbers have suddenly become valuable,” says Allison Nixon, director of security research at Flashpoint, a company that tracks cybercrime. She says phone numbers have become an irresistible target for scammers because so many companies now use the numbers to help confirm customers’ identities. “Financials, health care, social media, email — all of these different companies, by policy, require a phone number from you. And that’s what creates the vulnerability,” Nixon says.’
Criminals usually contact cell phone service providers of the chosen victim and request that their number is transferred from an old mobile device to a new one. They are asked to provide the last four digits of the person’s Social Security number and an ID.
If the hacker doesn’t have this information, they often come up with an elaborate story about losing or breaking their phone but make the whole situation seem legitimate by providing other information like an address, birth date and other sensitive information that is readily available online. With all the information provided, the company will then port the number to the device which the criminal has complete control over.
As soon as a cell phone number is ported to a new device, all inbound and outbound text messages and calls go through to the new device, and your cell phone is rendered unresponsive.
The hacker is then able to reset all of your passwords, allowing them to get around serious security features such as two-factor authentication, which is in place to maximize security on various accounts such as banking, social media, and email. Of these three, the most profitable is your bank account which is, in turn, the most common target for cybercriminals. As soon as they have access, they are quickly able to drain your account of any existing funds to an account which they use.
The worst part is that criminals that attempt to take advantage of your information are usually able to by finding other crucial information about you on the internet from various sources. This includes what you share on social media platforms.
Other ways in which they get their hands on your information is by buying it from hackers that have stolen your personal information during data breaches from large companies like Equifax, Anthem, Target, and Home Depot. The information they are privy to includes things like your phone number, driver’s license, address, email, social security number, and other personal information. This allows them to then create fake accounts as well as take over your cell phone number.
While you might think that getting a new cell phone account up and running might be a process, it is pretty easy to open one up with the bill being sent to a completely different address. They will often pay the phone bills long enough to create a good credit history, allowing them to open up credit cards in your name.
Caller ID spoofing can not only happen with your information, but also with that of a trusted organization or a business that you are comfortable with. This way, they lull you into a false state of security and either get further sensitive information out of you or drain you of your savings.
According to the Guardian,
“It is surprisingly easy for a fraudster to change their phone’s caller ID to mimic that of a bank or other government agency. There is nothing to stop a fraudster inputting any bank’s customer service number which is automatically displayed on the mobile handset.
If the receiving smartphone has that bank’s customer service number in their phone’s contacts list, the handset will recognize that and tell the person that NatWest or whoever is calling.
Similarly, texts that come in from the fraudsters using a spoofed number, will show up as being from the bank – often appearing alongside legitimate texts sent out by the bank. Last week, Which? warned consumers to be on their guard against this growing problem. The same goes for trusted organizations like HMRC, the DVLA or TV Licensing or well-known brands such as Apple or PayPal.”
Now you know how to answer when someone asks, “What can someone do with your phone number?”. You should still be asking more questions, such as the next one.
How Can Criminals Use Your Phone Number For their Benefit?
Gather Information About You
Today, cell phone numbers are largely used to identify a person when it comes to apps or social media sites. Just by typing your number into a search engine, a cybercriminal can come up with a lot of information about you enabling them to take part in social engineering scams. This is a scam that allows criminals to manipulate victims into handing over sensitive data about themselves. It focuses on the theory that humans are the weakest link in the security system. While technology is hackable, humans don’t have regular system updates and are prone to making mistakes.
Otherwise, by using your cell phone number, criminals are able to find you on Facebook if you have your account linked to your phone number if your account is public.
Crate Smishing Attacks
Smishing is a term used for text message attacks, which can be used by criminals that have gained access to your cell phone number. This is particularly dangerous especially if the hacker has done some research on you. Although phone scams might seem outdated to some, they are an increasing problem, especially high during tax time.
“Tax identity theft occurs when someone files a tax return using your Social Security Number. In some cases, thieves do this in order to claim a fraudulent tax refund. In others, they may have used your SSN to obtain employment. When this occurs, their employer will report all income to the IRS using that SSN. When you don’t report that same income on your own return, the IRS will flag it as suspicious and require you to pay taxes on that additional income. It may even lead to a tax audit.”
Taking Over Your Cell Phone Account
Reverse-lookup websites allow pretty much anyone to find out various information regarding a cell phone number. This includes your name, city, state and the carrier that is associated with that particular number. There is also the ability to pay for extra information. The cost is usually insignificant when you compare that to the information the criminal is exposed to.
With all of this information, hackers are able to impersonate you, whether over the phone or in-person and gain access to your mobile account. From there, hackers are able to use the information to upgrade to a better phone, which they can then sell for a profit, or even take over your number completely which is otherwise referred to as a SIM swap.
“Provided they can answer basic security questions, the old sim is canceled and a new one activated. From then on they can commandeer their victim’s mobile account, intercepting or initiating calls, texts, and authorizations such as those used for cash transfers. They can also request that security settings are changed to stop the victim from gaining access to their account.
The first the victim will know of a problem is when their mobile stops working and they report it to their provider. In the meantime, their bank account may have been emptied.”
Gaining Access to Your Finances
As mentioned earlier, criminals are able to take advantage of bank accounts by using two-factor authentication. Additionally, any phone calls or text messages used to prove your identity can be falsified allowing them to both change passwords and access your accounts, even going as far as making charges on your credit card or taking money out from your account.
How to Protect Yourself from Caller ID Spoofing
You are probably wondering by now, how to stop someone from using my phone number? One of the best ways to protect yourself from ID spoofing is with identity theft protection. There are normally two types of services on offer which include credit monitoring as well as identity theft recovery. These credit monitoring services will normally be on the lookout for any unusual activity that might take place in your credit file, otherwise indicating that your financial information is being misused.
Some signs that you might be a victim of identity theft include credit card charges that you haven’t made, fake load applications or finding out that your Social Security number is on sale on the dark web. A great identity theft recovery service acts fast and assists you in financial recovery by freezing credit, correcting credit reports, filing police reports in your name or closing any fake accounts created in your name. It should be understood that these services will not prevent you from being compromised, but will supply you with constant monitoring and alert you to any suspicious activity. Our recommended identity theft service is Identity Guard which uses artificial intelligence to identify threats by using predictive analytics.
Be vigilant, so you’ll never have to think again, “How to stop someone from using my phone number?”.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself Being Associated with a Fake Caller ID Number
Use a Virtual Number
One of the best ways to stop your identity from being connected to a fake caller ID number is to limit giving out your personal contact phone number to just the people closest to you. This is quite a challenge today as many accounts will ask for your number, but you can get around this problem by using a virtual number for any non-personal accounts or activities.
These numbers are able to accept both voice calls as well as text messages and you can even set them up to forward calls and messages to your cell phone. Get a free virtual number on Google Voice right now.
Don’t Hand Over Your Information
It is as simple as that. What many of us don’t realize is that while you are asked to provide a contact number on many forms for differing accounts, the truth is, it isn’t necessary. You can offer to instead write down your zip code or a working email address.
If it is absolutely essential that you provide a contact number, you can always revert to the first option and use your virtual number. Remember to never ever publish your mobile number online and make sure to throw in a search every now and then for your number to see what information comes up.
Use a PIN with Your Cell Phone Service Provider
Another exceptionally important step in protecting your cell phone account from being breached is to use a PIN. Many cell phone carriers have security measures in place to protect you from things like caller ID spoofing and will allow you to set up a password or PIN which needs to be provided each time you try to make any changes to your account which include upgrading your mobile device.
Freeze Your Credit Information
All four major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, Innovis, and TransUnion allow you to freeze your credit information so that identity thieves are unable to open a bank account or a credit card in your name.
Monitor Your Monthly Statements
Keep on top of your accounts by carefully scanning your banking, credit card and cell phone statements each month. If you see any sort of suspicious activity, give your bank, credit card company, or cell phone carrier a call and let them know to take remedial action.
Report Suspicious Activity
If your cell phone stops receiving a signal or there is a message on your phone saying “Emergency Calls Only”, you should restart your phone and see if anything changes. If there is no change, you should contact your cell phone service provider immediately.
Additionally, if you notice something isn’t quite right with your bill or if your two-factor authentication has been triggered without you attempting to sign in, this could be a huge red flag that someone is trying to log into your account.
As soon as you contact your carrier, they are able to switch off your cell phone number and prevent your number from being used as a fake caller ID number, as well as prevent identity theft criminals from using the number from bypassing two-factor authentication and other dangers.
Beware of Phishing Scams
Always be mindful and suspicious when you receive random texts, emails or phone calls, from people who claim to be from your bank, credit card company, or other trusted institution. Remember that the people who legitimately work in such organizations will never ask for your sensitive information over the phone. This is why you should never disclose information like your banking or other online passwords or any type of personal identification numbers to anyone over the phone.
If this happens to you, there is almost no question that you are a victim of a phishing attack. Instead, you can ask for a number on which you can contact the person at a later stage. These people often get antsy and will try to get around giving out any information that might lead them to get tracked down.
When you hang up you can always call your bank or whoever tried to contact you to find out whether the call was legitimate or not.
Safeguarding your information is now more important than ever with cybercriminals constantly on the search for new ways of attacking vulnerable users online and offline. Caller ID spoofing might not be something that a lot of people are aware of, making it the perfect way to surprise people and take advantage of their information, possibly even draining bank accounts as they go.
In order to keep your data secure at all times, we recommend looking into identity theft protection, which will ensure that a service such as Identity Guard is constantly on the lookout for suspicious activity when it comes to your accounts. This way you will get notified should anything occur so you can take swift action and alert your bank, credit card company or cell phone carrier.
Other steps to remain protected include not giving out your contact information when you don’t have to, but instead, provide an email address that you can be contacted through. If you are required to hand over a contact phone number, you can always get a free virtual number that will ensure your private number remains private.
Keep your eyes and ears open at all times and make sure to report any behavior which is out of the ordinary.