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Is your cellphone number just as valuable as your social security number?

Jul 20, 20173 mins
DLP SoftwareIdentity Management SolutionsMobile

Despite the recent news, your cell phone number is useful – but not putting you at risk.

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I’ve seen some recent news coverage touting that cell phone numbers are just as valuable to hackers and identity thieves as Social Security Numbers (SSN). As an organization that has been providing advice and risk minimization information for close to two decades, we are always concerned when a leap in logic goes one leap too far, as is the case with equating cell phone numbers with SSNs. To that end, let’s focus on the most important takeaways here.

While there are definitely ways your cell phone number can be useful, it’s important to understand what someone can—and cannot—do with just the number.

Your SSN is considered one of the most critical pieces of sensitive data, almost like the Holy Grail of identity theft information. Your cell phone number on the other hand, while still an important tool for identifying yourself and accessing further information, is not required for opening new lines of credit, making large-scale purchases, applying for benefits, employment, and other functions that an SSN provides.

Therefore, you should protect your SSN as best you can and be very careful about sharing it with those who ask for it. Like your cell phone number, it is an important instrument that you must provide to engage in certain activities and to avail yourself of specific services; unlike your cell phone number, it cannot easily be replaced or changed if it falls into the wrong hands. Never having to share your SSN is not an option, but you can certainly be cautious about who you give it to as oversharing your SSN can result in the theft of your identity.

While your cell phone number is nowhere near as potentially harmful in the wrong hands as your SSN, there are other considerations about protecting your cell phone number:

  • Oversharing or giving out your number at every turn can lead to spam calls, unwanted solicitors, and more.
  • Your cell phone number could be used to send you scam text messages that contain links to malicious software.
  • Your phone number could be used for phone scams, putting your finances and/or your identity at risk.

They key takeaway here is that your mobile device is much more worthy of concern and protection than the phone number associated with it. The data you store within your mobile device (this includes tablets) could pose a serious risk for consumers. Your cell phone number might not help a thief steal your identity, but your smartphone itself can easily cause serious damage if it falls into the wrong hands. For example, a thief could access your email account and change all of your account logins, access your two-factor authentication, drain money from your mobile wallet, and more. Safeguard your cell phone as if it contained every bit of your identity, because in some ways, it does.

Eva Velasquez is the President/CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center. Eva previously served as the Vice President of Operations for the San Diego Better Business Bureau and spent 21 years at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. She has a passion for consumer protection and educating the public about identity theft, privacy, scams and fraud, and other related issues and is recognized as a nationwide expert on these topics.

Eva has been featured on such outlets as the CNBC Nightly Business Report, Huffington Post Live, Forbes, Bloomberg, Kiplinger’s and numerous other outlets. She is the driving force behind the first free ID Theft Help App and the ITRC Hands-On Privacy Program which aims to empower our community to protect their mobile data. Eva is regularly invited to speak at events nationwide and has recently had the privilege to present at such forums as Twitter’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month’s Event, the Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA) National Training Conference, the Privacy Xchange Forum, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging’s annual N4A conference with the Federal Trade Commission. As the head of The Identity Theft Resource Center, Eva has co-hosted events with Google and Lexis Nexis.

Eva is a recipient of awards such as The Stevie Award for Women in Business recognizing women internationally and the 2016 Women Who Mean Business Award for her contribution to San Diego’s business, civic and cultural landscape.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Eva Velasquez and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.