A new type of identity theft is now affecting consumers across the country, and it’s targeting the devices in their pockets. By focusing their efforts on consumers’ phone accounts, identity thieves hope to ease their path to financial fraud. Here’s how:
When a bank or creditor detects possible fraud on your account, what do they do? In many cases, they give you a call to verify the activity that raised their suspicion. Or, what if a lender receives a request for a new line of credit in your name – but there’s a credit alert on your account? Again, chances are they’ll call you to confirm your identity. But what if those calls never reached you, and instead were rerouted to the fraudsters themselves? Within moments, they could reassure the lender that the activity was legitimate, clearing the way for additional fraud without ever alerting you.
Rerouting a phone call might seem like a complicated step, even for an identity thief. However, it can actually be incredibly straightforward once the criminal has access to your personal information. Using your name, address, date of birth and Social Security Number to “verify” their identity, fraudsters can access a person’s account with a simple call to the phone carrier, the Naples Daily News reported. From there, fraudsters can request to enable call forwarding to a phone they can readily access. Just like that, they can disable what for many consumers is a primary line of defense against fraud.
Phone account hijacking
As insidious as this strategy might seem, it is just one of many types of fraud that identity thieves could enact with access to your phone account. For example, they could use your information in a physical retail store, perhaps even hundreds of miles from where you live, then purchase a new, expensive phone under your name.
That’s exactly what happened to Lorrie Cranor, the Federal Trade Commission’s Chief Technologist. Cranor detailed what she calls “phone account hijacking” in an article on the FTC website:
“A few weeks ago an unknown person walked into a mobile phone store, claimed to be me, asked to upgrade my mobile phones, and walked out with two brand new iPhones assigned to my telephone numbers,” Cranor wrote. “My phones immediately stopped receiving calls, and I was left with a large bill and the anxiety and fear of financial injury that spring from identity theft.”
According to the FTC, crimes like this have become far more common in recent years. While phone account-related crimes accounted for just 3.2 percent of all ID theft claims in January 2013, that figure nearly doubled over the next three years, coming in at 6.3 percent in January 2016.
Protecting your phone account
In addition to protecting your identity the way that is typically advised, there are a number of steps you can take to strengthen the security of your phone account. First, set up a unique PIN or security question that you’ll have to answer before making changes to your account. Be sure the answer to your question doesn’t exist on the internet anywhere a committed ID thief could find it. Second, learn to spot the warning signs that could indicate your account has been compromised. By detecting fraud early, you will be better able to dispute unauthorized charges and reverse the damage.
Here’s what to watch out for:
- You notice unfamiliar charges on your cell phone bill or credit card statement.
- Your phone stops receiving incoming calls.
- Your phone cannot connect to a network.
At Identity Guard we know how important it is to be aware about threats like this and others, which is why we take such care to bring you stories and news like this. To learn more about other ways Identity Guard can help protect you from a variety of threats, contact us today.