Have you noticed that you’re getting strange calls from people you don’t know? Or maybe you have been getting a lot of texts from people claiming to be a company or even claiming to be the government? A lot of us get spam calls and texts all the time anyway, but it’s possible that someone has been using your phone number to sign up for things, or been using your phone number as part of a prank.
Worried about scam calls and endless texts? Or are you unsure what else your phone number has been used for? Here’s our guide on what to do when you think your phone number has been made public or sent to scam companies.
How do I know if someone has been using my phone number?
It can be surprisingly hard to tell if someone has been using your phone number to sign up for things without your knowledge. This is because there is almost no way to get the information on who has your number or other data.
However, you might have a hunch that someone has been using your phone number. The main things to look out for are:
Excessive calls – if you are getting a lot of calls, this could be a sign that your phone number is out there somewhere. It can be normal to get one or two spam calls a week, so you might not need to worry about this level of incoming calls. However, if you’re getting multiple calls a day, then it’s definitely a problem, and there’s definitely a risk that your phone number has been compromised.
Calls from shops, companies, and more – Sometimes people might use your phone number to sign up for store loyalty cards, giveaways, or other things where they don’t want to use their own phone number or hand over their own data. If you’re getting calls from legitimate caller ID numbers, you might have had your phone number used in this way. Of course, always check that a call is legitimate before taking any action on these.
People claiming you called them – There are some uses for phone numbers, called call spoofing, where other people make it look like your phone number called them. This means that some people might get in touch with you, insisting that you phoned them even when you didn’t
Can I find all the ways my phone number has been used?
It’s very hard to find all the ways that your phone number has been used by other people. This is because a lot of companies will not advertise this kind of information, and they will not generally tell you if they have your phone number – even if you phone them up to ask. Not to mention, if you have been a victim of phone spoofing, you almost certainly cannot find all the people who now have your phone number.
It can be unsettling not to know who has access to your phone number, but you might have to accept that you cannot know for certain if people have your contact information without changing your phone number entirely.
First steps – Don’t fall for scams
If you think your personal contact information has been used without your knowledge or permission, the most important thing to do is to read up on scams scammers and security practices to make sure that you are less likely to fall for a scam. A lot of scams are very well refined and scammers have a lot of experience in getting people to hand over money, so you need to be very careful.
What kind of scams are there?
Scams always have one of two aims. The first is to get hold of more sensitive information about a person. This includes:
- Full name
- Family members names
- Date of birth
- Details of your banking accounts or other accounts
- Details of your home security features
- Social security number (either in full, or the last 4 digits of your SSN)
- Email account details
If you give them this information, you might be opening yourself up to identity theft or other actions against you. At the very least, scammers will know that you are willing to give them information, and they are more likely to call back, or they could sell your phone number to another scam company that will also try to contact you.
The second aim of most scam calls is, of course, to get you to send them money. There are a lot of excuses and reasons that scammers use to try to get money out of people. While the classic scam that we’re all told about is someone claiming to be a foreign Prince or someone in jail abroad, scammers are getting smarter and are making more believable scams. This can include claiming to be:
- Your mobile carrier provider
- Government agencies including the IRS
- Collection agencies
- Utility and service provider companies
- Banks and credit card companies
Usually, these scams will involve claiming that you owe money. They will threaten huge fines or even legal action if you don’t immediately send them money – which they will try to get sent to them over the phone, through mobile banking, or even through the post or using gift cards. Some scams will also claim that they have a special new offer that can save you money, or they will claim to have a method whereby you can increase or double your money overnight by sending them your money – but of course, this is just one of the other ways criminals try to get your banking information or finances.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is
One important thing to remember about any possible scam is the old saying – “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”. A lot of scammers send links through text messages claiming that you can put through a refund claim or claiming that you can make money through their deals or schemes. This is always a straight-up scam. The best thing to do is to block their messages and move on rather than risk your money.
If someone claims to be calling from a company, call the company yourself
Sometimes companies do legitimately call us up about their products or our contracts with them, but more often than not, any contact like this is a scam. If you think there is any chance that a call is legitimate, you should hang up and phone the company directly, using the contact information you have on any written communications you have with them. It’s not even worth telling the person on the phone that you intend to do this – they will always come up with some excuse for why you shouldn’t hang up.
Request written confirmation
If you think something might be legitimate, another way to check is to request written confirmation of what they’re saying. Many service providers would prefer that they have to send you a letter, compared to you getting scammed. If the person on the phone refuses to send you a letter, you know that something is fishy. It’s worth noting that if they called you and you allegedly have an account with them, they should already have your contact address – you do not need to give them this information.
Never give out your personal details
If you are in any doubt, do not give out your personal details – this includes your Social Security Number, name, address, date of birth, or anything else. Even information that seems innocuous – like your first school, what pets you had growing up, or details about your interests – can be used for nefarious means. This is because a lot of these are used in safety features such as account recovery security questions – if people can get these details, they can possibly gain access to your accounts. You should also never tell someone over the phone if you get a security confirmation code sent to your phone while they’re calling you. They will claim this checks your identity or for phone verification, but it is another way that people can gain access to your bank accounts or access more of your data.
How do people get my phone number?
There is a range of ways that people can get hold of your phone number. Some of these are harmless accidents, while some people get hold of your phone number maliciously. Some of the most common ways are:
If you have a big social media presence, people you come across online can do a reverse lookup to find what other sites your usernames link to. Depending on the security features on your social media accounts, this could have your phone number pop up, ready for use. It’s always worth making sure that your social media is locked down to not show this information publicly.
Facebook sometimes requires a phone number in order to sign up for it. This is a particularly big risk. While in today’s world we might not think much of the risk of signing up for Facebook, you should be careful and check who can see your details.
There are a lot of search engines specifically designed for finding people. A lot of these people-search sites purchase details in bulk from scammers and telemarketers. Depending on who has previously had your information, you might find that you are listed on these sites. The information on these sites includes names, addresses, dates of birth, and phone numbers.
Friends and family
If someone wants to target you specifically – usually for a ‘prank’ or as revenge for some way that they think they’ve been wronged – they could simply get your details from friends or family. It’s worth making sure that your friends and family know to never reveal personal information without your permission. Ask them to always check with you first.
Telemarketers and scammers can purchase bulk groups of phone numbers and other data collected from other scam companies directly. If you’ve fallen for a scam and handed over money in the past, there’s a good chance that your phone number has been stored and traded like this.
What harmless ways do people get my phone number?
A lot of people sign up for things using someone else’s phone number without any malicious intent. It’s very common for people, when pressed, to give out a phone number that’s a digit or two different from their own. People typically do this to avoid getting annoying sales calls or when signing up for adult sites or other dodgy websites, without realizing that the cell phone number they use belongs to someone else. Of course, most companies should back off and stop phoning you once they realize the issue, but you can block these callers if they don’t stop.
There’s also, of course, human error. Maybe someone input their phone number wrong, or maybe a caller mis-typed or mis-remembered the phone number they meant to call.
In these cases, you shouldn’t notice too much of an increase in the number of calls you get, as it should be a relatively small volume of places that get given your cell phone number. However, it can still be a pain – and unfortunately, there’s not much you can do, unless you figure out who is erroneously giving out your number.
What is cell phone number spoofing?
Number spoofing or phone spoofing is where someone makes your phone number pop up on the caller ID of people who they phone. This is used a lot by scammers, telemarketers, and even private investigators who want to hide their own number, but don’t want a hidden caller ID to show. This makes it more likely that people will pick up the phone, especially as some spoof caller techniques involve using real local phone numbers to make a call look more legitimate.
One of the big problems with phone spoofing is that people will end up calling your cell phone or home phone in order to get in touch with the person who called them, using this inaccurate caller identification information. This makes caller ID spoofing a real pain for people whose numbers get picked.
It also makes it harder to avoid or prevent scammers from getting in touch with you. If you think the phone numbers phoning you are real – thanks to phone spoofing – you are much more likely to pick up. This means that you need to keep an eye out for fishy-sounding calls and be aware of scams at all times – even if the phone number calling you looks familiar, as they could be spoof calls.
Sadly, phone spoofing is easily done. There are plenty of websites and apps that allow people to do phone spoofing without any specialist equipment – your number could be spoofed by private investigators with tech know-how, or it could be spoofed by teens who are playing a prank.
How to stop spam phone calls
One of the simplest ways to stop spam calls is simply to block them as they come in. Of course, this doesn’t deal with the bigger problem, that your phone number is accessible – this means that even if you block some spam calls, you’ll still get other people calling your cell number. It can be hard – or almost impossible – to stop unwanted phone calls completed, especially if your number has gone on their lists for targeting numbers of people who are viable targets for scams.
Do I need to change my phone number?
If you find that you are getting too many unwanted calls and text messages, you might want to change your phone number. Of course, this can be a pain, since you have to update your number with all your friends and family, update business cards, and update companies who do actually need to contact you via your cell phone number.
This can head the problem off, provided that you make sure you have no security breaches relating to this new number – basically, if people get hold of your new number, it could all start again.
How do I keep my new phone number safe?
As we’ve already mentioned, sometimes it is impossible to keep your phone number private – for example, phone spoofing usually involves picking a number at random, or using a local number in order to look more legitimate. However, you can try to ensure that scammers do not get hold of your number.
Firstly, make sure that your friends and family know not to compromise your number to people even if they claim to know you.
Keep your number off social media as much as possible. You can use different search terms in different search engines to check if your number appears easily. If it does, you should try to find ways to take it down. You should also search using different web browsers such as Google Chrome or Internet Explorer to see if there is any difference – though web standards are typically similar throughout.
If you have to sign up for something and need a one-time password link or reset link, you could use a virtual number to make sure that your primary number is still safe. However, be aware that this is not suitable if the company actually needs to contact you, as a virtual number will typically only last for a short time (this also requires an internet connection).
Can someone steal my data by using my phone number?
There is a risk that someone can use your cell number to get more personal information. One of the main ways that people do this is to make sure that your number routes to their phone. They will phone your mobile carrier provider claiming to be you, and get help switching phones. This means that they have access to your mobile phone carrier account.
Am I at risk of identity theft
The biggest risk of identity theft from a phone number however is from you giving them that information yourself. Make sure to not reveal your email account address, bank details, or personal details when responding to any calls or text messages that you receive.
Can I take legal action against someone who is using my phone number?
If you are being bothered by excessive calls, it may be worth looking into legal options. If you believe someone is phone spoofing you or signing you up for websites and messages without your permission in order to harass you, you might be able to get help from the legal system.
However, it can be very hard to get action taken against the people who are calling you – most are not intentionally doing anything wrong, especially if you are getting calls or text messages from people who have fallen prey to your number being spoofed – and most people would not want others getting criminal records from their part in this.
Phone spoofing legal considerations
There are some special legal considerations for phone spoofing. Phone spoofing is typically only considered illegal if you can prove that the culprit is doing it for the purpose of “knowingly transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value” (Federal Communications Commission). If the spoof caller violated this in any way when using your number, you might be able to take action. This however might not cover spoofers who use numbers in your area code in order to make their calls seem legitimate if they were not trying to defraud the recipients. Unfortunately, it is also hard to get the recipient’s caller ID to confirm what exactly has happened, which can make it hard to figure out whether you can take legal action.
Illegitimate use of phone numbers – roundup
Having your number used by someone else can be upsetting, and it can leave a lot of issues for your to deal with – a person who has their number taken could have data compromised and could risk access to their other data or even their finances. You could also face irate calls from people who believe you phoned them.
The most important thing to do is to familiarise yourself with possible scams. Remember to never give away any personal data over the phone, unless you are absolutely certain that the call is legitimate. If in doubt, get in touch with the company directly. If the calls get too much, you can also look at changing your number. However, you need to also make sure your new number is safe in order to prevent the same problem from happening again.