SIM swap fraud: How to prevent your phone number from being stolen

SIM swapping is a critical pattern you need to find out about. 

Jason Cipriani/PJDM

Scammers are at all times looking for a method to get your consideration and trick you into handing over delicate knowledge. For instance, on the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, phone calls and text messages offered cures and entry to check kits, however ultimately all of the scammers wished was your private information. They’d then flip round and use that data to do issues like open accounts in your identify, and even take over your cellphone quantity, granting them full entry to your on-line accounts.

In January, a published study revealed how extremely straightforward it to do, probably resulting in hundreds of {dollars} in fraud — that is your cash on the road. The follow of SIM swapping is turning into more and more widespread, and regardless of carriers placing safeguards in place, researchers have been capable of show taking on your cellphone quantity shortly and with ease.

The SIM card inside your cellphone is a small plastic chip that tells your machine which mobile community to hook up with, and which cellphone quantity to make use of. We hardly ever ever take into consideration SIM playing cards, besides possibly after we get a brand new cellphone. 


SIM playing cards appear so minor, do not they? 

Jason Cipriani/PJDM

SIM swapping happens when somebody contacts your wi-fi service and is ready to persuade the decision middle worker that they’re, in actual fact, you, utilizing your private knowledge. 

They do that through the use of knowledge that is typically uncovered in hacks, knowledge breaches, or data you publicly share on social networks to trick the decision middle make use of into switching the SIM card linked to your cellphone quantity, and exchange it with a SIM card of their possession. 

As soon as your cellphone quantity is assigned to a brand new card, your entire incoming calls and textual content messages can be routed to no matter cellphone the brand new SIM card is in. 

At first look, it appears considerably innocent. However when you think about that the majority of us have our cellphone numbers linked to our financial institution, electronic mail and social media accounts, you shortly start to see how straightforward it might be for somebody with entry to your cellphone quantity can take over your whole on-line presence. 


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Matthew Miller, a contributor to PJDM sister web site ZDNet, fell victim to a SIM swap scam last year, and he skilled the fallout for months afterward. Whoever took over Miller’s cellphone quantity gained entry to his Gmail account, and promptly modified his password, then erased each electronic mail, deleted each file in his Google Drive account, and ultimately deleted his Gmail account altogether. 

Miller later found he was focused as a result of he had a Coinbase account and his checking account was linked to it. Miller’s cellphone obtained his Coinbase account’s two-factor authentication codes, so the hackers have been capable of log into his cryptocurrency buying and selling account and purchase $25,000 price of Bitcoin. Miller needed to name his financial institution and report the transaction as fraud. That is on prime of the immense vulnerability he felt.

One ill-gotten acquire for somebody who takes over your cellphone quantity is the moment entry to any two-factor authentication codes you obtain by means of textual content messages, the pin that an establishment texts you to confirm that you’re who you say. Meaning if they’ve your password, they’re just some clicks away from logging into your electronic mail, financial institution or social media accounts. 

And if somebody features entry to your electronic mail account, they will change passwords and search by means of your electronic mail archive to construct an inventory of your whole on-line presence. Take the time to move away from SMS 2FA codes and use app-based codes as an alternative. Severely. 


It takes just some minutes so as to add a important layer of safety to your account. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/PJDM

What are you able to do to forestall SIM swapping in your account?

You possibly can lower your possibilities of somebody having access to and taking on your cellphone quantity by including a PIN code or password to your wi-fi account. T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T all supply the flexibility so as to add a PIN code. 

If you happen to’re not sure when you have a PIN code or must set one up, here is what you must do for every of the key US carriers. 

  • AT&T subscribers: Go to your account profile, register, after which click on Sign-in info. Choose your wi-fi account when you have a number of AT&T accounts, then go to Handle further safety underneath the Wi-fi passcode part. Make your modifications, then enter your password when prompted to save lots of.
  • T-Mobile customers: Arrange a PIN or passcode the primary time you register to your My T-Mobile account. Decide Textual content messages or Safety query and observe the prompts. 
  • Verizon Wi-fi prospects: Name *611 and ask for a Port Freeze in your account, and go to this webpage to be taught extra about enabling Enhanced Authentication in your account.

In case your cellphone loses service, name buyer care instantly. 

Juan Garzon/PJDM

In case you have service by means of a special service, name their customer support quantity to ask how one can shield your account. Most probably, you will be requested to create a PIN or passcode.

When making a PIN or passcode, remember that if somebody has sufficient data to faux that they are truly you, utilizing a birthday, anniversary, or deal with because the PIN code is not going to chop it. As an alternative, create a novel passcode to your service after which retailer it in your password manager. You’re utilizing a password supervisor, proper? 

How have you learnt when you’ve been affected? 

The best method to inform in case your SIM card is not lively is when you fully lose service in your cellphone. You might obtain a textual content message stating the SIM card to your quantity has been modified, and to name customer support when you did not make the change. However together with your SIM card not lively, you will not have the ability to place a name out of your cellphone — not even to customer support (extra on this under). 

In brief, the quickest method to inform when you’ve been affected is that if your cellphone fully loses service and you may’t ship or obtain textual content messages or cellphone calls. 


There are some steps you may take do you have to occur to be a sufferer of sim swap fraud. 

Juan Garzon / PJDM

What do you have to do if you end up a sufferer of SIM swap fraud?

The reality is, if somebody needs entry to your cellphone quantity dangerous sufficient, they are going to do all they will to trick your service’s help consultant. What we have outlined above are best practices, however they are not foolproof. 

Researchers have been capable of pose as account holders who had forgotten their PIN or passcodes, oftentimes offering current outgoing calls from the goal cellphone quantity, known as by the precise account holder. How do they know these numbers? They both tricked the account holder into calling. Even scarier, generally the researchers have been capable of present cellphone numbers for incoming calls to the account they need to take over. That means the dangerous man merely wanted to name the goal’s cellphone quantity themselves. 

When you notice you have misplaced service in your cell machine, name your service instantly and allow them to know you did not make the modifications. The service will show you how to recuperate entry to your cellphone quantity. I am unable to emphasize this sufficient — don’t wait to name. The longer somebody has entry to your cellphone quantity, the extra injury they will do. 

Listed below are the customer support numbers for every main service. Put your service’s quantity in your cellphone as a contact:

  • AT&T: 1-800-331-0500
  • T-Cellular: 1-800-937-8997
  • Verizon: 1-800-922-0204

As soon as somebody features entry to your cellphone quantity, they will have entry to most of your on-line accounts. 

James Martin/PJDM

Along with your SIM card deactivated, you will not have the ability to name out of your cellphone, however at the least you will have the quantity helpful to make use of on another person’s machine. 

You may additionally need to attain out to your financial institution(s), bank card firm, and double-check your entire on-line accounts to ensure that the perpetrator hasn’t modified your passwords or made any fraudulent transactions. If you happen to discover transactions that are not yours, name your financial institution or go to a department instantly and clarify the state of affairs. 

Bear in mind, irrespective of what number of PIN codes or passwords we add to our on-line accounts, there’s nonetheless an opportunity that somebody will discover a method to break in. However at the least by setting a passcode to your account, and understanding what to do if you end up a sufferer of SIM swapping, you are ready. 

One other important side of sturdy on-line safety is to make use of a password manager to create and retailer distinctive passwords in your behalf. Moreover, allow two-factor authentication on each account that gives it. And, be sure to’re not falling for robocalls or scammy text messages

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Jason Cipriani