(WSPA) – Imagine someone stealing your phone number without ever having access to your phone.
The FBI warns SIM card swapping is a scam that’s on the rise, and the simple theft can give scammers just what they need to unlock the keys to your private information.
Michael Guyton in Gaffney had the same cell phone number for 15 years until one day in 2019 he said he will never forget.
“It was just a normal day. Looked down at my phone. No service. I was trying to figure out what in the world was going on, calling my provider, couldn’t even call my provider, 611 or nothing like that, my provider didn’t exist,” he said.
Guyton said he wasn’t late on his bill, but when he finally got ahold of his carrier, they said his number had been ported out.
“I lost my cell phone number, anything tied to that number. Anything, well besides pictures, anything with that phone number was gone. I was sick, because a few days later, I had money missing,” said Gyton.
Guyton says his Direct Express account that he uses to pay for insulin was nearly drained.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
It might sound strange, but not to tech experts like Phil Yanov in Greenville. This spring, the same type of SIM swapping happened to his friend.
“He had someone who was attacking his bank information who was so sophisticated that they went in and spoofed and took over his telephone number,” Yanov explained. “So, the first thing they did was they went in and grabbed his phone number from him and then logged into his bank trying to do SMS verification against but having another phone that was getting the text messages.”
The term SIM swapping comes from the small card that connects your phone number to your account. But the scammer doesn’t actually need to steal it.
All they need is your phone number and some private information so they can call your carrier pretending they are you.
The FBI said victims lost $68 million to this SIM swapping in 2021, compared to just $12 million in the three-year period between 2018 and 2020.
The founder of Scamicide, Steve Weisman, said SIM swapping used to target celebrities and now anyone is vulnerable. Weisman said scammers would not need a lot of information to pull this off.
“And that’s the interesting thing because it sounds like it’s very complicated but what the scammers do is they call your carrier, they answer a simple security question, sometimes it may be ‘what was your mother’s maiden name’ or anything like that,” Weisman explained. “And that allows them to pose as you and get the cell phone carrier and mobile service to swap the SIM card into their card.”
The FBI warns one group of people who are especially vulnerable to this scam are people who deal in cryptocurrency, because those digital wallets are highly coveted.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Weisman says you can protect yourself by:
- setting up a pin number with your carrier
- requesting only in person SIM card changes
- giving out a Google number to anybody other than close contacts
Take it from Guyton, those extra steps are well worth it.
“They’re not exactly stealing your phone, but whenever they steal your number, that’s the beginning point they need to ruin your life,” Guyton said. “‘Cause once they steal your phone number they can back their way into your accounts, they can get your sensitive information, and the next thing you know you’re going to be having 30 Amazon orders that you didn’t make. And they ain’t going to your house.”
Guyton said that actually happened to him after his number was taken.
Fortunately, he could prove to Amazon it was not his porch.