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Why you should protect your cellphone number like your social security number

Our personal information is always at risk of being stolen by cybercriminals. Whether it's a malicious link trying to trick us into giving up our credit card number, or login credentials to a site with sensitive data, we have to keep our guard up.

The modern-day scammer has numerous elaborate schemes at their disposal to find as many victims as possible. That's why it's so important not to do anything foolish that would give fraudsters an even greater chance at success.

Security risk you might not be aware of

For our entire lives, we've known that our Social Security number (SSN) is something that we shouldn't give out to just anyone. We are told to hide and protect them as if our life depends on it. That's because if a criminal gets their hands on your Social Security number, it can easily be used for fraud and identity theft purposes.

But what about your cellphone number?

Your cellphone number isn't just a tool that people can use to contact you. It is also used by many companies, including financial institutions and social networking sites, as a link to your private information.

One major distinction between a cell number and a Social Security number is the way they are protected. Social Security numbers are regulated and companies are required by law to keep them private. Cellphone numbers are not, and people tend to give them out without thinking of it as a security risk.

Who is at risk?

A government study shows that almost half of all U.S. households no longer had landlines by the end of 2015. However, those households did have at least one wireless telephone. The number of households with only wireless phone service has been increasing steadily over the last few years.

This puts young people at a higher risk of having their cellphone numbers used against them at some point. It's possible that someone who grows up in a house with no landline could have the same cellphone number their entire life.

Investigators say that cellphone numbers could be more valuable to a cybercriminal than Social Security numbers. That's because cell numbers are linked to many databases and are connected to a gadget that is almost always by your side.

Why criminals target phone numbers

Criminals looking to steal someone's identity or commit fraud have always tried getting a hold of the victim's Social Security number. According to the government, Social Security numbers were created in 1936 for the purpose of tracking the earnings histories of workers, for use in determining Social Security benefit entitlement and computing benefit levels.

The use of the SSN has expanded significantly since then and is now a universal identifier. This practice started to become popular in the 1960s when computers made it possible to create and store large digital files with people's information.

These files are stored on government and corporate databases. Hence, cybercriminals target these databases, looking for new identity theft victims.

The trend these days is moving toward scammers targeting cellphone numbers. As we stated earlier, cellphone numbers are tied to many databases that hold personal information. That makes them very lucrative targets, as they can lead the criminal to your personal information.

What you should do

Be cautious - You really need to think twice before giving out your cell number. Make sure any site that asks for your number is trustworthy.
Use two-factor verification - When available, use two-factor verification. This will send a security code SMS to your smartphone whenever someone tries to log into one of your accounts from an unknown device. This code, together with your password, will add extra layers of security to your account. Click here to learn more about two-factor verification.
Check your credit - You should check your credit report on a regular basis. This can tip you off if you are a victim of identity fraud. Make sure there are no credit accounts under your name that you did not open. Click here to learn how to get a free credit report.
Keep track of your bank accounts - If you believe there is a chance you are a victim of fraud it's a good idea to check your bank statements. Look for any suspicious activity and if you do find it, report it to your financial institution immediately. Click here to learn 3 critical steps for secure online banking.

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