We’ve never been more connected than we are today – from tablets to wearable technologies to doorbells and security cameras, we can easily tune-in from anywhere.
Being so connected means being more exposed online, and that can potentially lead to serious threats. Some consumers may not understand how their data is being used or exposed, and that’s okay. Protecting your online presence may feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post, we’ll explain how to understand your at-risk data, how to identify if your information is exposed, and how to protect yourself online, with a special focus on protecting your phone number.
The first step in protecting yourself and your personal information online is paying attention to what and where you share. From name, address, and phone number to financial information and geolocation, it is important that consumers understand who they are sharing personal information with online and what protections are in place to keep that information safe. According to the FTC, knowing cybersecurity basics and putting them to use will protect your online identity and reduce the risk of any cyber attacks.
Some tips to protect your personal information online include:
- Do a Google search of yourself and your phone number. This is a quick and easy way to understand what pieces of your personal information are readily available online.
- Carefully read the terms of service and privacy policies. When signing up for any services, these policies can alert you to any potential misuse of your data.
- Sign up for an online identity monitoring service. Services like LifeLock can be useful tools for proactively understanding whether your personal information has been compromised.
- Use a password manager. Password managers like Keeper allow you to more easily leverage strong and unique passwords that may otherwise be difficult to remember, ensuring better protection of your accounts.
Not following these precautions comes with serious risk. At Teltech, we specialize in protecting our users’ phones and know first-hand how dangerous exposing your phone number online can be. Spammers often acquire large lists of phone numbers and other personal information to use in propagating their scams, and those lists are filled with the numbers of unsuspecting consumers that innocently provided theirs to an online service or form, not realizing the terms of service they were agreeing to. Americans received 61.4 billion robocalls in 2019, a 28% increase from 2018. Spam calls range from IRS impersonators, computer security administrators, vehicle warranty warnings, and foreign language scams.
Spammers will also take advantage of situations where you might be more vulnerable to fall for their scams. At the height of the COVID- 19 pandemic in the US, spam call angles shifted from everyday insurance claims to messages related to contact tracing, testing kits, and even call to actions to donate PPE to front line workers.
And it’s not just phone calls – text messages present a newer threat in cybersecurity. The messages often contain links that could lead to a virus, install malware on your phone, or connect you to a scam that may ask for personal information.
How is your phone number exposed?
There are many ways your phone number is exposed, and you might not be aware how many ways your data is shared online.
- Your phone number could be linked to your social media or other online account. Check the settings on your social media profiles to make sure personal information like your phone number is made private.
- You overshared your phone number. You may have entered your information for a free trial, contest, or other online form, which potentially opened you up to receiving unwanted calls.
- You accepted the terms and conditions without reading the entire Terms of Service. Make sure to read the terms and conditions to see exactly where your information is being shared.
- You provided your phone number for a product you purchased. You also may provide your phone number to retailers for loyalty points or discounts.
- Your phone number was part of a data breach, making you easily accessible to scammers. Companies involved in data breaches must disclose what information was exposed. If you are unsure if your information was included, call the company directly and inquire.
Here are some proactive steps you can take right now to protect yourself:
Scammers are constantly trying new tricks – from neighbor spoofing (disguising phone numbers to look like a local caller) to Deepfakes (replicating speaking styles and emotion used in daily conversation), and even gathering other personal information about you from social media and other online resources to try to prove their authenticity when contacting you. Putting yourself on a do not call list is not enough consumers must play an active role in protecting themselves online.
- Know where your information is shared publicly – do regular searches of your name and phone number.
- Let unknown calls go to voicemail. Unless you recognize the number, don’t pick up the phone.
- Never share personal information over the phone. Some callers may already have specific information about you, making the call seem legitimate, but you shouldn’t provide them with any additional information.
- Avoid following any requested prompts like pressing 1.
- Add your phone number to the Do Not Call Registry. While this will not eliminate all of the calls, it will help keep your number off robocall lists.
- Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
- Don’t “log-in” to websites and apps from unsecured wifi networks.
- Download a spam call blocking app like RoboKiller to equip your phone with the latest protection from potential scams.