If you’ve used an email provider in the past few years, you may have been asked to provide a phone number to help verify your account. As we start to conduct more and more of our everyday tasks online – like paying bills and shopping – it has become increasingly important for many web providers to verify your identity and prevent others from abusing your account. Your phone number is one of the easiest ways to verify your identity with an online service provider.
How does phone verification work?
When you’re creating an account or trying to recover a lost password, you may be asked to enter your phone number. Your provider will send you a text message ‒ or call your phone ‒ with a verification code, which you can then enter online. This lets the provider know that you’re a real person and not someone else trying to gain access to your account. Basically, it’s an easy way to prove that you are who you say you are.
Does phone verification pose a risk to my privacy?
Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their phone number with large companies and email providers. While it may seem like a lot of personal information to give away, it’s important to realize that phone verification primarily exists to protect your account. It’s highly unlikely that your phone number would be used for any other reason.
While we can’t speak from a legal perspective, we can say that almost everyone in our office has used phone verification for several online services over the past few years. We’ve never been contacted by these providers except to verify our accounts, nor do we have any reason to believe that the phone numbers were sold to advertisers or telemarketers. It may help to think of phone verification like providing an emergency contact number. If something goes wrong with your account, it will be easier for the online service provider to contact you directly.
Some services even let you use a phone number as part of a two-step verification program. Basically, whenever you sign on to your account from a new computer, you’ll need to use your phone to enter a verification code. This makes it much more difficult for someone else to hack into your account. For more information about two-step verification (or two-factor authentication), check out the Two Steps Ahead campaign.
Do I have any other options?
There are some web and email services that do not require phone verification; for more information, visit http://www.gcflearnfree.org/internetsafety/i-have-to-provide-my-phone-number-using-phone-verification.
About the Author
Bill Fisher is an instructional designer with GCFLearnFree.org, a program of Goodwill Community Foundation (GCF) and Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina Inc. (GIENC). For more information, visit gcflearnfree.org.
A version of this blog post originally appeared on GCFLearnFree.org.