10 Risks of Giving Out Your Cell Phone Number

Have you been giving your cell number to strangers without much thought? You could be a victim of scammers if you’re not careful.
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Many people today don’t use a landline phone. Most of us exclusively rely on our cell phones to stay connected with others. For this reason, you may be tempted to give out your cell number on different occasions.

You should keep your phone number private whenever possible due to all the information it contains. Allowing the wrong people to get this information opens you up to various risks.

If this list sends a chill down your spine, you’d be right to have concerns. Fortunately, there are ways you can mitigate the potential damage if you’ve given out your cell number. Read our guide on the risks of giving out your phone number and what you can do if it falls into the wrong hands, such as signing up for identity theft protection or using a data removal tool like DeleteMe or Incogni.

In this article
When is it safe to give out your cell phone number?
10 risks of giving out your cell phone number
1. Robocalls
2. Smishing
3. SIM swapping
4. Doxxing
5. Identity theft
6. Blackmail
7. Scammed friends and family
8. Stalking or other privacy concerns
9. Hacked bank accounts
10. Hacked social media accounts
What if your cell phone number fell into the wrong hands?
FAQs
Bottom line

When is it safe to give out your cell phone number?

There are times when you never want to make your phone number public. However, providing your direct number on social media is never a good idea. That gives tons of people access to your private information. You could open yourself up to harassment by strangers or scammers who target people by phone.

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Of course, there are times when it is reasonable to give out your cell number. People such as your health care provider and banking representative will need a way to contact you. A good rule of thumb is to only give your number to people who would have a legitimate reason to call or text you.

10 risks of giving out your cell phone number

Scammers and hackers can use your phone number in numerous ways to compromise your data. If you think a phone number is only a means of communication, think again. Some criminals use cell phone numbers to impersonate others, steal private information, and access financial benefits. That’s only a fraction of what can happen when you give your number to the wrong person.

It’s easy for criminals to access your entire life using a phone number. We’ll cover what scammers can do and how malicious they can be in more detail in the following sections. Some are worse than others, but none of them are fun for the victim.

1. Robocalls

Robocalls are those bothersome phone calls you get when you answer and hear a recorded message rather than a live person. These are almost always scams. One of the popular robocalls is the one regarding an expired warranty. 

Even if they aren’t scams, they may be unwanted calls. Sometimes these can be political ads asking for votes or donations. Some scammers can make a fake name show up on your caller ID, known as spoofing, to trick you into answering the call.

2. Smishing

Smishing (SMS texting plus phishing) is a type of phishing attack that uses text messaging. It has gained popularity because many people trust text messages to be legitimate. It’s also easier to find phone numbers than it is to get email addresses. Phone numbers have limited combinations, whereas email can use an infinite number of characters and combinations.

These scammers use smishing to steal your data by impersonating someone you may know and sending you a link to click to verify a suspicious bank charge or to donate to a worthy cause. Once you click the link, you’ll be asked to enter your financial information. The scammer then has access to your account.

3. SIM swapping

The SIM card is a small card that contains a chip and must be inserted for your mobile phone to work. The SIM card keeps lots of information, such as permission to make calls and receive or send text messages.

Scammers call your mobile carrier pretending to be you. They claim to have lost their phone’s SIM card. When a customer service rep activates a new SIM card for them, it ports your phone number to the scammer’s phone. After that, all your calls and texts go to that phone instead of yours. Now they have control of your phone without having your actual device.

SIM swapping also gives criminals access to your bank account information. Many people who invest in cryptocurrency could be at risk if they don’t secure their data and devices. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that SIM swapping is a growing crime, so you’ll want to be extra diligent and report it to your cell carrier immediately if you suspect it’s happened to you.

4. Doxxing

Doxxing is the term that refers to dropping information or documents about an adversary. This method is intended to expose your information for revenge. Doxxers can use any information they find about you and release it to the public.

The stakes can be high when it comes to doxxing if you’re involved in anything that could be embarrassing or inappropriate. In certain instances, someone could use doxxing to have someone fired or punished. That’s a good reason to check your privacy settings to keep things more secure.

5. Identity theft

When someone gets your phone number, that person can pretend to be you. Hackers can hijack your online accounts by getting password reset links sent to your phone number. They can fool automated systems by calling customer service and stealing your data, such as your credit card information.

Identity thieves can even break into your work email. When that happens, your employers could be exposed to data breaches. These scammers can find out plenty of information by running a search for your phone number online. Search sites such as Whitepages.com collect your personal information and in a few keystrokes, anyone can access your data. These sites also sell your information for profit, so it’s readily available to the public.

You can use a data removal service to quickly and easily request sites like Whitepages.com and LexisNexis remove your personal info. While searching for and submitting requests to hundreds of data broker sites might take you hundreds of hours to do on your own, these services do all the hard work for you. They also often follow up with monthly or quarterly checks to ensure your data hasn't reappeared online.

Some of the best data removal services include:

  • DeleteMe: If you need to remove more than just your personal info from the web, DeleteMe is worth a look. It scans 750+ sites for your info and shows removal request results in an easy-to-read dashboard. And you can sign up for plans that cover two or four people.

    Get DeleteMe | Read Our DeleteMe Review
  • Incogni: Created by Surfshark, makers of the virtual private network and antivirus by the same name, Incogni was quick to remove our info from broker sites when we put it to the test. It also works in the background to remove you from marketing lists, so you'll get fewer spam calls. Win-win.

    Get Incogni | Read Our Incogni Review

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    • Limits public access to your information and protects your data from theft
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    • Tracks and repeats removal requests if needed
    • No extra security features

  • HelloPrivacy: This simple but effective service scans more than 50 data broker sites for your info and sends opt-out requests on your behalf. You'll also see a monthly privacy report to see how well HelloPrivacy has cleaned up your data.

    Get HelloPrivacy | Read Our HelloPrivacy Review

6. Blackmail

Scammers can use your cell phone number to blackmail you. If they gain access to sensitive information, such as videos or photos you don’t want to be made public, they can threaten to release them. They will ask for a ransom to return the data back to you.

These hackers may access your number and get into your account through a storage service, such as iCloud. Once they see anything that may be damaging, they blackmail you for money. Some scammers even threaten to expose personal information on the dark web.

7. Scammed friends and family

It’s not only you that the scammers attack when they get your phone number. They may use identity theft to go after your friends and family members too. Scammers use your number to trick your loved ones into disclosing their personal information or sending money.

Once they take over your number, they send messages to people on your contact list. They may claim to need emergency financial help. As a result, your family or friends think you’ve been injured or need money for other emergent reasons. When they try to help you, they could wire money to the scammer instead.

8. Stalking or other privacy concerns

If you have a smartphone, you likely have GPS tracking services. Stalkers can use that service to track your location wherever you are, at any time. They can also steal information, such as your home address, from your device. If stalkers have enough technical knowledge, they can use apps to download your address book or pinpoint your exact location to find you.

They can also download malware to your cell phone. That software could help a stalker get more information about you, such as your personal shopping habits or banking information.

9. Hacked bank accounts

Because many people manage their finances from a cell phone, it gives hackers an easy target when they obtain your phone number. Scammers can use fake banking apps that resemble the ones you have. Once you download this “new” app, you enter your username and password and it goes to the hacker. Now they have your financial information.

You may also receive a mobile banking Trojan that replaces the legitimate banking app. When you install it, the Trojan scans your phone for financial information. To stay safe online, be sure you’re using your bank’s official app.

10. Hacked social media accounts

Many of us have had our social media accounts hacked. That can happen when hackers go to a social media homepage and click “forgot account,” then type in your phone number. That may send a text message to verify it’s you trying to gain access. Unfortunately, the hackers would redirect your text messaging to their phones. Once they get the text, they can log in as you and use your social media accounts.

What if your cell phone number fell into the wrong hands?

If you’ve noticed some unusual or suspicious activity regarding your phone number, you don’t have to worry that it’s too late. That could be your signal that a stranger is trying to use your number for unwanted activity, and you should take action quickly to mitigate any damages.

Change your online passwords that are associated with your cell phone number into strong passwords. Don’t forget to include social media and email accounts. You could also consider updating your phone number in online accounts.

You may want to consider enabling two-factor authentication on your accounts and adding security questions with answers only you know. That will give you an extra layer of cybersecurity and protection against scammers.

It’s also a good idea to check your credit report at least once per year to be sure there are no signs of fraud. The three major credit bureaus give you one free report each, so it costs nothing to review.

Contact your friends and family and let them know to watch for any suspicious activity. You may also want to call your cell phone service provider so they can put a note in your account not to talk to anyone without proper identification methods.

Identity theft protection adds further security

Identity theft protection services can help you spot fraud related to your phone number or other personal information quickly, which prevents fraudsters from doing more damage. Additionally, Norton LifeLock and other good identity protection plans offer identity recovery services to help you recoup any losses.

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  • Top-rated identity theft protection service
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FAQs


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Can I get scammed by giving out my phone number?

You can get scammed by giving out your cell phone number. Hackers can use any of the methods mentioned above to trick you once they have your private number. That can range from personal to financial scamming.


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What information can be obtained from a phone number?

The information obtained from a phone number can be financial, personal, or of a health care nature. Anything to do with your privacy could be compromised.


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Should I change my phone number if I get hacked?

You may not need to change your phone number if you get hacked. If you don’t want the hassle of giving everyone you know a new number, you can contact anyone who needs to be on the lookout for a scammer and change all passwords associated with your phone number.

Bottom line

As you can see, giving out your cell phone number to the wrong people can be damaging and cause you tons of frustration. You risk getting your identity, finances, and even loved ones into a potential scam.

You want to use precautions when giving out your cell phone number, which has now become a personal identifier. Pay attention to any online activity that requests your information. Enable two-factor authentication when possible to create better data security. Don’t click on any links you’re not sure about, as they could send you to a malicious site. And be sure to sign up for identity theft protection that includes recurring credit reports to check for fraudulent activity.

With these steps, you can avoid the unnecessary risks of getting scammed by a stranger. Staying vigilant and keeping your cell number private helps keep your data safe.

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On Incogni's website
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Incogni
50% discount on annual plan
  • Limits public access to your information and protects your data from theft
  • Sends removal requests on your behalf
  • Tracks and repeats removal requests if needed
  • No extra security features
Author Details
Patti Croft is a seasoned writer specializing in technology, with three years of experience. With a B.S. in Computer Science and a background as a technical analyst and security specialist, she covers a range of topics like data security and parental control software.