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Many of us share our cellphone number without a second thought.   Yet, our cellphone number is linked to private information maintained by many companies and business transactions conducted with our cell phone. These include medical records, business contacts, social networks, banks and money lenders.  These companies look at patterns to determine what we might buy, check online, or even watch on television.

Unlike our Social Security number, our cellphone number does not have to be kept private by companies.  We have learned we need to protect our Social Security number and not give it out randomly.  However, if asked most of us share our cellphone number without a second thought, especially if we are completing a business form.

Unlike a home phone number that many people shared, the cellphone is an individual number for one person.  Youth may have the same cellphone number for the rest of their lives, making it easy for someone to get lots of information quickly.  Austin Berglas, a former F.B. I. agent said a cellphone number is often more useful than a Social Security number, as the cellphone number is tied to so many databases, and the device is almost always with you.   No one else will ever be given the same Social Security number you have, but if you give up your phone number it will probably be resigned to someone else.  That person could get text messages for you using that phone number.

Many banks, payment systems like PayPal and other companies are using text messages with a temporary personal identification number to give people a way to borrow money or purchase an item.  This is a convenient feature for cellphone use, but what happens if the information is stolen?  .

What can we do to protect our phones?  These are some recommendations from some experts:

  1. Always have a strong password or use the fingerprint available on newer phones. Don’t share your password.
  2. Create a PIN number for your mobile phone account.
  3. Use the device auto-lock feature, so it is not staying open.iphone-37856__340
  4. Only download apps from your trusted app store.
  5. Set up remote wipe which can remotely wipe clean your phone if you lose your device.
  6. When on public WIFI, use a VPN.
  7. Update your phone and apps when updates are available. Don’t delay.
  8. Opt for the built-in encryption feature on your phone or install one.

A new app “Sideline” allows you to add a second number to your cellphone which you can give out instead of your personal number.  I am not experienced with this feature, but it could provide an option.  Think twice before you give out your cellphone.  Give them a work number instead, if possible.

Author:  Pat Brinkman, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Fayette County

Reviewer:  Beth Stefura, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Mahoning County

References:

Coombs, C. (2016). The Latest Identity Theft Target: Your Cell Phone, Techlicious.  Available at http://www.techlicious.com/tip/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cell-phone-account-identity-theft/#.WIYcAKe3GkE.email

Lohr, S. (2016). A 10-Digit Key Code to Your Private Life:  Your Cellphone number.  The New York Times   Available at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/13/business/cellphone-number-social-security-number-10-digit-key-code-to-private-life.html?_r=0

Stringfellow, A. (2016). Cell Phone Security  30 Tech Experts Share Important Steps to Securing Your Smartphone.  TCC Verizon  Available at https://www.tccrocks.com/blog/cell-phone-security-tips/

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