What Is SIM Swapping? 3 Ways to Protect Your Smartphone

Tips & Advice

You consider yourself a responsible person when it comes to taking care of your physical possessions. You’ve never left your wallet in a taxi or lost an expensive ring down the drain. You never let your smartphone out of your sight, yet one day you notice it’s acting oddly.  

Did you know that your device can fall into cybercriminals’ hands without ever leaving yours? SIM swapping is a method that allows criminals to take control of your smartphone and break into your online accounts. 

Don’t worry: there are a few easy steps you can take to safeguard your smartphone from prying eyes and get back to using your devices confidently. 

What Is a SIM Card? 

First off, what exactly is a SIM card? SIM stands for subscriber identity module, and it is a memory chip that makes your phone truly yours. It stores your phone plan and phone number, as well as all your photos, texts, contacts, and apps. In most cases, you can pop your SIM card out of an old phone and into a new one to transfer your photos, apps, etc. 

What Is SIM Swapping? 

Unlike what the name suggests, SIM swapping doesn’t require a cybercriminal to get access to your physical phone and steal your SIM card. SIM swapping can happen remotely. A cybercriminal, with a few important details about your life in hand, can answer security questions correctly, impersonate you, and convince your mobile carrier to reassign your phone number to a new SIM card. At that point, the criminal can get access to your phone’s data and start changing your account passwords to lock you out of your online banking profile, email, and more. 

SIM swapping was especially relevant right after the T-Mobile data breach.1 Cybercriminals stole millions of phone numbers and the users’ associated personal details. Criminals could later use these details to SIM swap, allowing them to receive users’ text or email two-factor authentication codes and gain access to their personal accounts. 

How Can You Tell If You’ve Been SIM Swapped? 

The most glaring sign that your phone number was reassigned to a new SIM card is that your current phone no longer connects to the cell network. That means you won’t be able to make calls, send texts, or surf the internet when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi. Since most people use their smartphones every day, you’ll likely find out quickly that your phone isn’t functioning as it should.  

Additionally, when a SIM card is no longer active, the carrier will often send a notification text. If you receive one of these texts but didn’t deactivate your SIM card, use someone else’s phone or landline to contact your wireless provider. 

How to Prevent SIM Swapping 

Check out these tips to keep your device and personal information safe from SIM swapping.  

  1. Set up two-factor authentication using authentication apps. Two-factor authentication is always a great idea; however, in the case of SIM swapping, the most secure way to access authentication codes is through authentication apps, versus emailed or texted codes. It’s also a great idea to add additional security measures to authentication apps, such as protecting them with a PIN code, fingerprint, or face ID. Choose pin codes that are not associated with birthdays, anniversaries, or addresses. Opt for a random assortment of numbers.  
  2. Watch out for phishing attempts. Cybercriminals often gain fodder for their identity-thieving attempts through phishing. Phishing is a method cyber criminals use to fish for sensitive personal information that they can use to impersonate you or gain access to your financial accounts. Phishing emails, texts, and phone calls often use fear, excitement, or urgency to trick people into giving up valuable details, such as Social Insurance Numbers, birthdays, passwords, and PINs. Be wary of messages from people and organizations you don’t know. Even if the sender looks familiar, there could be typos in the sender’s name, logo, and throughout the message that are a good tipoff that you should delete the message immediately. Never click on links in suspicious messages. 
  3. Use a password manager. Your internet browser likely asks you if you’d like the sites you visit to remember your password. Always say no! While password best practices can make it difficult to remember all your unique, long, and complex passwords and passphrases, do not set up autofill as a shortcut. Instead, entrust your passwords and phrases to a secure password manager, such as True Key. A secure password manager makes it so you only have to remember one password. The rest of them are encrypted and protected by two-factor authentication. A password manager makes it very difficult for a cybercriminal to gain entry to your accounts, thus keeping them safe. 

Boost Your Smartphone Confidence 

With just a few simple steps, you can feel better about the security of your smartphone, cellphone number, and online accounts. If you’d like extra peace of mind, consider signing up for an identity theft protection service like McAfee Identity Protection Service. McAfee, on average, detects suspicious activity ten months earlier than similar monitoring services. Time is of the essence in cases of SIM swapping and other identity theft schemes. An identity protection partner can restore your confidence in your online activities. 

1T-Mobile data breach and SIM-swap scam: How to protect your identity 

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