Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of multiple nuisance phone calls and wondered how spammers get your phone number? It’s frustrating to find you’re getting scam calls day after day, and these seem to get more prevalent every year. Scam calls cost American citizens billions each year.
A lot of people are baffled though – because how do spammers and scammers acquire phone numbers in the first place? If you’re vigilant about who you give your number, you may be even more confused about how this works, so let’s find out!
Shadowy World of Phone Number Harvesting
Phone number harvesting is a big problem today; phone numbers are valuable information, and spammers have found several ways to collect phone numbers from the internet. One such way is by offering a website that provides free ringtones, but only to people who enter their phone numbers.
Another is to trawl online directories and public databases, which often store a lot of this information, and can be used to collect bulk phone numbers. Sites like Yellow Pages and Yelp contain huge amounts of valid phone numbers.
Many scammers will simply download a huge list, and go through calling as many as they can. Some scammers may also share number databases. That means that if your phone number appears in any of these databases, you’re likely to be targeted by multiple scammers at once – it’s not going to be limited to a single source.
There are also lots of tools available that allow spammers to “scrape” websites and forums to harvest phone numbers. Scraping is an automated method of collecting data from a website, and scammers may be able to get hundreds of numbers per minute using these methods.
Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are common targets of scraping because they contain a lot of personal information. Despite the sites taking measures to prevent scraping, it’s still an issue, and something that everybody using these websites should be aware of. Other sites can also be targeted by scraping.
Online Data Breaches and Your Phone Number
Data breaches are another common way for scammers to get phone numbers. Many legitimate companies collect phone numbers so that they can get in touch when necessary, whether that’s about products or services, your account, etc.
In theory, these companies hold your data securely, but sometimes, breaches happen. Companies are frequently targeted by hackers because it’s known that they hold large sources of very valuable information.
A successful hacking attempt usually results in many sensitive customer data, including phone numbers, getting released online. Hackers may sell it, or use it themselves – so data breaches frequently result in phone number security being compromised.
There’s also a risk that other information may get compromised, which can increase the chances of you becoming a target for this sort of attack. For example, if your address is also compromised, scammers may be more likely to target you.
A company is required to report any data breaches that it becomes aware of to customers who may have been affected. It’s very important to pay attention if a company informs you that a data breach has occurred, and to follow any action that they advise. They may request password resets, updated security questions, etc.
It’s also a good idea to update other passwords and logins following this sort of breach, especially if you use the same information on other websites or with other companies. Even if you don’t, changing passwords and monitoring your accounts for suspicious activity can be wise.
You should only give your information to companies that legitimately need it, to minimize the risk of a data breach occurring in the first place.
Other things you can do to protect yourself – to an extent – from data breaches include using complex passwords that are unique for every service/organization, and changing them if a breach occurs.
You can also set up fraud alerts with your credit card company if you believe your data has been compromised, and keep an eye on all your financial activity. Let other companies know that your data has been compromised.
If your number is being targeted by an excessive number of calls, you may wish to change it. You could also speak to your phone provider about call filtering options, or look into apps that block unknown callers.
Social Media’s Role in Phone Number Exposure
There are quite a lot of things that you may be able to do to protect your phone number, and one of the biggest things is being careful about oversharing on social media platforms. Think very carefully before you post your number anywhere that it may be publicly visible.
Scammers often harvest information that is publicly available on social media sites, and use this to build up call lists. Bear in mind that they’ll also get other information from your social media profile, including your name, possibly your birthday, your address, your family/friends, and more. This puts them in a powerful position to scam you.
It’s a good idea to check what information is publicly available on any social media profile you have. You can do this by visiting your profile on a different browser (so you’re not logged in) and checking your profile to see what a stranger would see.
You should also take time to regularly review your privacy settings, and adjust them to make sure you don’t display information publicly unless you specifically intend to. Look at things like “friends of friends” settings, and make sure you know who has access to what.
There are quite a lot of social media scams out there, and they can be very damaging. You could end up with your data or your identity being stolen, your finances being compromised, or your device being infected with malware.
Scammers often pretend to be celebrities and build up a relationship, then ask for money. Some individuals run online dating scams and trick individuals into sending them money. Some send out malicious links, or post ads to fake stores that steal your banking information or personal information.
Social media should always be treated with caution for this reason, and you should be wary about the information you choose to share publicly online. It may not just be your friends who are viewing it!
Direct Marketing and Surveys
Another way in which scammers may get your number is through direct marketing and surveys, and this is very frustrating. Some unscrupulous companies will sell your data to third parties when you agree to do a survey or sign up for a promotion.
It’s a good idea to read the fine print and check what the company is allowed to do in terms of sharing your contact information. If there’s no information or if it says that they may pass it to third parties, you should avoid dealing with the company.
It’s also a good idea to “opt-out” whenever you’re given this option. Most firms will have a box you can check that says you don’t want to receive marketing calls, and ticking this is a good idea. Depending on your state, you may also be able to put your number on a “do not call” list, although the impact that these lists have is variable.
Publicly Listed Numbers and Business Directories
Having a publicly listed number in a directory may seem like a good idea if you’re running a business. Still, it will often result in spam calls because scammers use these directories to harvest numbers.
This is a tricky line to walk, because you want your business’s number to be available to your customers, and you want it to be easy to find. However, you don’t want to advertise it to every spammer out there, or you’ll be constantly on the phone.
Registering for a do-not-call list can be one strategy for managing this. You can also speak to your phone provider about options they may offer for filtering calls and protecting you from spam.
If your phone number is displayed on your website, you may wish to place it on a page that is unindexed on Google. This may make it harder for spammers to find you and could protect you from ending up on lists of stolen numbers.
Protecting Your Number
Safeguarding your phone number can be tricky, whether you’re an individual or a business. However, there are a few things you can do.
One of them is to avoid giving your phone number out to anybody unless it is strictly necessary. If a business requires your phone number, you should ask them about their policies on protecting it, and who it might be shared with. Decline permission for things like direct marketing, and opt-out whenever you are given the choice to do so.
You should also use strong, unique passwords for all the sites you use online, particularly banking sites. If you need to keep copies of these, put them in a physical notebook that’s not kept near your computer/other devices.
Remember to also check in with our earlier points about not putting your phone number on social media if you can avoid it, and regularly reviewing your privacy settings to make sure your information is locked to “friends only” where feasible.
Using tools like Number Tracker Pro can also be useful if you want to increase your security. This will let you check who is calling by entering their phone number online, so it can be a great way to stop spammers dead in their tracks and keep yourself safe.
All you have to do to utilize this tool is enter a number into the search box and buy some credits. The site will tell you who the number belongs to and whether it has been associated with any scams or nuisance calls. Doing this whenever an unknown number reaches out to you is an excellent precautionary step that you can take.
Spammers have a lot of different methods for getting phone numbers, so it can be very difficult to effectively prevent them from doing so. You should be cautious about who you give your phone number to, and where you put it online, but also be wary of any unknown numbers that contact you.
If an unknown number does call, it’s a good idea to make use of tools like Number Tracker Pro so you can check whether they are likely to be from a legitimate business, or whether they’re associated with spam. This adds a secondary layer of security and gives you more control over who you answer the phone to.