What is a phone number port-out scam?

2020-02-24 - 4 min read

You check your phone and are frustrated to find that the last three text messages you’ve sent haven’t gone through. You’ve got enough data left to send them, so what’s the issue? You spot the dreaded words ‘network unavailable’ in the top right corner of your screen. Unfortunately, you’ve been the victim of a port-out scam.

What is a port-out scam?

A port-out scam is also known by a handful of other terms: SIM swap scam, SIM splitting, simjacking. The fraud revolves around the process of transferring a phone number over to a different service provider. A process most of us are familiar with – why would you go through the effort of trying to remember a new number? You can just keep transferring the same number you’ve had since you were a teenager.

Someone with a touch of criminal know-how will be able to steal that number. It begins with gaining hold of some of your personal details. They can get these through various ways – hacking your computer or even something as simple as pretending to be someone else over the phone. If you’re unlucky, your information could be sold to them through criminal organizations.

Once the necessary amount of detail is gained, the fraud will then contact your service provider. They will pretend to be you and attempt to get your number transferred to a cell phone of their choosing.

Not all of the details required are particularly hard to find for someone who knows what they are looking for. They include simple information like:

  • Your middle name

  • Your date of birth

  • Your address

  • Your social security number

  • Your email address

What happens now they have my number?

Now they will receive all the messages that were intended for your eyes only. Those one-time-passcodes (OTPs) that are sent to your phone when trying to authorize changes? The fraud now has those.

With this power, the criminal can break into your bank account, social media accounts, or anything else that requires secondary authentication with the use of a code sent to your phone.

The most alarming part of the port-out scam is that you won’t even be aware of what’s happening until it’s too late. How could you? All the alerts and warnings that would typically bombard your phone are now received by a criminal intent on disrupting your life – either through clearing out your bank account or abusing your social media.

How do I protect myself from port-out scams?

Once bitten, twice shy – if you’ve been a victim before, you’re going to make every attempt and precaution available not to let it happen again. As with all kinds of fraudulent behavior, the best way to prevent such things happening is to educate yourself.

Here’s what you can do to reinforce your security against phone porting:

  • Get a password manager. The best way to prevent anyone from guessing your password? An encrypted app that will automatically create and store jumbled, cryptic passwords – alongside auto-filling in the required fields when needed, so you don’t need to remember them. NordPass is the perfect addition to your arsenal.

  • Apply a security PIN to every account that will allow it. A code that you’ll have to enter before any changes can be applied. Whether it’s changing your service provider or SIM card, no one will be able to do anything without this code. Don’t make this PIN an obvious number – make it a unique combination you’ve never used before.

  • Be wary of any ‘do-this-now-to-save-your-account’ messages. Take notice of the language of the message – it’s trying to bait you into doing something rash. Ever had a pop-up on your computer that flashes red and tells you that your desktop is suddenly infected with a virus? It’s the same concept, so don’t fall for these fear tactics. Banks or phone service providers will never use that kind of loaded language.

  • Take advantage of what’s readily available to you. Banks will offer a plethora of security options to strengthen your digital defenses. Try to avoid using SMS OTPs – instead, opt for two-factor authentication. All banks now provide alerts straight to your email that will warn you of any suspicious behavior on your account. Make sure you turn that feature on. All these security additions will take less than 5 minutes to set up, and it can save you hours worth of grief.

  • Call your bank or service provider. All these companies will have a customer service helpline. If you’re questioning potential suspicious conduct, then call them up and inquire about the most recent activity on your account.

Luckily, network providers have cottoned on to these tactics and most will ask for further proof of identification alongside your static information (name, date of birth, address). However, this doesn’t mean you can now relax regarding your security methods.

Most fraudsters will give up on the first hurdle, so make sure you provide a full Olympics track worth of them – they’ll move on to easier prey than you.

Benjamin Scott
Benjamin Scott
Verified author
Ben is our tech geek. He analyses difficult topics and brings them to the reader in a nice and simple language. In his free time, he loves to compete, so he likes to participate in various marathons and triathlons.
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