Beware: New Identity Theft Scams On Your Cell Phone

Cell Phone Identity Theft ScamsAnyone who has spent time researching or reading about identity theft is most likely aware of some common scams—phishing, shoulder surfing, fake Craigslist ads—that we are susceptible to as online consumers. With these scams cropping up in increasing numbers, it is important to exercise caution when engaging in online activities, but the computer is no longer the only point of access that identity thieves are using to target its victims. Cell phones are the latest technologic platform for a new brand of scams.

Whether you’re the proud owner of a new smartphone or still playing Snake on your original Nokia brick, be wary of these new tactics that could make you a victim of identity theft:


Smishing Text Message Cell Phone ScamThis new technique lures its victims in by informing them via text message (and/or email) that they have won a prize. The message instructs the recipient to click on a link contained within the body of the text in order to redeem their free prize. The provided link is “infected” and if clicked, will allow malware to download onto the device, thus compromising the phone’s security.

The installed malware will give the scammer remote access to your phone with the ability to control its functions, access your personal and banking information, and detect sound and audio from your current surroundings—all this from any location in the world.

Preventative Measures

  • Install security/anti-malware software on your phone or computer.
  • Be wary of links from unfamiliar sources; it you don’t recognize it, don’t click it.

Disguised Phone Calls

Disguised Phone Calls Identity Theft ScamIn this scam, there are potentially two victims. First, the perpetrator will extract information from your social media/web profiles, like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, basically anything that publicly displays personal information about you; then they will use the information to make a convincing phone call to either you (pretending to be a family member or friend) or to a family member or friend (pretending to be you), asking for money.

What makes this deception so believable is that the thieves have the ability to change the caller ID on the incoming phone call so that it appears as the name and number of the actual friend or family member that they are pretending to be. (One way they could do this is through the malware downloaded in a Smishing text message.)

Preventative Measures

  • Remove any personal information from your social media or web profile pages.
  • Implement strong security settings on your profile pages.
  • Don’t always trust your caller ID. Since the thieves have the ability to change it, you can’t be sure if the person on the other line is who they say they are. If the phone call seems suspicious in any way, trust your instinct and verify the caller’s identity before giving them any money or information.

The Consequences of Identity Theft

The Consequences of Identity TheftOne of the most significant consequences of identity theft is the far-reaching, negative impact it can have on your credit standing. Once your personal and banking information has been compromised, identity thieves have the ability to make fraudulent charges and open new accounts under your name. The road to credit recovery is a long one; if your information gets into the wrong hands the financial damage can be irreversible, destroying your credit and, in turn, your ability to take out a loan, a mortgage, open a new credit card, rent a home—the list goes on.

The best way to prevent identity theft is by closely and frequently monitoring your account transactions in your online and monthly statements. This way you can spot any suspicious activity as soon as it happens and inform the appropriate party of the credit errors, be it your bank or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As a consumer, you are allowed one free credit report a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. This is a smart, economical way to catch any errors or unauthorized activity. 

Here are some additional iGrad resources to help you learn about ways you can protect yourself against scams or theft of your personal information and/or money, and what you can do if you've already been a victim.

Financial Literacy: Protect Yourself from Identity Theft (Video)

How to Stop Identity Theft (Video)

The Many Faces of Identity Theft

Can You Protect Yourself from Online Hackers

Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number (PDF)

Identity Crisis: What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen (PDF)

Helping Consumers Avoid Internet Fraud (PDF)

About the Author: Mackenzie Maher

Mackenzie Maher graduated in 2010 from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a BA in Global Studies and a minor in Professional Writing, with an editing emphasis. Mackenzie’s diverse portfolio also includes writing, editing, photography, and documentary script writing on such subjects as travel, career, and finance. Next to writing, she is most passionate about world travel (she has visited 24 countries).

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