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Avoid SIM card swapping

by TERRI DICKERSON/The Consumer Gal
| October 28, 2021 1:00 AM

SIM card swapping is a dangerous cell phone scam we should be aware of. Since most of us own cell phones today, and our phones are susceptible to this type of scam, it is important that we avoid SIM card swapping to protect our accounts and private information.

In a nutshell, SIM card swapping happens when a bad actor is able to take control of the personal information stored on your SIM card by using it on another phone. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a successful SIM swap can occur if a scammer is able to impersonate you and make contact with your phone service provider with a bogus story.

For example, the story they might tell could be that "their" cell phone was lost or damaged, so they ask the service provider to activate a new SIM card connected to your phone number on a new phone — but the new phone is one the scammer owns, not you.

Once the scammer activates this new phone, they now have access to your bank account, social media accounts, email account and anything else you may have stored on your device. So even if you have two-factor authentication, the scammer now has access to your phone number and email so they can access any security codes sent through an email or text message.

Verizon has put several security enhancements in place, such as requiring customers to complete enhanced authentication steps to perform a SIM card change or device change request. Customers are encouraged to set up two-factor authentication inside the free My Verizon app (on both Apple and Android phones) and you can enable a port freeze. This will prevent your number from being ported out to another carrier without first removing the port freeze. Call *611 from your mobile phone for more details.

T-Mobile has subscribers set up PINs (personal identification numbers) that they use to log into their accounts so their number cannot be ported without verification of that PIN.

SIM swapping is a serious problem that can end up costing victims. If you get a strange notification asking you to verify some of your personal information, do no reply. This could even be from the carrier, because someone is trying to activate a SIM swap on another device without your knowledge. You can call your carrier to discuss the notification if you are confused.

Some added precautions offered by many phones include fingerprint ID and facial recognition. In addition, for added protection consider an authentication app. This protects sensitive information by generating a new code every 30 seconds that you must input into your device to open and use it. And finally, do not store your usernames and passwords to your accounts on your device.

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Amazon impersonators are persistent

I’ve received several additional emails and calls from readers that Amazon has contacted them about a recent purchase and to tell them their account has been hacked. The problem is, some of these readers haven’t made a recent purchase or don’t have an Amazon account, so they know it’s a scam.

It isn’t surprising that this scam continues to persist, because scammers play the odds and the probability of someone having an Amazon account is high. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), about one in three people who reported a similar impersonator scam say the scammer pretended to be Amazon.

The two most popular variations include scammers who offer you a refund for an unauthorized purchase, but “accidentally” transfer more than promised — and then ask you to return the difference. What really happens is the scammer moves your own money from a checking to a savings account to make it look like you were refunded, so when you send back the difference, they keep it.

In the other version, scammers say that hackers accessed your account and the only way to protect it is to purchase gift cards and then share the gift card numbers and PINs on the back. Of course, once you do that the information is theirs — along with the money.

If you receive any notifications from Amazon (or anyone else for that matter), do not call back or click on any links to access your account. Instead, log into your Amazon account directly to verify all activity. Never pay for anything with gift cards and don’t give anyone you don’t know remote access to your computer.

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Watch out for chat bot scams

You get a text message from what appears to be a wrong number, because the text sounds personal. The message usually starts out like this: “Hey is this Karen? It’s Terri and I wanted to follow up on our conversation from last week about the weight loss product that has been a real game changer.”

Since your name is not Karen, it could be tempting to send a polite, “Sorry, wrong number” text. However, by engaging with this stranger who is really a chat bot, you might be subjecting yourself to sign up for a service or product you don’t intend to.

There are three ways to avoid chat bot scams:

  1. Ignore texts from strangers. If you engage with a scammer they will mark your number as active and you will receive even more shady texts.
  2. Block numbers that appear to come from scammers. Unsolicited texts probably come from chat bots and are not safe. Block these numbers to prevent them from contacting you again.
  3. Never give out your personal information to strangers via phone, text or email. Also, avoid entering contests hosted by an unknown group or person; they are likely trying to harvest your personal information.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at (208) 274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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