What Is A Sim Swap?
A sim swap is a form of modern identity theft where a cyber criminal convinces a wireless carrier, like AT&T or Verizon, that your phone number is not connected to your phone anymore, but rather to a sim card the hacker holds. The hacker can then get all your texts sent to their device, instead. This is problematic because if someone, like your bank, texts you a code to verify your identity, the hacker gets that code and can log in as you.
This can obviously have huge consequences if it happens to you, and it could take a long time to repair the damage done. In this article, we’ll get deeper into what SIM swapping is, how it works, how you can avoid it, and what to do if you think it may have happened to you. If you need a new phone after being a sim swap scam victim, you can use our free, unbiased Phone Deal Finder to find the best deals on the latest phones you qualify for at your current carrier and competitors.
What is a SIM Card?
Let’s quickly define what a SIM card is, so you can understand exactly how a SIM swap attack works.
Your SIM card is the small chip or card that was inserted into your phone when you first got it. SIM stands for subscriber identity module. You can think of it as kind of like your phone’s ID. It’s what allows you to connect your device to your mobile network. Your SIM card contains personalized information such as your phone number and a contact list.
Without a SIM card, your phone can’t make calls or texts, basically turning it into nothing more than a Wi-Fi-enabled paperweight. The very importance of the SIM card makes it a prime target for people who are attempting an account takeover to steal your information and potentially impersonate you.
How Does SIM Swapping Work?
SIM Swapping is when hackers exploit your phone’s two-factor authentication system. It’s not an easy hack – people who do this put in a lot of preparation work and are normally skilled hackers.
Fraudsters start by calling your mobile carrier and pretending to be you. They report that their SIM card was damaged and request that the carrier activate a new SIM card.
They then use data that they already learned about you to beat your security questions. They typically get this data by searching through your social media accounts to look for pet names, your mother’s maiden name, your date of birth, and locations where you might have met your spouse, all of which are common answers to security questions.
If the carrier is successfully fooled, they will send the new SIM card connected to your existing phone number to the scammers. Now these scammers have access to your phone number, your phone history, and your contacts.
Why is this so bad? Here’s an example: They might try to log into your bank account by using your email address. The bank will detect a new device and say, “Hey, that’s weird. Better send them a text to make sure they are who they say they are.”
The bank then sends the hacker an SMS with a one-time passcode to verify the identity of the person logging in. Normally, this works well to confirm identities. But in the case of sim swappers, it plays right into their hands. They confirm the number and successfully log into your accounts.
This process gives them access to virtually any of your online accounts.
How to Tell If You Are a Victim?
The worrying thing is that you might not immediately realize if you’ve been a victim of sim swapping. Here are some red flags that can pop up to indicate that you’re a victim of SIM swap fraud:
- You can’t access your mobile network
- You are locked out of your accounts
- You see unauthorized activity
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is keep an eye on your devices and accounts to be sure that these things are not happening to you. Let’s break each one down.
You Can’t Access Your Mobile Network
This is the most obvious one: can’t make phone calls or send text messages through your mobile network? If this is happening to you, your current SIM card may have been deactivated by a scammer when they requested a new one.
Look out for notifications that your SIM card has been activated on a different device, as this could be a sign of SIM swapping.
You Are Locked Out of Your Accounts
This is an instant red flag. If you can't access important accounts such as your banking accounts, call your bank immediately to go over any transactions you don’t recognize. Scammers may have already taken control of your account, and you need to have your bank freeze your account.
You See Unauthorized Activity
This last one’s a little more subtle. If you see banking activity or social media activity that you did not authorize or do yourself, someone may have taken control of your phone number and is accessing your accounts.
If they have full access to your accounts, it is even possible that they’ve disabled notifications, so it is important to check your accounts regularly and diligently.
What Can You Do About a SIM Swap?
The best measures you can take to make sure you aren’t a victim of SIM swapping are preventative. For starters, keep a close eye on your accounts and keep your information off the internet. Use security questions that couldn’t be answered with a simple Google search. Don’t ever comment on those weird Facebook posts that say, “Comment the name of your dog and your date of birth below!” Educate yourself about spotting and avoiding common scams like phishing emails to keep your information out of the hands of scammers.
In addition to this, increase your security in whatever way you can. Make sure you have strong passwords and solid security questions. Using a password manager and authentication apps for your important accounts can make it much harder for a SIM swap to happen. Allows allow notifications for your accounts and make sure your important information is password protected. If you suspect a breach, acting fast is critical if you ever think you may have had your SIM swapped.
The Bottom Line
SIM swapping happens more often than you might think. Keep your data secure, and don’t share too much of your personal information online. Monitor activity related to your personal SIM card to make sure you are the only one accessing your phone number.
SIM swapping is hard to fight, but there are plenty of things you can do to keep your data safe. Changes in your behaviors and your security measures will go a long way toward keeping you protected from online threats.
If you need a new phone after having been the victim of a SIM swap, you can find the best deals on the latest phones you qualify for with our Phone Deal Finder below. It’s free, unbiased and here to help.