Many people believe that their cellular phone record is secure and private, while in reality, it isn't very secure at all.
The Security of Your Cellular Phone Record
A number of data brokers and private investigation firms offer to uncover personal data about individuals for a fee ranging from $30 up to $200. One item private data brokers sell includes a person's cellular phone record.
While access to your cell phone record may not cause most people much concern (who cares if you ordered a pizza at one in the morning?), for other people involved in any of the following activities, it may cause significant problems.
- Involved in an extra-marital relationship
- Involved in an illegal activity
- A CEO of a corporation
- Any famous personality
- Anyone being victimized by a stalker
There are several methods data brokers use to obtain a cellular phone record. These include insider payoff, pretexting, or identity theft.
How Pretexting Works
The goal of data brokers who utilize pretexting is to obtain your personal information under false pretenses. Pretexters do this by calling either the consumer at a known home or cell phone number, or by calling the cellular provider claiming to be an existing customer.
- Consumer Calling: Pretexters call individuals pretending to be from a survey firm or from the cellular company. Through social engineering, pretexters are able to obtain just enough information to gain access to a person's cellular phone record.
- Institution Calling: Another technique pretexters use is to call the cellular provider and pretend that they are a customer. If the cellular company does not have a strong security policy, the pretexter may have enough information obtained from a public record search to answer questions correctly and gain access to a private cellular account.
Cell Phone Company Insider Payoff
One of the greatest security risks for cell phone companies are the employees who work there - considered "insiders" by those who seek to obtain consumer phone data. A single disgruntled employee working for a cell phone company like Verizon or Sprint could potentially harvest thousands of cell phone numbers, names, and private information in order to sell it to outside data brokers.
A few companies, such as Trustwave, provide software to cell phone companies that monitor email and network traffic in order to prevent employees from transmitting secure information. However, such software does not prevent employees from downloading that data to a memory stick, or printing it to paper and walking out the door with it.
Identity Theft and a Cellular Phone Record
Another technique data brokers can use to obtain your cellular phone record is to create an online account with access to your cell phone records if you haven't already created one. Often, cellular providers only require a cell phone number, zip code, and a social security number in order to open online access to your cell phone records. If a criminal has already stolen your social security number, it's a very simple matter to obtain your zip code from a "white pages" search. Within just a few keystrokes, the thief can obtain access to your cellular phone record which they can then sell to online data brokers.
Protecting Your Cellular Phone Record
While the problem may appear out of your control, there are actually a number of important steps you can take to protect your private cell phone data.
Password Protect Your Account
There are two levels of security that most cellular providers offer to customers. The first is the login password that you choose when you log into your online account. Obviously this password should be difficult to guess. It should have at least eight characters and include numbers as well as uppercase and lowercase letters.
In addition to your login password for online access, most providers also offer an additional level of security for anyone calling over the phone to obtain access to your account. You can usually request that the provider place a passcode on your account, which the caller must know in order to obtain information regarding your account details.
Take Advantage of your Opt-Out Rights
Every cell phone company typically uses your phone records for marketing purposes. This includes targeting you specifically with direct marketing according to your calling habits, but it sometimes also includes selling your information to outside marketing companies. These records are valuable to marketers, so usually the cellular provider makes it difficult to opt-out. However, if you request it, the provider is legally obligated to remove you from the marketing lists.
Send your cellular provider a letter in writing stating that you request to "opt-out" of allowing your information to be sold to third-party companies.
Remove Call Details From Your Bill
The most effective method of adding security to your cellular phone record is to call the provider and tell the customer service representative that you do not want call details listed on your bill. This method will ensure that if every other security feature you've put in place fails, the fraudulent caller or online hacker will receive no data for their efforts.
Additional Security Measures
Most people will likely never experience any problems regarding fraudulent access to their cellular phone record. Those with the highest risk, or those who are very concerned about their records being accessed, should take action using all of the suggestions above. For additional security you can also call your cellular provider and request:
- That online access is disabled
- Turn off password reminders, and require that new passwords are only provided after you provide ID at a local kiosk or store
Make sure to call your specific cellular provider and ask for their security policies and what specific options are available to you in order to protect your data. Identity theft and privacy concerns are more common as daily life becomes more integrated with the internet. Protect yourself by enabling the maximum cellular phone record security possible.