Mobile phone scams are nothing new. For as long as mobiles have been around there’s been a certain criminal element that has tried to take advantage of users. Recently a new kind of scam has been going around, called the “port out” scam. Don’t know what that is? You’re not alone. But don’t worry, we’re here to explain it and to tell you how to protect yourself!
The Great Port Out Scam
There are actually two versions of this scam, but both more or less accomplish the same thing. By performing one of two actions a scammer gets control of your mobile phone number. This, obviously, isn’t a great thing, and we’ll get to the implications of this in a moment. But first, how does a scammer get control of your number in the first place?
The original incarnation of this scam works by taking advantage of something that most of us think of as a convenience. If you change operators, you probably want to take your phone number with you, right? That way you get the new operator that you want without needing to send a new number to all your contacts.
What happens is that the scammer somehow gets hold of your phone number (it’s really not that hard, how many times have you written your number down or fill it out in an online form?). He then contacts your operator (by phone or in a high street shop) and pretends to be you. He says that he wants to change operators and keep his (your) number. Your operator then gives him something called a “Port Authority Code.” The scammer takes this code to a new operator and opens a new contract using your phone number.
There’s another, slightly simpler version, of this scam. The scammer gets hold of your phone number and contacts your operator, but this time says that he’s lost the SIM card associated with the account and asks for another. Your operator sends him a new SIM card, and then he’s set.
Things might not seem too terrible so far, but both versions of this scam depend on one thing: for the most part, here cannot be two SIM cards associated with the same phone number. That means as soon as the scammer activates his new SIM card (either from his new contract with a new operator using your number or by getting a replacement SIM card) YOUR SIM card stops working. And bingo, the scammer now has complete control over your phone number and you don’t.
Wait, Why is This a Big Deal?
Alright, this might all be a bit of a hassle. Your SIM card stops working because the scammer is using his, so you need to call your operator and get things sorted out. Worst case scenario: you have to wait a few days to get a new SIM card yourself, thus disabling the scammer’s card. But…
In the meantime the scammer receives all your calls and text messages. That might be a big deal, it might not. But for those of us who receive things like confirmation codes for online banking and the like, there’s a fair chance that the scammer can actually use those codes to get your money or financial info. Trust us on this: you don’t want a scammer receiving your calls and messages.
So How Do I Protect Myself?
There are two things that you can do to protect yourself against this scam, and both are relatively easy to take care of.
The first thing you need to do is be vigilant. If your SIM card suddenly stops working, don’t just assume that it’s a technical hiccup and wait to see if normal service resumes. Contact your operator immediately and find out what’s going on. Your operator’s customer service number should be able to tell you if a new SIM has been activated or if the number has been ported to another operator. If either of these things have happened, customer service should be able to block the number (meaning the scammer won’t get your calls and messages) until you can get the problem sorted out. The bad news here is that you’ll almost certainly need to wait for a new SIM card.
The second thing you need to do is to protect your mobile operator account. Basically you need to set up a password or PIN that will need to be entered (or given to a customer service representative) before any actions can be taken on your phone account. So, for example, if you set up a PIN and then want to order a new SIM card you’ll be required to give customer service that PIN before they’ll send you a new card.
Setting up this kind of security varies by operator. Some will let you do it online, so you might want to look around your account on your operator’s website for something like “security settings.” Others require you to do it in person. Your best bet is to call customer service and ask them what the process is for setting up PIN protection for your account.
Not all operators allow this, though the big names do, but it’s always worth a try since it will help protect your personal data.
The Bottom Line
Our mobile phones contain personal information. But more than that, with the rise of online financial transactions, more and more sensitive information is being passed through text messages and calls. It’s up to you to make sure that no one unscrupulous gets their hands on this info. The port out scam is far from the only mobile scam out there, but it is currently a very popular one. Knowing how to protect yourself could mean the difference between not falling victim to this scam and losing some very important info. Take the time to protect your mobile account, it really is worth it.