Issue #144: You used to call me on my cell phone

plus a candid croissant + pup personalities
͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ 
Money
May 25, 2022 • Issue #144
Dollar Scholar
Hi y’all —

You know me as Julia, but I have other identities, too.

Sometimes I’m beentotheyear3000. In other instances, I’m lalalalifeiswonderful. If we’re really digging deep, I may even introduce myself as DanceGal444. 

Those are just three of the many email aliases I use to sign up for various free trials, rewards programs and online subscriptions. I don’t always want to give retailers my regular email address because my inbox gets clogged quickly, and I need to be able to see my coveted UberEats discounts the instant they come in. So I switch it up, swapping in different addresses for different situations.

I may have a bunch of email accounts, but I’ve only got one cell phone number — the same 10 digits I’ve had my entire life. As such, I hesitate when a place asks for my phone number. It just feels more intimate… and potentially riskier.

Should I be safeguarding my phone number? Can a bad guy use it to access my money?

Sathish Muthukrishnan, the chief information, data and digital officer at Ally, tells me in an email that there is indeed a security risk in sharing my phone number, whether it’s with a band I like (looking at you, Community) or a restaurant I frequent.

“Providing your number to stay on top of tour dates or earn points is certainly convenient, but keep in mind that local cafes and smaller marketing companies typically do not have robust cybersecurity teams or advanced technologies to protect your information,” he adds.

Muthukrishnan went on to say that there’s a security risk in giving out any kind of data. With phone numbers, scammers can reverse-search and find my full name, home address, voter registration, gender, race and more.

“Even well-known companies openly share your personal information with affiliated companies and other third parties,” he adds. “It’s a good idea to check their privacy policies at the bottom of their homepage before sharing.”

In fact, Paige Schaffer, the chief executive officer at identity protection firm Iris, tells me that my phone number is probably already out there on the dark web. The true risk, she says, is when a bad guy can link my phone number to other parts of my identity.
Remember when sites were happy enough to get your email? Now they're like, hey get a discount but also give me your phone number, birthday, and text me goodnight.
If, for example, a scammer has my name and cell number, they may be able to fake my caller ID with one of those spoofing apps and, if they're particularly clever, convince a customer service rep for my bank to reset my password, thereby gaining access to my account. (This is especially easy if the answers to my security questions can be found on social media.) 

Or they could use SIM swapping to take over my phone number, answer multi-factor authentication requests, and hack into other financial accounts. Last year, the FBI reportedly received more than 1,600 SIM-swap complaints from people who lost $68 million.

Because I don’t know the extent of what the hacker already has, it’s extra-important to keep my phone number close to the chest.

“A savvy fraudster can wreak havoc with a few pieces of information, and a phone number can be a stepping stone to more,” Schaffer adds.

I also need to be hyper-vigilant about inbound communications, says Eva Velasquez, the president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. If I sign my phone number up to get discounts at my local coffee shop, I should generally know what messages from the shop are going to look like. And I should be on the lookout for any strange messages that don’t look like that.

Scammers like to send texts with links that purport to be businesses I use (or, in some cases, government agencies I interact with) in order to lure me into divulging my personal information. So I need to scrutinize anything that comes in to make sure it's legit.

Generally, though, Velasquez urges me to make “thoughtful decisions” about the value of sharing my cell number. If 20% discounts at Old Navy (where I shop all the time) are going to create a significant savings for me, slightly elevating my risk is probably going to pay off. But if a random restaurant I never go to wants to text me my receipt, I should probably just request a paper copy.

“Ultimately, you need to decide if the benefits — whether it’s points, loyalty rewards, faster checkout or discounts — are worth it,” Muthukrishnan says. “Ask yourself, does a gaming app you just downloaded really need your cell phone number? Probably not.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)
I should carefully consider each vendor I give my phone number to, thinking about whether they’re trustworthy and whether the perks I’ll receive in return are truly worth the increased risk of identity theft. I need to be extra careful about messages I receive.

But Velasquez points out that while protecting my cell number is important, it’s not the only security-related step I need to take. Managing my passwords, signing up for multi-factor authentication and freezing my credit can be beneficial, too.
Lifeline
VIA GIPHY

RECEIPT OF THE WEEK
check out this wild celebrity purchase
Evan Spiegel and Miranda Kerr
 
VIA INSTAGRAM
The CEO of Snap, Evan Spiegel, and his wife, Miranda Kerr, just paid off all the student loan debt for the 285 latest graduates of the Otis College of Art and Design. “It is a privilege for our family to give back and support the Class of 2022, and we hope this gift will empower graduates to pursue their passions, contribute to the world, and inspire humanity for years to come,” the couple said in a statement. No, you’re crying.

INTERNET GOLD
five things I'm loving online right now
1 I recently discovered @subparparks, an Instagram account that prints bad reviews of state and national parks on old-school posters, and I’m obsessed. Among my favorites: Death Valley (or what one guy called “the ugliest place I’ve ever seen”), Fall Creek Falls (“barely a trickle”) and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (“didn’t even get to touch lava”).
2 All hail this British news anchor who got caught eating a croissant on camera. Gotta do what you gotta do…
3 This college student has collected 6,000 takeout menus from a variety of restaurants in the Northeast. Some are so small he can’t read them without a magnifying glass! But he loves collecting the menus and sampling the restaurants’ dishes because they all provide such great memories. #wholesome
4 A spotted fanaloka was born at the Nashville Zoo in late April — a first for the U.S. It’s more than historic, it’s super cute.
5 Science confirms what we already knew: Dogs do have individual personalities, regardless of their breed.
 

401(K)9 CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Winnie
VIA ALISON TOBIN
Meet Winnie, a smiley girl who responds “paws off!” when merchants unnecessarily ask for her phone number.

See you next week.
 
Julia
 
P.S. Do you feel comfortable giving out your cell number? How would you react if a stranger paid off your student loans? What’s the worst vacation you’ve ever taken? LMK at julia.glum@money.com or @SuperJulia on Twitter.
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