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What is a SIM card swap?

NetworkTigers explains what a SIM card swap is and how to prevent it.

SIM card swaps are attacks in which criminals move your mobile number from a SIM card you possess to another card they can control. It’s easy to execute this type of fraud as it doesn’t require any code, but its impact on victims’ lives is devasting.

A SIM swap is a gateway for attackers to hijack your mobile number, steal your identity, or even deplete your bank account. Being prepared and knowing what to do is the best way to defend yourself.

What is SIM swapping and how does it work?

SIM swapping or hijacking is a fraudulent way of accessing someone’s phone number. It occurs when attackers trick your phone provider into transferring your cellular number to their SIM card. Criminals can swap your SIM using your personal information from the comfort of their homes. 

They don’t require any advanced technical knowledge. All they need is a SIM card and calling your cell phone provider to execute this fraud. The hackers use your freely available personal data on social media to swap your line. With such information, attackers can easily convince your cellular provider to switch the number attached to your SIM card to one on their mobile device.

A successful SIM card swap disconnects your line, making it difficult to reclaim until you visit your service provider and prove you own the account. Unfortunately, with SIM swapping, most of your accounts would have been compromised by then. 

Five warning signs of a SIM card swap

Identifying the warning signs of a SIM card swap is crucial to shut down criminals’ access to your mobile phone and all the calls and messages it receives. If you notice the following signs, call your provider immediately to prevent further damage:

Inability to send messages or make calls

The first sign that your SIM card could have been swapped is when you can’t send texts or make phone calls. This likely means hackers use your mobile number after deactivating your SIM card. Once the criminals activate your SIM card on their mobile phones, your number becomes unusable.

Receiving notifications on transactions you didn’t make

You could be a victim of a SIM card swap if you notice multiple transactions you didn’t make on your online credit card. This is a sign that fraudsters have your credit card number and are using it to make unauthorized purchases. They may have accessed your account after stealing your mobile number and using the data sent to it.

No access to your bank and carrier accounts

If your credit card and bank account login passwords no longer work, it’s likely that hackers have changed your usernames and credentials after taking over your mobile number. Call your bank immediately to notify them. Attackers can also deny you access to your carrier account, making it difficult to access your confidential data, lock your mobile device or file a complaint.

Security alerts

Another sign is receiving notifications about changes to your profile information, such as security questions and login credentials. Numerous failed login attempts from sources you don’t know are yet another sign that you’ve been attacked.

Unusual activity on your social media platforms

Abnormal activity from your social media platforms can signal account takeovers. Usually, SIM card swap attacks target prominent people with a sizeable following on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. 

How to prevent SIM swapping

While there isn’t anything you can do once criminals access your SIM card data, there are things you can do to prevent a SIM swap scam from recurring. Here are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Visit your carrier’s website and add a PIN to your account – This makes it hard for a SIM swapper to access your account as they’ll have to enter your PIN when making changes.
  • Change your 2FA method – Use authenticator applications to associate your OTP with your mobile phone to receive your security codes instead of your phone number.
  • Protect your SIM card and phone – Lock your phone with a numerical PIN that you must provide each time you restart your phone. Also, enable facial recognition and fingerprint scanners to add a security layer.
  • Use strong security questions and passwords – Use passwords that are difficult to guess and choose questions that even your close friends would struggle to figure out.
  • Lock your mobile number with your carrier – If your service provider offers Number Lock or Port Freeze features, activate them to protect your number from unauthorized transfer.
  • Limit the personal data you share online – Hackers use the information you post online to convince your service provider that they’re you. So avoid sharing your personal data, such as your phone number and full name on public platforms.

Have multiple security layers to prevent SIM swap attacks

Having your phone number linked to your accounts makes signing in easy. However, you’re not guaranteed that your mobile number will always stay safe. SIM swapping poses a threat to your privacy. Having multiple security layers helps prevent attacks. Even if criminals swap your SIM card successfully, they’ll need to bypass other security measures.

Maclean Odiesa
Maclean Odiesa
Maclean is a tech freelance writer with 7+ years in content strategy and development. She is also a pillar pages specialist and SEO expert.

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What is a SIM card swap?