Protect yourself from SIM swap fraud

If criminals hijack your phone number, they can potentially access your online accounts, including your banking. Our fraud manager, Lucy Brown, explains what SIM swap fraud is and how to protect yourself. 

What’s a SIM?

A SIM card is a small chip that goes inside your mobile phone and connects it to the mobile network. It lets you:

  • Make calls 
  • Send text messages 
  • Access the internet with mobile data 

What’s SIM swap?

SIM swap is a legitimate service that you might use if you want to keep the same phone number when changing SIM sizes or mobile network providers.

How does SIM swap fraud work?

SIM swap fraud happens when fraudsters hijack your phone number. To gain control of your number, fraudsters start by  gathering personal information about you. To do this, they use social engineering techniques, which are tricks that exploit human psychology.  

Here are some common methods:

  • Emails (known as phishing): Fraudsters send fake emails or messages that look like they’ve come from legitimate sources to trick you into providing your personal information. Be cautious about clicking links in emails or text messages.

  • Social media research: Criminals can gather information from your social media profiles, like your school's name, pet names, or family members’ birthdays. They use this information to impersonate you, and answer security questions.

  • Calls (known as vishing): Fraudsters might call you, pretending to be from your bank or mobile provider, and pressure you into revealing your personal information. Be suspicious of any unexpected calls claiming to be from your bank or other company, asking for personal information. If you’re not sure, it’s best to hang up and contact the company using a number you know is genuine. 

  • Data breaches: Criminals can buy stolen data from data breaches or hackers.

Once they have enough information, they pretend to be you, and bypass security checks with your phone provider. The scammer then convinces your mobile provider to transfer your phone number to their SIM card. This gives them access to incoming calls and texts, including one-time-passwords (OTPs), which they can use to access your accounts, such as online banking. This can result in financial losses.

Warning signs

Watch out for these warning signs, which could signal that you’re a victim of SIM swap fraud:

  • No phone service: Service interruptions can happen for many reasons, but if you unexpectedly lose service, or do so in an area where you usually have good service, it could be a sign of SIM swap fraud.
  • Unable to make calls or send texts: This could signal that criminals are using your phone number.
  • Can’t access your accounts: You’re locked out of your online accounts, even when using the correct password.
  • Unauthorised transactions: You notice charges or withdrawals in your bank account that you didn’t make.
  • Notification from your phone provider: Don’t ignore messages from your phone provider about a pending SIM swap request.

How to protect yourself

Take these steps to protect yourself against SIM swap fraud:

  • Create strong passwords: Use strong, unique passwords for each account. A password manager can help or follow The National Cyber Security Centre’s advice to combine three random words for strong passwords.

  • Be cautious on social media: Avoid sharing personal details on your social media profiles, especially information that could answer security questions, such as your pet’s name, family member’s birthdays or your school.

  • Secure your phone provider account: Set up a strong, unique password for your phone provider account. Consider asking your provider to add an extra layer of security, such as a PIN or secret question.

  • Be careful of links in emails and messages: Check the sender’s details and avoid clicking suspicious links. Be cautious of messages addressing you as ‘Sir/Madam’ – legitimate messages will usually use your name.

  • Keep your software updated: Regularly update your devices’ software and use anti-malware to protect against data theft.

What to do if you’re a victim of SIM swap fraud

If you suspect SIM swap fraud, act quickly:

1) Contact your phone provider immediately

  • Inform them that you suspect SIM swap fraud and regain control of your phone number.
  • Consider increasing the security of the account by setting up additional security measures, such as a PIN or two-factor authentication.

2) Inform your bank as soon as possible

    • Report the SIM swap to your bank and ask your bank to put a temporary freeze on your accounts
    • Monitor your account for any unauthorised transactions
    • If there are any unauthorised activities, report them

 3) Change your passwords

    • Once you’ve regained access to your number, change your passwords for all your online accounts, including email, banking and social media
    • Make sure to use a different, strong password for each account

 4) Report any fraudulent activity

    • Report any fraud to your financial providers and Action Fraud as soon as possible.

A real case from our Fraud Team

"Recently, we handled a case of sim swap fraud. Tina* first noticed the issue when she lost signal and the ability to use 5G on her phone. When speaking to her phone provider, she discovered that she had been a victim of sim swap - a type of facility takeover fraud.

The fraudster managed to gain access to Tina’s other accounts, including her bank account. They then used her real account information to impersonate her, applying for multiple loans using her details.

This case highlights how important it is to secure your mobile provider account and monitor your accounts for any unusual activity”, explains Lucy Brown, our fraud manager.

*We’ve changed her name for privacy.

 

Key Takeaways

Protect yourself from SIM swap fraud by using strong passwords, being cautious about sharing personal information online, and securing your account with your phone provider. If you suspect SIM swap fraud, act quickly to regain access to your accounts and contact your phone and financial providers right away.

By staying vigilant and acting quickly if something seems wrong, you can keep your accounts safe and secure.

 

 


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Written by

Lucy Brown

Published on

22nd July 2024


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