What is it and how can you protect yourself?

You may not even have heard of SIM Swap fraud. I hadn’t realised how close to home this had got until I got a message from a very lovely friend. She had been a victim of Identity theft and that included having her mobile phone number stolen too. She has asked me to write this blog post so that others can be warned and not fall victim.

The criminals took all the money from her bank account plus money transferred from another victim’s account. They opened a store account in her name and ran up huge bills which they had no intention of paying of course. In total she ended up with 3 separate crime numbers. Scary!

So what is SIM Swap Fraud?

This is where the criminals have your phone number transferred to them. The criminal convinces your mobile phone provider that they are you, that the phone is lost or stolen. They ask for a new SIM to be sent to their address or, in my friends case, for the number to be transferred to a new SIM.

How does this happen?

Well of course first they need your mobile phone number, name and address and then depending on what security checks your phone company does, your date of birth, your password, and other personal information. But you never give that stuff out to strangers now do you?

Lots of information can be gleamed from your social media profiles. Your full name, date of birth, best friends, kids names, dogs names, what else do you inadvertently share? Make sure your personal Facebook profile is set to only friends so strangers can’t see what you post. Oh and makes sure you actually know the ‘friends’ on you are connected with.

Lots of people receive spoof emails pretending to be from banks, Paypal, HMRC and other companies you deal with. Delete them! They can be very convincing emails though. It is so easy to be drawn into giving information you really shouldn’t share because you believe it’s your bank emailing you.

Then there are the phone calls. I have personally had one of these (it went to voicemail). A lady’s voice telling me she was Sergeant somebody and that I was being investigated for fraud. If I didn’t call her back on the given number immediately there would be serious consequences! A big giveaway was it was a mechanical voice and of course I’m not guilty of breaking any laws!

In particular there have been a series of phone calls pretending to be from HMRC and saying you must pay immediately to prevent a fraud case. Let’s look at this logically. HMRC don’t call you unless they have already written to you in a formal capacity telling you about an issue. Don’t ever take somebody calling you at face value – stop! Question! Never settle any payments over the phone if the person called you!

Information is also sold on the black market (called the dark web) after companies have been hacked (lots don’t make the news). GDPR is an attempt to protect your data better from these nasty people.

How do you know you have fallen victim to SIM Swap Fraud?

Generally, your first indication there is a problem is when your phone can’t connect to your provider. If you don’t spend 24 hours a day on your phone then you may not notice for a while – until you try to make a phone call.

What to do if you think you are a victim?

Firstly stay calm. Contact your bank immediately and let them know. Contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. They are incredibly helpful (and on your side). Follow their advice.

Let you friends know too – they are at risk of being scammed by the criminals too. It’s not embarrassing, they won’t laugh at you. They will be sympathetic and understanding. The criminals may well text your friends and family and ask them for money because ‘you’ are in trouble. This money will be very difficult to get back as the transactions would be voluntary.

Run a full virus scan over every device connected to the internet (Avast free is good if you don’t have antivirus software installed). Run malware removal software over every device too (Malawarebytes free version will do this). Change ALL your passwords (for password advice read our blog on the subject). Never us the same password for your banking that use anywhere else – ever!

How can you limit the chances of being a victim?

There are some great tips on the Take Five – Stop Fraud website.

Make sure you have good Anti Virus and Anti Malware software on all your devices (yes I mean your phone too). Make sure you run them on a regular basis too. Set a reminder in your diary at least once a month.

Don’t respond or click in emails that you don’t know 100% who they are from. Remember there are things your Bank will never ask you to do, like divulge your PIN, transfer money across accounts or give security information away in full. Get to know your Bank’s procedures.

Keep good password habits and don’t reveal PINs to anyone. Be aware if you are called on the phone that Banks rarely call except if they consider you to be at risk of fraud. They will quite understand, as will anyone, if you ask for their name and department and say you will call them back. DON’T call on the number they give you, leave at least 10 minutes before calling back and call on a different phone if possible. Use the number you know belongs to the Bank or whichever company.

Educate yourself and don’t be taken in by Social Media Hype. Check out Snopes or Hoax Slayer if you want to know if something is true.

Protect your identity. Use a confidential shredding service like U-Shred for sensitive information (home shredders won’t be good enough to pass GDPR requirements) or burn your paperwork. U-Shred will even shred old credit cards securely too or cut them into tiny pieces (personally I dispose of them in separate bin collections.

Think before you share! Don’t share personal stuff (remember those silly games on Facebook that ask for your birthday – please don’t). Make sure your kids know this too. Beware of the games that ask for permission to connect to your Facebook account – I would advise not to do this.

At the end of the day SIM Swap Fraud is a form of identity theft. If you take sensible precautions then you will limit your chances of being a victim. Criminals are devious but not always clever – look and listen for the tell tale signs.