FBI warns of increasing use of SIM swapping by crooks to steal money

Criminals are stealing people’s cellphone numbers and costing them millions of dollars, the FBI says

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File) (Jenny Kane)

A consumer alert: The FBI is warning that criminals are stealing people’s cellphone numbers and costing them millions of dollars.

It’s called a SIM swap scheme, and the FBI says it’s becoming more common.

From January 2018 to December 2020, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center received 320 complaints related to this scheme. In 2021, the center received 1,611 SIM swapping complaints, costing victims $68 million.

Here’s how the scheme works: A criminal gets ahold of your wireless password through a data breach or phishing scam and then contacts your mobile carrier, tricking them into switching your number to a new SIM card that the criminal ultimately has access to. Once that happens, the FBI says, the scammers can gain access to the victim’s accounts by requesting a new password associated with the victim’s phone number. The criminal is then able to use the codes to log in and reset passwords to online accounts, including your bank and credit cards.

A consumer alert: The FBI is warning that criminals are stealing people’s cellphone numbers and costing them millions of dollars.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:

  • If someone calls you, asking for your account information, do not give it to them. Call the carrier yourself, directly.
  • Use those multi-factor authentication features that many companies now offer.
  • Don’t store your information on your phone. While it’s convenient to have your passwords and usernames automatically saved for websites, it’s easy for scammers to get access if they take over your phone number.

If you do believe you are a victim:

  • First, contact your mobile carrier to try to regain control of your phone number.
  • Change your passwords, especially for accounts with sensitive information like credit cards or your bank.
  • Call your bank and alert them to your situation.
  • Finally, report the scam to the FBI at ic3.gov.

Again, while data breaches do happen, the top way criminals get your personal information is you giving it to them directly through a phishing scam by calling, texting or email. So always take that second before you click a link if you don’t know where it came from.