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What is a port-out scam?

Your phone number is more sensitive than you think — security features like two-factor authentication rely on it. Losing your phone number can sometimes be just as bad as losing your actual phone. If someone takes control of your phone number with a port-out scam, they can hack your email and social media or even drain your bank accounts.

What is a port-out scam?

How port-out scams work

If you decide to switch carriers, phone companies can let you keep the same phone number by porting it out to another service. Some criminals can and have abused this option, targeting giants like T-Mobile, AT&T, and even WhatsApp with phone number port-out scams.

In a phone number port-out scam, the perpetrator hijacks your mobile number by transferring it to their own carrier. It’s similar to the SIM swapping scam where the criminal takes control of your phone number by transferring it to their own SIM card.

Usually, they do so by impersonating you. First, they collect information about you online — enough to trick the phone company’s representatives. Then they call your phone company, impersonate you, and request a transfer to another carrier. In some cases, criminals have resorted to simply bribing the telecom company’s employees.

Once they control your number, criminals gain access to your other accounts. They can do so by initiating password resets using two-factor authentication. They can then empty your bank accounts, cryptocurrency wallets, hold your social media for ransom, or even ask others for money by pretending to be you (this actually happened on WhatsApp).

What to do if you’ve been targeted

It can be difficult to recognize that you’re under attack before it’s too late. But there are some giveaways that you should never ignore. These can vary depending on your phone company:

  • You can only make emergency calls.
  • You completely lose service on your phone.
  • You receive a message saying that your SIM is either blocked or ported.
  • You are notified that your phone doesn’t recognize the SIM card.
  • Any activity on your social media, email, or bank accounts that you don’t recognize.

If you become a victim of a phone porting scam, time is essential. The quicker you react, the less likely you are to lose your savings.

  • Don’t ignore the signs. If you see any one of the warning signs mentioned above, assume you may be under attack.
  • Contact your carrier immediately. Find out what’s happening, if your number has been ported, they will help you transfer back your number or temporarily block it.
  • Check your accounts for suspicious activities. If you see something out of the ordinary, change your passwords.
  • Warn your bank and other institutions. Temporarily freezing your account might be the best solution.
  • Contact the police. Provide the authorities with any evidence you have of malicious activities on your accounts.

How to prevent phone porting scams

Most companies have protections against unauthorized phone porting, but some carriers are easier to fool than others. Unfortunately, whether or not you fall victim to a phone porting scam still depends mostly on the security practices of your provider. But there are things you can do to stay on the safe side.

  • Increase your account protection. Most carriers offer protections against phone porting but, in some cases, you have to secure your account manually. Go to your account and add security measures like passwords or PIN codes wherever possible.
  • Use two-factor authentication carefully. Enable two-factor wherever you can, but when you have the option, avoid SMS or phone call authentication.
  • Limit your personal information online.Many port-out scams start with criminals gathering sensitive data about you so that they can impersonate you when transferring your phone number. A VPN like NordVPN is a great tool to help reduce your online footprint.
  • Surf the net responsibly. Don’t click on unfamiliar links, avoid browsing on public Wi-Fi, and be cautious about what you’re downloading on your devices.
  • Consider using an eSIM. An eSIM is a safe option, providing an additional layer of security against port-out scams, as the embedded nature of eSIMs makes it more difficult for thieves to transfer your number without authorization.