Can Someone Get a Cell Phone Account in Your Name?
Steven Simms was a Total Wireless customer for three years when his phone number suddenly stopped working. Twelve days later, he learned the truth: hackers had opened a cell phone account in his name and ported his real phone number over to a new carrier — giving scammers total control of his text messages and phone calls [*].
In January 2022, over 6,000 TracFone customers lost access to their phone numbers when hackers opened new cell phone accounts in their names.
If someone opens a cell phone account in your name, it means they have access to some of your most sensitive personal information — in which case losing your cell phone number could be the least of your worries.
Scammers could buy new phones and leave you with the bill, bypass two-factor authentication (2FA) and access your online accounts, or completely steal your identity.
In this guide, we’ll explain how fraudsters open a cell phone account in your name, the warning signs to watch for, and what to do if you’re a victim.
What Happens When Someone Opens an Account in Your Name?
If scammers open a cell phone account in your name, they are committing identity theft. The only way to open a new account or convince your phone carrier to transfer (or “port out”) your current number to a new SIM card is by having enough of your personal information to impersonate you.
Once they have access to your phone number (or a new number in your name), the situation can rapidly escalate. Scammers can use the phone to rack up debts in your name, access your bank account, and even impersonate you when interacting with other businesses.
Unfortunately, opening a cell phone account in someone else’s name isn’t as difficult as it should be. Here’s how cybercriminals typically pull off this scam:
- Fraudsters find your leaked information. In many cases, scammers can open up a new mobile account with nothing more than your name and address. But, if they find more sensitive information for sale on the Dark Web after a data breach – such as your Social Security number (SSN) or driver’s license – it makes their job even easier.
- Next, they pretend to be you and contact a cell phone provider. Phone company representatives have no reason to believe they’re dealing with a criminal. If the request appears genuine, they will happily sign on a new customer without asking too many questions. In the case of a SIM swap scam, fraudsters contact your cell phone provider and explain that “you” lost your old SIM card or phone and need a new SIM card.
- Finally, they impersonate you to open more accounts, commit crimes, or take out loans. Many organizations — even financial institutions — rely on mobile phones to verify customer identities and authenticate new account requests. If scammers have a phone number in your name, they can update your contact information and then request 2FA codes to access your account.
If scammers have your personal information or phone number, you need to act quickly. The longer they have access to your mobile phone account, the more fraud they can commit in your name.
How To Tell If There’s a Fraudulent Phone Account in Your Name
With fraudulent mobile phone accounts, you might not know you’ve been targeted until after the new account is already open. However, there are early warning signs that your identity has been stolen that you should look out for.
Here are some of the red flags that might indicate someone has opened up a fraudulent cell phone account in your name:
- A debt collector contacts you about a cell phone account that you don’t recognize. If a scammer successfully uses your identity to take on debt, someone will eventually try to collect that debt (or the IRS will contact you in the case of tax fraud). Beware of any unrecognized debt in your name.
- Unfamiliar cell phone accounts appear on your credit report. Until the end of 2023, every American is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — every week. Any fraudulent cell phone accounts will appear here.
- Your phone stops receiving phone calls and texts. Losing mobile phone service is a telltale sign of SIM swapping and port-out scams. This indicates that someone is actively using your phone number on a different device.
- You receive a notification about a new backup phone number. Hackers may register their new phone number as a backup device on your accounts before they lock you out.
- A new phone is registered to your account. Your mobile carrier may note a new phone registered to your account. If you haven’t added any devices to your account, it’s likely scammers have compromised your account.
The bottom line: Most people won’t discover they’re victims of cell phone account fraud until it’s too late (and debt collectors come calling). Aura can monitor your personal and financial information and alert you if anyone is using your data to open new accounts in your name. Try Aura free for 14 days and secure yourself against scammers.
Did Someone Open a Cell Phone Account in Your Name? Do This!
- Freeze your credit with all three bureaus
- Contact your cell phone provider’s fraud department
- File an identity theft report with the FTC
- Secure your online accounts
- Dispute any fraudulent charges and accounts
- Contact your bank to change your account numbers and cards
- File a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection
As soon as you realize your identity has been stolen and used to open a cell phone account in your name, you need to act quickly. Here’s what to do:
1. Freeze your credit with all three bureaus
Most scammers are financially motivated; and their goal when opening a cell phone account in your name is to open other new accounts in your name, take on debt, and leave you with the bill.
A credit freeze prevents anyone from accessing your credit file and taking out new credit. If scammers try to take out loans or open accounts in your name, they’ll be rejected.
How to freeze your credit with all three bureaus:
To freeze your credit, you need to contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies individually — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Each bureau will request that you prove your identity, and then they’ll provide you with a unique credit freeze PIN that you can use to activate and deactivate your account.
Here’s how to contact them:
Pro tip: You don’t have to wait until you’re a victim to freeze your credit. You can preemptively freeze your credit and then “thaw” it when you need to apply for new credit. A credit freeze will not impact your credit score. You can also instantly lock and unlock your Experian credit file from the Aura app.
2. Contact your cell phone provider’s fraud department
All mobile phone carriers have active fraud departments staffed by security professionals. The sooner you warn them that someone has stolen your identity to make fraudulent transactions, the faster you will be able to fix the problem.
Reporting fraud to your cell phone provider will trigger an investigation into your account. Be prepared to provide identification as well as supporting documentation to prove you didn’t actually open the new fraudulent accounts that appear in your file.
How to contact your provider’s fraud department:
Most major cell phone providers offer online fraud reporting services. Here are a few of the main ones:
- Verizon account security and fraud claims
- AT&T fraud & account security
- T-Mobile help with scams, spam, and fraud
3. File an identity theft report with the FTC
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for helping victims of identity theft clear their names. To start the process, you’ll need to file an identity theft report through IdentityTheft.gov.
An official FTC identity theft affidavit is almost always required to close fraudulent accounts and help clear your name with any businesses, banks, or credit card companies at which the scammers have impersonated you.
Pro tip: Sweat the small stuff in your report. Make sure to include comprehensive information about the identity theft that you’re reporting – even seemingly unimportant details can play a major role in helping you get your identity back.
4. Secure your online accounts
If scammers have access to your phone account, they can use it to break into any account that uses your phone number to verify your identity. This can include your online banking, email, or social media accounts.
Once your phone number has been compromised, you need to secure all of your accounts without relying on SMS authentication.
Here’s what to do:
- Update your passwords. Strong passwords can hold scammers at bay — even when they have your phone number. Make sure you’re using complex and unique passwords for each account. For added security, store your credentials in a secure password manager.
- Switch to an authenticator app. An authenticator app like Authy or Google Authenticator is much more secure, as hackers can’t access it even if they have your phone number.
- Use email authentication instead. If you have access to another digital device, such as a laptop or tablet, you can use email authentication to secure your accounts. But first make sure your email hasn’t been hacked.
5. Dispute any fraudulent charges and accounts
If hackers have already started to make fraudulent charges to your accounts, you will have to dispute these charges in order to limit the damage and repair your credit score. At a minimum, you’ll need to dispute and close the fraudulent cell phone account in your name.
To dispute a fraudulent charge or account, contact the institution that made the transaction and inform them that you’re the victim of identity theft. You’ll be asked to prove your identity, show that your identity has been stolen (usually by sharing your FTC report), and provide details of the crime.
Be prepared to spend some time completing this step. You will have to do this individually for every transaction and account that was fraudulently opened under your name. If you’re an Aura member, you’ll have 24/7 access to U.S.-based Fraud Resolution Specialists who can walk you through each step of the fraud recovery process.
💡 Related: How To Write a Credit Dispute Letter (Free Template) →
6. Contact your bank to change your account numbers and cards
Even if you don’t see suspicious charges on your bank statements, it’s still a good idea to change your banking details — just to be safe. Scammers may hide the fact that they have access to your bank until weeks or even months later.
As with the credit dispute step, you’ll need to contact your bank’s fraud department and explain the situation. They’ll cancel your accounts and issue you new ones, along with updated credit and debit card numbers.
💡 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your Bank Account Number? →
7. File a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
When scammers abuse your phone carrier to steal your identity, they are committing a federal crime. The FBI investigates these crimes and provides victims with resources to help reduce the damage caused.
However, filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center [*] doesn’t guarantee that the FBI will investigate your situation specifically. The IC3 doesn’t conduct investigations on its own, but it does provide valuable information to law enforcement agencies which can be used to catch and arrest cybercriminals.
Important: The IC3 does not respond to time-sensitive emergencies. If you believe you or someone else is in immediate or ongoing danger, call 911 or file a police report with your local police department.
8. Consider signing up for identity theft protection
A fraudulent cell phone account can often be a warning sign of a much larger issue. Identity thieves rarely stop with accessing your basic contact details — they will likely try to access your bank account, take over your online accounts, or even scam your contacts and family members.
Signing up for Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection solution can help keep you safe and give you the support you need if you become a victim of identity theft.
With Aura, you get:
- Award-winning ID theft monitoring and protection. Aura monitors your most sensitive personal information and warns you if it’s been breached or fraudulently used. Your Aura “watchlist” can include everything from your SSN to your driver’s license, passport, and even up to five phone numbers.
- Three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts3. Aura has direct connections with each of the major credit bureaus and will alert you in near real-time if someone opens (or tries to open) new accounts in your name.
- AI-powered digital security tools including scam call and text protection. Aura also helps proactively stop scammers from stealing your identity. Every Aura plan includes powerful antivirus software, a military-grade virtual private network (VPN), secure password manager, and optional spam call and text protection.
- 24/7 access to U.S.-based Fraud Resolution Specialists. If you need help or become a victim of fraud, Aura’s trained support team can walk you through each step and even facilitate three-way calls with you and your bank, credit bureaus, or government agencies.
- $1 million insurance policy. If the worst should happen, every Aura member is covered for up to $1 million in eligible losses due to identity theft — such as stolen funds, lost wages, child and elder care, and lawyer fees.
How To Protect Your Cell Phone Account (and Identity)
Keeping your personal data private is the most important way to prevent hackers from compromising your reputation, credit, and identity.
Fraudsters are constantly looking for new opportunities to steal from victims — and opening a new phone account in your name is just one of the many ways that they can impersonate you for financial gain.
Here are some strategies to protect yourself from account fraud risks:
- Request a PIN from your cell phone provider to make changes to your account. You can tell your cell phone provider to require additional verification before allowing you to configure your account settings.
- Monitor your cell phone number for changes. If new phone numbers or accounts associated with your name show up, you should know about it. Automated monitoring services like Aura can check this for you.
- Beware of phishing campaigns requesting personal information. It’s easy to give away valuable information to scammers impersonating trusted contacts. Learn how to spot phishing scams so that you don’t fall victim to one.
- Regularly scan the Dark Web for data breaches that contain your records. Data breaches can expose millions of records filled with private information – including yours. Aura’s Dark Web Scanner can tell you when your data is circulating on the Dark Web.
- Remove your personal information from social media platforms. Scammers regularly scan social media for phone numbers, addresses, and dates of birth. These are all examples of data that isn’t sensitive on its own — but hackers can use these details for fraudulent activity. Here’s a guide on how to protect your personal information on social media.
- Use digital security tools to shield your devices. Hackers can compromise or even take full control of your devices by spreading malware and viruses. Make sure you’re using security tools such as antivirus, Safe Browsing tools, and a secure password manager that can warn you if your passwords have been leaked.
Safeguarding your identity can feel like a full-time job. But you don’t have to deal with it on your own.
With Aura, you get comprehensive protection against cybercriminals — including identity theft protection, credit monitoring, digital safety tools, U.S.-based 24/7 support, and a $1 million insurance policy for every adult on your Aura plan.