A couple years ago, I wrote about four ways identity theft could lead to New York bankruptcy. The notable candidates were theft of Social Security and credit card information. Now The New York Times has thought of a new type of identity theft: cell phone numbers.
According to the article, landlines are rapidly going the way of the typewriter. One government study found that among adults aged 25 to 29, 73 percent do not have a landline. These people undoubtedly have cell phones, and people rarely change their phone numbers, even if they lose their devices. As a result, cell phone numbers are quickly becoming de facto personal identification numbers that are stored in corporate and public databases.
The article points out two ways cell phone numbers differ from Social Security numbers. One, people are told to keep their Social Security numbers secret because the stakes of losing them are so high. By contrast, people give their cell phone numbers away freely to acquaintances and companies asking for them. Two, Social Security numbers are protected by disclosure laws while cell phone numbers are not. Consequently, companies can trade cell phone numbers away freely like any other personal information consumers give them.
The article flounders on providing specifics as to how cell phone number theft can actually lead to a damaging identity theft. The reason Social Security numbers are so sensitive is that they are both personal identifiers and passwords for the services people use them for. One suggestion that’s been made is to add a PIN to Social Security numbers to allow people to transmit them to third parties while ensuring they are used legitimately. The PINs could be stolen too, but they would be conveyed more infrequently. Cell phone numbers themselves are rarely secure passwords to personal information, so the harm caused by their theft is indirect. Mostly, the concern appears to be the creation of databases for individuals’ identities and preferences.
Even so, the article discusses a few ways to prevent cell phone numbers from being stolen or misused. Obviously, consumers can choose not to disclose them, just as in the era of landlines people could ask not to have their addresses and phone numbers placed in the phone book. As a complement, people can also adopt second phone numbers, e.g. through Google Voice or some other product. Secondary phone numbers, like secondary email addresses, are good ways to direct non-personal communications.
The New York Times article is here.
Theft of cell phone numbers might not be as harmful as theft of Social Security numbers. If anything, consumers should probably be more concerned about their mobile devices themselves being stolen, hacked, and used for fraudulent purposes. Regardless, if your identity was stolen, no matter how, and you are now in serious financial straits, then you should talk to an experienced New York bankruptcy lawyer to assess your options.
For answers to more questions about bankruptcy, the automatic stay, effective strategies for dealing with foreclosure, and protecting your assets in bankruptcy please feel free to contact experienced Brooklyn bankruptcy attorney Bruce Weiner for a free initial consultation.