How to Remove Your Phone Number from the Internet
Most internet users understand that certain information is dangerous to provide online, such as social security or financial account numbers. This information, along with names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., is considered personally identifiable information (PII). In fact, PII is any form of data that leads to the identity of an individual, either directly or indirectly. Misuse or theft of someone’s PII can create serious consequences, including identity theft or use of information for fraudulent purposes.
It’s difficult to avoid entering personal data when using the internet, especially if you wish to subscribe to anything or make purchases. In addition, providing certain information online seems reasonable and fairly harmless, especially when it comes to your name, email address, and phone number. Unfortunately, your phone number has become one of the riskiest and potentially harmful pieces of PII that you can have on the internet.
How Cell Phone Numbers Identify You
Many data and technology experts acknowledge that a cell phone number is now a stronger identifier of an individual than their name. This is due to the fact that people are more attached to and engaged with their personal cell phones than anything or anyone else. In a sense, our lives are on our phones and our phones are often our lives.
In addition, we work to retain the same mobile number even if we change cell phones. This preserves the continuity of our connection to mobile apps and other services as well as our personal contacts. Unfortunately, this also increases the power of our phone numbers as personally identifiable information. Just entering someone’s cell number into a public records search can result in PII that is easily stolen or used for fraud. This includes:
- Current address
- Previous addresses
- Criminal record
- Mother’s maiden name
- Names of family members
Access to this additional PII puts you and even people you know at risk of becoming victims of internet scams and/or identity theft.
Why It’s Important to Not Have Your Phone Number Online
It’s important to not have your phone number online because it uncovers your internet presence and data footprint. This can be used by internet hackers and phishers to access online accounts, passwords, and security responses. In addition, online marketing agencies can utilize your cell phone number to gather profile data and/or sell such information to other entities.
Falling victim to internet scams or identity theft as a result of misused or stolen PII, particularly personal phone numbers, is one of the most damaging circumstances possible since the onset of internet use. This cybercrime can cause ruin when it comes to the victim’s reputation, financial situation, and even emotional state. In addition, it can take years to rectify the impact of such cybercrime. Sadly, this damage generally prolongs economic and emotional stress that very often results in fractured careers and relationships.
Guide to Removing Your Phone Number from the Internet
Thankfully, there are ways to remove your phone number from the internet and reduce the risk of cybercrime, to some degree. Once you have provided information online, it’s extremely difficult to erase it entirely. However, there are steps to reducing the online presence of your PII and eliminating your phone number online as much as possible. Here is a guide to removing your phone number from the internet:
- Discontinue Providing Personal Phone Number: Do not continue to provide your cell number to any online entity if possible.
- Deactivate/Delete Social Media: Personal cell phone numbers are nearly always associated with social media accounts. Deactivating or deleting social media prevents further access to your phone number through these accounts.
- Delete Unnecessary Mobile Apps: Cell phones often come with unnecessary apps already installed. These apps are often designed to collect personal data and are linked to your phone number. Deleting unnecessary apps will reduce availability of your PII.
- Delete Unnecessary Online Accounts: As with mobile apps, it’s wise to delete any unnecessary online accounts that are potentially linked to your cell number.
- Use Online Removal Tool: Many search engines offer online removal tools for the purpose of eliminating your data from internet searches.
- Conduct Website Search: Though it may be a tedious and time-consuming process, you can do a personal search for websites that contain your phone number and either delete it on your own or request that it be removed by site managers. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to uncover all or even which sites display or have access to your cell number or other PII.
- Set Up an Alternate Cell Number: Another option is to create a second phone number through available mobile apps. This allows you to set up an alternate, “dummy” number to use for online activity.
Of course, there are some situations in which providing your phone number online is either reasonable or unavoidable. For example, many industries such as online banking are utilizing two-factor verification for security purposes. This means that in addition to entering a username and password, a temporary code is also required for account access. The most common means of receiving such a code is through a text to your cell phone number, which identifies you as the proper account holder.
The downside to using your phone number as a means of extra security is that, for as much as you are protected against unauthorized account access, your number may be “farmed out” as data by certain online entities. Therefore, it’s essential to consider the potential risks when providing your phone number online and do it in as limited a manner as possible. Better yet, consider removing your phone number as much as possible from the internet altogether.