Protecting Yourself from SIM Swap Scams

Older adults are frequently the target of financial fraudsters, and scams using mobile phone SIM cards have seen a dramatic spike in recent months netting $68 million in 2021 alone, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations.  The public is warned to be very careful about email or text message requests to recover locked accounts or forgotten passwords. 

As recently reported by ABC News, criminals can obtain a person’s SIM card through phishing tactics, masquerading as the victim’s cell phone carrier.  Once the scammers have access and can reset login passwords, they can gain control of online accounts linked with the victim’s mobile phone profile including bank account details.

In a recent public service announcement, the FBI reported that between January 2018 and December 2020, the bureau received 320 complaints related to SIM swapping incidents.  In 2021, that number shot up to 1,611 reports.   The SIM swapping scam targets mobile carriers using social engineering, insider threat, or phishing tactics to gain access to bank and virtual currency accounts.  Criminals may trick a mobile carrier into switching SIM cards by impersonating a victim or gain access by paying off a cell carrier employee.  

To prevent falling victim to such scams, the FBI warns individuals to avoid advertising any information about financial assets, including cryptocurrency, on social media. Never provide mobile account information over the phone if asked to give your account password or pin number.  Verify any calls about your account by calling the customer service line provided by your carrier.  Never store passwords, usernames, or other login information on mobile device applications.  

To help protect your online accounts, the FBI recommends using a variety of passwords to access accounts and strong multi-factor authentication methods including biometrics, physical security tokens, or standalone authentication applications like Google Authenticator, Zenkey, or Authy.   Read more about cell phone fraud and SIM swapping, by following this link to the Federal Communications Commission.