This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
As more and more of our personal information goes online, the risk of a data breach or a people-search site exposing your phone number increases. This makes you a target for con artists, telemarketers, and other annoyances, who find your number and attempt to scam or harass you as you go about your daily life. Bad actors may even use your number to pose as you and potentially damage your online reputation.
If you’ve had enough, here’s what you can do to remove your phone number from the internet.
Change your number
The most effective, if annoying, way of stopping this from happening? Make the information on the internet wrong. This may not make sense for small businesses and people who need to have a public line, but changing your number can be a powerful tool to erase your phone number from the web.
Don’t give out your number
Many people believe that signing up for do-not-call lists or getting an unlisted number is the best way to end these calls. However, the reality is that more often than not, these calls persist because many callers simply ignore these lists.
The best thing you can do is to not give your number out in the first place. For those instances in which you are required to provide a phone number, you should use a service such as Google Voice to ensure that you maintain your privacy and control who can contact you.
Be careful using Facebook
If you have a Facebook account, then your phone number may already be leaked online, as the company has a history of not protecting users’ information. Facebook’s most famous security breach was the Cambridge Analytical scandal of 2018. Later that year, hackers stole 30 million Facebook users’ email addresses and phone numbers.
Facebook’s latest data breach exposed the private cellphone numbers—as well as email addresses and account details—of 533 million people. Originally harvested in 2019, this data was recently discovered on a well-known hacker forum.
You can use the Dark Web Scan included with all of our privacy products to see whether your phone number was revealed in this breach. If it was, then you should be sure to watch out for any strange texts or emails asking for information or wanting you to click on a link. These are most likely attempts to scam you or steal your personal information. You can learn more about how to respond in our article “What to do if your personal information is exposed in a security breach.”
Check your apps
Your phone might be betraying you. Look at the permissions for each app on your smartphone, and you may find some apps are allowed to collect and transmit your phone number. This is especially true of free games, but it’s not uncommon elsewhere. Find and remove these apps where possible.
Also, remember that some social networking sites, like Facebook, may collect your phone number if you use their app on your phone. Thus, the best way to remove your number from the internet is to not use these apps at all, if possible.
Read the fine print
Another problem is that businesses and charities you provide your phone number to may have fine print in their terms of service that states that they get to sell your number, whether you want them to or not. Read these documents closely before you give anyone your phone number. This will help you avoid getting calls from other “interested parties” an organization decides to “share information with.”
Be aware of public records sites
Data brokers and people-search sites scan the web for public records, put them on the internet, and charge people a fee to view them. As these sites can vary widely in their terms of services and overall ethics, it can often be difficult to get them to delete your data. To ensure your privacy, you can get help from a reputation service, like ReputationDefender, that specializes in dealing with these sites and getting your phone number off the internet.
If you have any questions about your online privacy, please give us a call. We are happy to share the knowledge we have gained from our many years of experience protecting people’s personal information.