Tech Matters: How a second phone number can protect your accounts
There was a time when your mobile number was secure. It came as a welcome relief to the unwanted telemarketing and scam calls you received on your landline, but those days are over. You’ve likely received both unwanted calls and texts to your cellphone.
Why? Because you’ve shared your number with retailers and others who in turn have sold your data to third parties that make their living off building customer data profiles to all kinds of companies looking for new business. And yes, that data can easily fall into the hands of cybercriminals who aim to access your financial accounts. Your phone number can be the link that ties your identifying data together, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can get one or more additional numbers in much the same way as you can use disposable email addresses to protect your primary email account. There are apps you can use for anonymous phone numbers that can be changed if you see unauthorized use, and they don’t require a second device. Let’s look at some scenarios where an alternate phone number would be useful.
Many online retailers offer a discount if you sign up for texts. Your phone number is valuable to them because it means they can contact you with promotions. When I’ve done this, I usually get daily texts from these companies, which can be overwhelming. You can unsubscribe, but there’s no guarantee that your number hasn’t been shared with others. Using a disposable number allows you to track who is using that number and easily deactivate it to sever the connection.
An anonymous number can also be used for outgoing calls and texts. If you don’t want the person on the other end of the line to have your real number, use your alternate one. For instance, you may receive a call from a number you don’t recognize or one that is labeled “Unknown Caller” and the caller does not leave a voicemail. If you want to return the call, you can use your second phone number to protect your main number in case of a telemarketer or a scam.
On a side note, iPhone users can prevent unknown callers from interrupting them by turning on Silence Unknown Callers. You’ll find this feature in your Settings under “Phone.” The call will be logged in your “Recents” but won’t show up on the screen as an incoming call.
In a perfect world, you would use your primary mobile number only for your most important accounts such as your bank and physician, along with close family and friends (with the admonition to not share the number without your permission). The smaller the circle, the lower the risk. However, your main number is likely known by a much wider circle and you probably don’t want to change it.
What you can do is subscribe to an anonymous number service and use that for any less important accounts, which also tend to be more frequently compromised, and people. Going a step further, you can change the primary number on your social media accounts and others to an anonymous number. It will take some work, but will improve your online security.
There are a number of similar apps to try and they work in a similar way. Hushed is one of the better known products and costs $48 a year for one number if you pay in advance or $5 a month. You can also opt for a three-number plan at $140 for the year or $15 a month if you want to organize your numbers by type, say a number for shopping, a second for social media and a third for something else. If one of your numbers is compromised, you can deactivate it and replace it with a new one at no additional charge.
You do need an internet connection to make calls and send texts because these are VoIP calls — they use a Wi-Fi connection rather than your phone’s data. That’s why when you use a Hushed number, your activity is kept separate from your real number and won’t show up on your carrier bill. The number appears as a regular phone number when you use it to make a call or send a text. Just like with your primary number, you can set up voicemail and automatic replies to texts. To get started, download the app and set up your account. Whenever you want to make a call with your anonymous number, open the app and do it from there. You can easily manage your numbers from the app as well.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.