A personal number is a critical piece of detail linked to an individual’s ID. It’s part of your unique, identifiable information. But what happens when it’s available on public domains? You can get harassed by telemarketers, pranksters, and even criminals. Malicious actors could use it for numerous crimes. They may even target you for a doxxing attack by posting it online. Or they could just sell it to other criminals.
Sim swap scams, in particular, are common and highly effective. According to studies by Princeton University, their success rate is around 80%. When a criminal tricks your phone carrier to transfer your number to a new sim, they can target you for a series of frauds from there onwards. For instance, they can get access to personal accounts where you’ve set up two-factor authentication via a text-based passcode. Or they could target those around you for a text-based phishing scam, typically known as smishing.
The threats are limitless when a personal number reaches a bad actor. So, if you want to protect data privacy and ensure personal safety, you need to remove your phone number from the internet. Here are 5 essential steps to get it done fast.
1. Delete from sites where you’ve got editing facilities
A reverse phone search can quickly retrieve a list of websites where your personal phone number appears. Chances are, at least some of them include sites within your control. For instance, you’ve likely posted it on a company website, personal blog, or a social media site like Facebook and LinkedIn. If that’s the case, delete it immediately.
When there’s a business requirement to publish contact details, use a different number for those specific purposes. On some platforms like social media sites, you might be able to display it to selected individuals, such as those in your social network. So, it’s worthwhile to review Settings options to see how you can limit the visibility of contact numbers and other personal details and keep them private.
2. Delete from data aggregators
Data aggregators collect identifiable data to build individual profiles. Full profiles have greater monetizing power than random pieces of user data. In other words, when your phone number is coupled with your name and other identifiable details, it could be much more valuable than the number on its own.
Profiling allows these businesses to segregate databases based on criteria like geographic location and age. They can then use them for marketing and advertising purposes or to provide various services. They can even sell those databases to third parties for a hefty fee. As a result, your contact number could travel the world, as it’s passed from one hand to another.
So, if you want to keep personal phone numbers private, you’ll essentially need to get them removed from data aggregator sites. The good news is, the majority of them have data removal options, usually to delete the entire profile from their databases. Based on their removal procedure, you might need to submit an online form or an email.
And if there are no removal options, contact them directly to find out how you can get contact numbers off their databases.
3. Request third-party site owners
Third-party sites might display personal phone numbers for various purposes. For example, a business website could list the contact details of local businesses.
Identify all such sites and reach out to each of them. Keep a record of your data removal requests and follow up until it’s done. Keep in mind that they might not always respond positively. But it’s certainly worth a try.
4. Request Google
If a website owner seems disinclined to remove the phone number or refuses to respond, then you can ask Google and other search engines for support. While they would not influence site owners to edit or remove content on their websites, search engines can certainly prevent the content from appearing on their search results.
This could still prove invaluable since most website content gets discovered via search results. So, if a page doesn’t turn up on a search engine result page (SERP), then the likelihood of internet users discovering it could significantly diminish.
But remember, each search engine will have its own data removal policies. So, you would need to ensure that your request complies with them. For example, Google will prevent personally identifiable details from turning up on its SERPs, provided it’s a doxxing attempt. If the site owner demands a fee to delete the phone number, you can escalate it to Google, too, since such exploitative practices are prohibited by the search giant.
5. Hire a professional data removal service
If your personal number appears on multiple sites online, then removing it could take considerable time and effort. A data removal service would be the best solution in such instances. They can take care of the entire process, usually for an annual fee.
They can identify all websites that feature your contact number and submit the necessary requests based on each site’s data removal policy. In addition, many data removal services will often provide year-round scans for added assurance.
Depending on the data exposure, you may need to adopt one or more of these measures to remove your personal numbers from the internet. But a few extra safety steps to keep them secure could also go a long way. For instance, opt for a second phone number or a VoIP service. In addition, if providing contact details during account sign-up processes is mandatory, check whether you could obtain the required service as a guest without logging in.
Most importantly, avoid sharing your contact details with third parties unless there’s a good enough reason. Data exchange hands all the time. Preventing it altogether is only possible by keeping your identifiable information safe and confidential.