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7 Ways Telemarketers Get Your Cell Phone Number

by on July 01, 2013
in Phones and Mobile, Tips & How-Tos, Privacy :: 12 comments

If you’re in the shrinking pool of people who still have a land line, you’re most likely inundated with calls from telemarketers.

But your cell phone is different, right? You may have registered on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry and maybe you know regulations exist that limit the ways debt collectors and companies selling things can pester you on your cell phone.

That kind of thinking isn’t grounded in reality and, unfortunately, a growing number of telemarketing companies don’t care about lists and legislation and will harass you with unwanted calls and texts on your mobile phone anyway. In fact, one tech analyst recently estimated as many as 100 billion robocalls—those lacking a human being on the other end—and other solicitations are made to cell phones in the U.S. every year.

But how do telemarketers get your phone number anyway? You might be surprised.

1. You overshare your number

Anytime you fill out a form and give out your phone number—whether it’s a contest entry, a warranty registration, a signup form for an online service, what you include on your social networking profile—you’re opening yourself up for solicitations. Or, think about how many retailers have your number because you want loyalty points to score discounts or in-store credit.

Even putting your phone number in your email signature can put you at risk.

“Anywhere you’re entering your number on a form or anywhere that you’re supplying your information, there is a chance that that number is going to end up in someone else’s hands, whether or not the policy is stating that you’re protected or not,” says Jonathan Sasse, acting CMO of PrivacyStar, an app that lets you block numbers on your Android smartphone as well as report abusers to the government.

2. You accept Terms of Use without reading or understanding them

Sasse says a growing number of mobile apps—things like flashlight utilities or games—are really only interested in harvesting your personal information and selling it.

“It becomes a scraping device, whether it’s your contacts or the information you used when you signed up. There’s a lot of information that you’re providing when you say ‘Yes, I accept whatever terms you just put in front of me,’” he says.

3. Big data has killed privacy.

In case you don’t know what “big data” is, here’s a brief primer.

Basically, we live in an age where computers are so smart and fast they can crawl the web and look at billions of data points instantly. In a blink they can look at everything you Like, pin or tweet. They can mine census data and other public records, such as how much you paid for your house and whether or not it was ever foreclosed upon. Just search for yourself on Pipl.com—you’ll be amazed at the number of companies that claim to have information about your family, income, phone number and much, much more.

Again, the more information you share online, the easier it’s going to be for someone to get your mobile number.

4. Technology can dial zillions of random numbers like it’s nothing

We’ve all received calls that don’t have another human on the other end. Not only is the recording automated, oftentimes so is the process of finding your number. According to PrivacyStar, automatic dialing devices can figure out and call all possible phone number combinations, including unlisted and mobile numbers.

5. Automatic Number Identification can also sabotage you

According to PrivacyStar, when you call 800, 888, and 900 numbers your phone number can be captured by a system called "Automatic Number Identification" or ANI. ANI automatically identifies and stores your number and matches it with other online digital markers associated with you. (See the big data section above.)

6. The credit bureaus give away your information

Before you get mad at them for spilling so much of your personal information, remember—you’re the one who agreed to sign up for that department-store credit card so as to receive 25% off.

7. Charities take all the fun out of being philanthropic

Don’t you hate it when you give $10 to some charity that’s been hounding you only to have it double down on trying to get even more money from you? The few bucks you gave it are completely eaten up in its marketing efforts to get deeper access to your wallet.

Blame the third-party telemarketing companies the charities hire to collect funds on their behalf. According to PrivacyStar, “The telemarketers keep a percentage of whatever they collect, turning over the rest of your donation to the charity. However, the telemarketers also keep your personal information, from which they can profit exponentially as they sell and resell it to other telemarketing companies.”

What to do about it

First, be smart about accepting Terms of Use when it comes to apps you’re downloading onto your smartphone. Does a flashlight utility really need access to your call logs?

And, while some telemarketers don’t heed it, many do—register your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Even better, use a fake or alternate number if you absolutely must sign up for a loyalty program or contest. And there’s simply no reason you need to post your phone number on Facebook or your Google profile. The people who you want to hear from already have your number.

Also, make sure to install on your phone an app that will block numbers from texting and calling you.

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Discussion loading

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NOMOROBO.com

From lyn buerger on July 01, 2013 :: 11:58 am

The do not call registry is a joke.  Assuming you keep records and report them and assuming anything is done about it all they have to do is re-route they call through another number and keep on keeping on.
I’m anxiously awaiting the way to block robo calls and thanks to our fed.gov. and their $50,000. reward we have two systems coming. on is http://www.nomorobo.com and hopefully it won’t cost much and will work.

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Do Not Call Registry

From Nancy on July 01, 2013 :: 12:24 pm

I have a land line. Signing up for the Do Not Call Registry is a total waste of time and effort. I even left messages about the constant solicitors on their site. Energy, home improvement, and carpet cleaner calls are endless. These robocallers (and also live people) call at lunch, dinner time, and about 7 pm. Unfortunately there is no caller ID number on who is calling when you answer the phone. The phone company passes the buck and tells you to sign up on Do Not Call.

However, when you sign up with a reputable online site for a merchandise sale, if you do not fill in your phone number you cannot go to the next step in ordering. Phone numbers are required entries. So you are stuck with giving out your phone number.

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If you must sign up, don't tell them everything

From Mary on July 01, 2013 :: 5:52 pm

Whenever a phone number is demanded on a site I deliberately sign up for, I simply use a phone number I had like 20 years ago.  This rarely fails to go through.  It does piss me off to no end that websites ask for your snail mail address when all you want to do is receive some online newsletter.  I would prefer to forego receiving something of relatively little value than to hand out this much personal information all the time.

By the way, Mozilla has a plug-in called “Mask Me” or something like that which allows you to put a fake email address in one of these online forms; you get any messages from them in your actual originating email address initially but then you can block them.  This much is free; I think it costs money if you want to use it to create fake phone numbers.

The Automatic Number Identification data mininig thing mentioned in number 5 above is really creepy.  This sort of thing should be illegal and it should be easier to block such things from a non-smartphone cell phone.  Back when all we had was caller-id on the landline, I just didn’t answer any number I didn’t recognize or let it go to the answering machine.  Now I almost never answer the cell phone because I only use it for emergencies anyway.  But then, I always hated the telephone.  Most people aren’t so stubborn.

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just don't answer

From jimmy kraktov on May 28, 2014 :: 12:44 am

My entire working life was retail sales. The telephone made me lots of money over the years but when I finished work I rarely used my phone at home. I paid a small fee every month for almost 40 years to keep my number unlisted. Before I had caller ID all I could do, and always did, was hang up on anyone I didn’t know when the phone rang. I have an old cellphone in my car that’s ready to use in an emergency. I now have, for a home phone, a magicJack connected to my computer. Any call I get is shown on my TV screen. If it’s not in my list of contacts or a number doesn’t appear I simply don’t answer. One click on the interface on screen and the phone stops ringing and my peace and privacy is maintained. I’ve always been amazed by the number of people I know who scramble to answer a ringing phone. Like there’s some rule that says you have to. Afraid they’ll miss out on something important. That’s what voicemail is for. Putting my info on the “Do Not Call” list has reduced, but not fully eliminated robocalls, but again, if the phone rings, I have never felt the need to answer. It’s about all one can do to keep from being pestered, and it works. I take full advantage of my ‘voicemail’ feature. These days there is no reason anyone has to talk on the phone with strangers, or even people you know, while you’re busy doing something else.

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nomorobo.com doesn't work

From Guest on November 25, 2013 :: 6:50 pm

nomorobo.com doesn’t work. It increase junk calls ten fold! People do you want a free solution(the only one you should be using)? Login online on the computer to your phone providers website. They have a place where you can block numbers. I haven’t had a spam call since! Of course you pay for your phone and phone bills, but that’s beside the point. This blocking solution provided by your phone service is free of charge smile ! If you don’t believe me, go look at your phone provider for yourself.

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That's not accurate

From Josh Kirschner on November 26, 2013 :: 2:43 pm

Not sure what you’re basing your comments on. Nomorobo.com won’t increase junk calls at all, and should reduce them by a fair amount if it works as promised.

The problem with using your phone company’s blocking is that you must manually enter every number you want to block. And, unless you know in advance what spammers are going to call, you’re not going to have much luck with that.

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Thank you for the heads-up!

From Jeffrey Deutsch on July 01, 2013 :: 12:04 pm

Hello Christina,

Excellent reminder that most of us could stand to tighten up our personal information safety practices.

If you want a number to give retailers and others, please don’t just make one up without knowing for sure that it won’t impact innocent folks. Instead—especially if it’s something where you might actually want to hear back from them*—you might like to get a free voicemail number at K7.

(No, I don’t work for them; I’m just a satisfied “customer”.)

On the other hand, if you know you won’t want to hear from them, you can always give them the Telemarketer’s Nightmare: (973) 474-9051.

And with regard to apps, thank you also for the reminder to check app permissions. If, when considering a new app, I see any permission I’m not sure I understand why it’s there, I look on the developer’s website (if applicable) to see if they’ve listed permission reasons there. If not, or if I don’t understand what I see there, I email the developer and ask.

[*] For contests, you’ll need to give a number where they can at least leave a message for you.

Keep up the good work!

Jeff Deutsch

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tkeneklis@yahoo.com

From tkeneklis@yahoo.com on July 01, 2013 :: 12:36 pm

Ithink it’s amazing that when I clicked on the link, it was for a contest that requests….my phone number.

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Which link?

From Josh Kirschner on July 01, 2013 :: 1:10 pm

Which link is taking you to a contest?

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Call Blocking

From Don on July 15, 2013 :: 5:54 pm

The thing I would like very much to see is call blocking on my cell phone. The ability to block entire area codes and individual exchanges would put an end to many of these calls. Of course the cell companies won’t do that because they make money on every call.

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There are apps for that (At least on Android!)

From Jeffrey Deutsch on July 15, 2013 :: 6:04 pm

Hello,

Check out Techlicious’ recent piece for several good Android apps for call blocking.

In fact, just today I installed PrivacyStar so I’ll see how that goes.

Jeff Deutsch

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Jeff Deutsch

From Don on July 15, 2013 :: 6:22 pm

Thanks Jeff but I don’t have an Android.

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