You don’t give out your social security number to just anyone. Then why give out your phone number any time an app asks for it? We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Your phone number is your identity. It’s one of the few pieces of information that’s entirely unique to you. That’s why you want to make sure it only lands in trusted hands. So here are 9 places you don’t want to use your real phone number.
Give us your phone number, and we’ll give you a deal. It sounds good—especially when you can unsubscribe immediately—but there’s a catch. Now your phone number can be added to a database of people interested in whatever type of store the coupon was for. Data aggregators can build profiles from any number of sources that have that phone number. And whatever you bought with that coupon can be added in, too. In other words, that text signup wasn’t so harmless.
2. Grocery stores
Think of this as the coupon sign-up warning on overdrive. When you get a saver club card, you’re handing over an explicitly detailed list of food preferences, how much you’ll pay, and times you shop. Odds are they’re not being collected to “improve your shopping experience.”
3. “For sale” sites
If you’ve ever bought or sold something on Craigslist, well, you know. Besides lowball offers and defective merch, you’re meeting up with a stranger. Most of the time people are perfectly fine, but then there’s the creepiness factor. These people don’t need your personal phone number, full stop.
It sounds harmless enough: Give us your number in case there are any issues with your delivery. But aside from maybe freight companies delivering large items like refrigerators and couches, nobody really calls. You could take online stores at their word and trust they won’t sell or share your info, or you could play it safe. We’d opt for the latter.
5. Political campaigns
If you thought signing up for a coupon was bad, giving your number to a political campaign is downright dreadful. Prepare to be blitzed with calls for donations, texts bugging you to confirm your polling location, and, yes, more calls for donations. With the amount of money swirling around in a presidential election year, you can expect the hassles to reach a fever pitch this fall. Do yourself a favor, and keep that number private.
6. Your cable company
We’re gonna go out on a limb and say you don’t like your cable company. So why would you give them a way to push unnecessary internet upgrades and 6,000-channel premium TV packages? We say let the cable companies go back to squeezing more money out of you the old-fashioned way: by tacking on random, legally dubious fees.
Whenever possible, you should definitely use two-factor authentication (2FA) to secure your online accounts. But using your phone number to get 2FA codes by text is less than ideal. A hacking method called SIM swapping allows someone to impersonate your phone, giving them access to your texts. Instead, opt to get 2FA codes through an authenticator app like Duo or Authy when available. In some cases, you can also choose to use a physical device called a Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) security key.
8. Messaging apps
The irony with this one is suffocating. Apps that let you communicate with friends somehow can’t function without your phone number? They don’t need your phone number—they want it. Don’t give them the satisfaction. There are plenty of messaging apps out there that will let you sign up with an easily filtered email address.
9. Dating apps
Exchanging phone numbers with someone you meet at a bar is risky enough, but someone you’ve never seen in person? Yikes. Your personal safety comes first, so keep your real number off that dating app. And once you’ve developed a little trust, a little rapport, and some butterflies in your stomach, you can share it with that new acquaintance.
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to worry about your phone number being used for nefarious ends. In this world, though, you do have an option if you need to give out a phone number to someone you don’t want to. Set up a Burner number and send them straight to voicemail. Think of it as the perfect way to have your cake—with a sweet in-store discount—and eat it, too.