When is the last time you got a new phone number? Chances are good you’re rocking the same one you were assigned when you bought your first device, whenever that was, and have ported it from one phone to another over the years. These days carriers are happy to let you keep your number if you want, even when you’re signing up for a new plan, making it easy to simply run through the life with the same digits for decades.
But between unrelenting spam calls and texts, as well as general privacy concerns, there’s a case for changing your phone number now, even if it seems like doing so would invite more chaos than good.
Spam calls and texts are blowing up your phone
The stereotype suggests the phone call is dead, but it still gets plenty of use. Of course, the callers doing the heavy lifting here are, unfortunately, spammers. You see it all the time: Your iPhone or Android might literally tell you the incoming call is a spam risk, or a number mirrored closely to yours, or coming from a random location no one who actually wants to talk to you would be calling from.
And it’s not only spam calls that are a nuisance these days; it’s spam texts as well. I receive way too many spammy messages on a near daily basis, sent from both phone numbers and email addresses, and running the gamut from lengthy pitches about car warranties, to phishing attempts, to PDFs I will never open. Even with the ability to report spam texts to your carrier, fighting them off is a Sisyphean task.
Spammers can steal your phone number
There are many ways spammers and bad actors can get ahold of your phone number. Often, it, along with more of your personal data, is simply sold by the companies and organizations you thought you could trust. Or maybe the spammers picked it up from a background check service (more of your personal information is out there online than you think). Other times, this information is released due to a data leak. No matter how they got your number, it’s out there, and the longer you’ve had it, the more likely it exists in multiple shady places and on multiple mass-spam lists.
The good thing about getting a new number? It’s a clean slate. The spammers will find you eventually, true. But it will take time—and there are ways to keep it safer (more on that below).
Changing your phone number is easier and cheaper than you think
Changing your number sounds like a hassle, as you’ll have to both deal with your carrier and update your extensive list of contacts with your new info. But, as it turns out, you can change your number in minutes, online, for little-to-no cost.
Verizon offers this service to its customers free of charge through the My Verizon app or website (going through customer service costs $15). AT&T will also let you change your number for free, provided you activated it less than 30 days ago; if you’ve had the number longer than that, you’ll need to pay $36 to switch. AT&T will even let you customize your new number. You can choose your telephone prefix (the middle three digits), then pick from available line numbers. Obviously, you can’t pick a number that is already taken, but it can be a good way to secure a number that resonates with you.
T-Mobile’s Scam Shield lets you change your number once per year for free, with a $15 fee per change in between. Sprint also lets you switch for free, but doesn’t let you pick the number, which is a shame.
Changing your number isn’t the big social hassle it seems to be
There’s no getting around the chore of having to update your friends and family with your new digits. Until someone figures out a way to do so en masse, you’ll be getting a lot of “new number, who dis” texts. But, it might not be as much work as you think. After all, do you really need to update each and every one of your contacts? I have plenty of numbers in my digital rolodex that I don’t use. If I changed my number, I certainly wouldn’t be reaching out to very many of these outdated contacts.
There are now also so many more ways we communicate than via a phone number. While a direct phone call to your old number will result in an error message, your friends and family’s messages to you might still get through. On iPhone, for example, you likely can also be reached via your Apple ID email, which also supports iMessage and FaceTime. If people send you a message or call you, it should default to these accounts, giving you the opportunity to update those contacts with your number.
In addition, we chat on third-party apps all the time. Your Messenger friends won’t even know you changed your number. WhatsApp is tied to your phone number, but you’ll need to update your number with the app to use it, and your WhatsApp friends will still be able to reach you once you do.
How to keep your new number away from spammers
Now that you’ve made it this far, do your best to stop spammers from getting your new number so you don’t need to do this all again. One of the best ways to prevent bad actors from accessing your number is to not give out your number at all. How? Give them an alternative.
Enter Google Voice: With this service, Google will give you a secondary phone number tied to your primary digits. This number can send and receive calls and texts, just like your regular number, while shielding your primary number. Signing up for account that requires a phone number? Google Voice. Sending resumes out to strangers on the job hunt? Google Voice. Any time you’re sharing your number with people you don’t know, or especially with apps, websites, and the like, use your Google Voice number, and keep your iPhone or Android from ringing off the hook.
Of course, this method isn’t foolproof: It’s entirely possible your new number will be accessed by one of these background check companies. When that happens, paid services like DeleteMe can help purge personal data from these scummy sites and organizations. But keeping your number private to all but your most trusted contacts should keep most of the spammers and phishers at bay.
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