Cell Phone Numbers are the New SSNs by Cynthia Hetherington

Industry: Publishing

Social Security numbers (SSN) have been the mainstay of investigators but now cell phones are more readily available, easy to locate and as valuable as a SSN.

Tempe, AZ (PRUnderground) October 25th, 2017

Social Security numbers (SSN) have been the mainstay of investigators since Hank Asher gave us DBTxp in the early 80’s.  The SSN is an anchor to a person and helps us define who one individual is versus millions.  Yet, it is protected information, heavily regulated and dangerous to use and write up in a report.  On the other hand, a cellular number is also a one-out-of-a-million number, which can be used to locate a person, it is not protected and there is a good chance if you dial it, your subject will answer.

Nearly everyone has a cell phone today.  According to the Pew Research Center (www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile) “The vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cell phone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77%, up from just 35% in Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership conducted in 2011.”

Cell phone numbers are readily available, easy to locate, and attached to an individual for decades.  A cell phone number is part of the data people readily give up to social media, marketing firms, free apps, and on written applications.

These cell numbers are captured everywhere, and now as valuable as a Social Security number.  Data vendors like Acxiom collect and create marketing statistics based on it, social media Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all want it for “securing your account” but are also selling it to a wide variety of entities including data vendors, gym memberships, coupon programs, health insurance, restaurants.  Programs used by law enforcement like Nixel, obtain your number to send Amber alerts, or local road shut downs.  Fraud prevention systems and tracking tools also rely on your cell number.

How to Find Data Using a Cell Phone Number

If you already have the number jump into any of your public record vendors (CLEAR, Tracers, etc.) and see what develops. Keep in mind you want to locate the real-time database in these sources, so TLO Super Phone Search would be your best bet.  Delvepoint by UDT has some nifty cell searches as well. CLEAR and Tracers have been head and shoulders above on their cellular data for years, so I may begin with them and move onto the others if I was not developing any leads.

How to Search for a Cell Phone Number

Not knowing a subject’s cell phone number means you are going old school Google searching the number.  Which you may want to look into anyhow, since the data may have been doxxed and shared out – in other words, someone could be spoofing the number you are looking for.  No doubt you will see that right away.  To find a number, you search Google like “212 555 1212” always removing the items that are built into the number, such as parenthesis, dashes, periods.  You need the quotes to contain the numbers in the order they appear, but you need to remove the extraneous items that will limit your search results.  For example, a recent search of “973.706.7525” gives 21 results, whereas “973 706 7525” gives 41 results.

If the number is fraudulent, or being spoofed, as in the annoying car warrantee offers I get all day, then the likelihood of 800notes.com being on the top of the list is rather high.  Know that 800notes.com is an unofficial angry consumer site, where people post the phone numbers of annoying telemarketers and report on their interactions.  All I need to see is that 800notes is in the top five sites of my Google search and I know it is a spoofed number.

If I find the number associated to an individual, then I can use that as a searchable item in and of itself.  Using professional databases, I’m going into their various phone search tools or, anything else I can run the phone number against, particularly with utility databases such as found in CLEAR and TLO.  We forget cell phones are considered part of the utility database. When you subscribe to your cellular service (not a drop phone), you should get a credit check run, give them your Social Security number, and all the details you would if you were getting a new credit card.  Depending on the public record provider, you need to make sure you are searching all the places the cell phone data is captured.  Call them if you are unsure, it is worth the five minutes’ inconvenience, if your number pops up in a utility record associated across town, at a business or house you didn’t know about.

What if you are unsure of the phone number? Try calling the landline and asking the respondent for a cell phone number.  Depending on the type of case, and in keeping with the ethical/legal boundaries, I can see creatively stating, “Hey we need to send a verification code to the cell phone but the number given to us was this landline.”  There are other creative ways such as asking the respondent to text you a confirmation code so that we know the right person was reached, and when you get the code, you snatch the phone number. Pretext is not my area of expertise, yet given circumstances and some leads based on other areas of the Subject’s life, something interesting can be done to elicit the number.

The research outlined above will not work on people who change phones often, such as criminals who use drop phones, or make a concerted effort to protect their number by dialing *67 before dialing.  Also, if you are using VOIP (aka Wi-Fi calls) or are specifically dialing through a proxy to hide your number, the data is not going to get collected and you have cloaked your identity to the receiver.  Essentially if you go through extended means to always block your number, then congratulations it works.  However, if you order a pizza, the newspaper, leave your phone number on a hotel registration etc., you do with companies that record your number and resell it to public record vendors, so you may have compromised your number.   If you signed up using your phone on any social media, even if you didn’t add your number, it gets collected from the data you permit the SM to collect.  Others give up your number as well.  I hit the gym with a friend last week and they added him to my membership by taking a picture and his cell phone number. So I sold out his privacy for 60 minutes of gossiping on side-by-side treadmills!

There are so many ways this simple convenient number can be hidden and found.  Given the right resources great investigators will make short work of making a cell number as handy as a Social Security number.  Good luck and happy hunting!

About the Author

Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII has been practicing, training, and writing in the investigative field for a quarter of century and hopes to get a day off soon. She is a Faculty Member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) and Chair of the Economic Crime Committee of ASIS International. She is the host of OSMOSISCon.com and the author of several Facts on Demand Press books including The Guide to Online Due Diligence Investigations. 

For more information or to purchase The Guide to Online Due Diligence Investigations, please visit BRB Publications Bookstore.

About BRB Publications

BRB Publications, Inc. is the premier publisher of references and websites used for locating public records. BRB’s books and electronic products point the way to over 28,000 government agencies and 3,500 public record vendors who maintain, search or retrieve public records. The metadata provided by BRB includes in-depth descriptions of record access policies and procedures, access methods, restrictions, fees, turn around times, identifiers shown on records, and other needed tips and info used for public record searching. All products are up-to-date, comprehensive, and affordable.

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