Everyone may have experienced it or could potentially experience it. Indeed, increased connectivity has also led to new threats, one of the most concerning being SIM Swapping.

In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in SIM Swapping cases worldwide. Did you know that SIM switch assaults have increased by 400% just in 2022?

In this article, we will explore what SIM Swapping is, how to detect if your SIM card has been cloned, and, more importantly, how you can protect yourself against this growing threat.

What is SIM Swapping

SIM Swapping, also known as SIM Splitting or SIM Jacking, is a dangerous scam and a form of social engineering involving the fraudulent duplication of a mobile phone’s SIM card.

Its modus operandi is as ingenious as it is alarming (and we’ll explain more about it later): a cybercriminal impersonates the victim to obtain a copy of their SIM card. Once the victim loses phone service, the scammer accesses their personal information and takes control of their digital banking, exploiting the verification SMS that arrives on the phone number.

This becomes particularly harmful when scammers intercept two-factor verification (2FA) messages and one-time passcodes (OTP).

Warning: Victims’ sensitive data may be compromised if they have downloaded fraudulent applications on their devices designed by cybercriminals to steal personal and financial information or if they have connected to fake Wi-Fi networks created to obtain this data.

Another VERY serious risk associated with SIM Swapping is that once scammers control the victim’s phone number, they can receive text messages and phone calls intended for that line.

A notable example of the devastating consequences of this scam was the arrest of 10 fraudsters by Interpol in 2020, who had managed to steal more than 100 million dollars in cryptocurrencies through SIM Swapping attacks.

How to Know if Your SIM Card Has Been Cloned

Detecting if your SIM card has been cloned is essential for taking swift action to protect your data and identity. Here are some key signs that your SIM card might have been duplicated without your consent:

  • Interruption in Calls and Messages: One of the most obvious signs is a disruption in receiving calls and text messages. If you notice that you haven’t received calls or messages for an extended period, this could be a concerning indication. Although in the era of instant messaging apps, it’s possible to go days without phone calls if, in doubt, you can ask a trusted person to call or send you an SMS to check if your phone responds. A lack of response is a warning sign.
  • Request to Restart Your Phone: If you receive a text message or an email requesting you to restart your phone, especially if it appears to come from your telecommunications company, you should be cautious. Hackers often pose as these companies to trick you and gain access to your device. During the restart, the attacker will try to obtain your SIM card data, which could jeopardize your information.
  • Changes in Phone Location: Use tools like “Find My iPhone” or Google’s “Find My Device” to check if your phone’s location is consistent with your actual location. If you see that your phone is located somewhere different from where you are, this could indicate that someone has cloned your SIM card. Attackers often operate from remote locations, which could be a telling clue.
  • Loss of Internet Connection: If you suddenly lose your Internet connection or mobile data stops working, this could be another sign that something is wrong with your SIM card. Although this can happen for various reasons, it is important to consider it along with other warning signs before taking action.
  • Receiving Unusual Messages: Another alarming signal is the receipt of strange messages. This could include text messages from the attacker telling you what to do to resolve an apparent issue. These steps could lead to the successful cloning of your SIM card. You might also receive unusual emails from the attacker or from the online services you are using.
  • Note on eSIM Cloning: While theoretically possible to clone an eSIM, the process is much more complicated than cloning a traditional SIM. It requires physical access to the mobile device and faces additional challenges due to the stronger security measures of eSIMs. Although not impossible, cloning of eSIMs is considerably more difficult to execute.

How does SIM Swapping work?

The process of SIM Swapping involves a series of stages that cybercriminals must carry out meticulously:

  • Collection of Personal Information: The first step in duplicating a SIM card is to obtain personal and confidential data from the current cardholder. This information includes essential elements like the phone number, email address, and date of birth. Criminals often acquire this data through social engineering techniques or attacks such as spoofing, phishing, smishing, pharming, or vishing.
  • Contacting the Service Provider: Once the attackers have gathered enough information, they contact the victim’s mobile service provider, posing as the victim. They use manipulation tactics to persuade the provider that they need to transfer the phone number to a new SIM card, claiming loss or theft of the mobile device. In some cases, they may file a false report or provide forged documentation, such as a copy of an ID with the criminal’s photo.
  • Validation of False Identity: Cybercriminals can provide the victim’s personal information, answer security questions, or even use identity impersonation techniques to convince the provider’s agent, whether in an office or over the phone, that they are the legitimate owner of the phone line.
  • Cloning the Card and Duplicating the SIM: Once the telephony provider has been convinced, the attackers proceed to transfer the victim’s phone number to a new SIM card. This involves deactivating the original SIM card and activating the new one in a mobile device under the control of the criminal.

Once the cybercriminal possesses the new SIM card, they can receive calls, SMS, and OTP verification codes, using this information to access bank accounts, conduct transactions, and commit other types of fraud.

How to prevent your SIM card from being cloned

Although it is sometimes difficult to completely prevent SIM card cloning, there are basic measures and tips you can follow to reduce the risk and protect your mobile line against potential intruders:

  1. Contact the Telephony Company: If you suspect that your SIM card has been compromised or notice unusual activities on your line, immediately contact your mobile service provider. Reporting the problem to the company is essential to take swift action and resolve the situation.
  2. Avoid Disclosing Data Online: Most SIM Swapping attacks originate because attackers obtain personal information. To prevent this, avoid posting your personal information online, such as on open forums or website comments. This includes your phone number, which is the main target for attackers.
  3. Install Security Software: Protecting your mobile device is crucial to prevent the entry of malware that could lead to the cloning of your SIM card. Install reliable antivirus software on your mobile device to detect and remove potential threats, such as trojans or keyloggers that could steal your personal information.
  4. Common Sense: Yes, common sense is your best defence against these attacks. Be wary of any phone call or message requesting personal data, even if they claim to be from your bank, operator, or any other trusted entity. Never provide sensitive information through suspicious links in emails or install applications that could compromise your privacy.

In addition to these measures, it is crucial to address the problem from two different perspectives:

  • Strengthen identity verification measures by telephony operators in the processes of issuing SIM cards and requesting duplicates, including the use of facial recognition.
  • Implement biometric authentication as a second factor of authentication in the financial industry and other services to ensure greater security in transactions and prevent fraudulent use of SIM cards.

Need help? At Silt, we offer the best biometric identity verification services on the market. Try our demo for free.