Toronto

Ontario police warn of 'SIM swapping' fraud

Ontario residents are being warned about a relatively new kind of fraud called "SIM swapping" in which criminals steal personal information via mobile phones in order to gain access to bank accounts.

Scam, in which fraudsters link victim's phone number to a new SIM card, reported in Ontario

Ontario Provincial Police are warning residents of a relatively new kind of fraud known as 'SIM card swapping.' (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Ontario residents are being warned about a relatively new kind of fraud calling "SIM swapping" in which criminals steal personal information via mobile phones in order to gain access to bank accounts.

The Ontario Provincial Police, along with Ontario's Serious Fraud Office and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, says this kind of fraud is concerning and incidents have been reported to police. The fraud involves the use of "phone number porting," police said.

"Fraudsters may empty your bank accounts, apply for credit in your good name, or impersonate you to defraud your entire contact list. In the meantime, you lose access to your mobile service, are typically locked out of all your accounts, and are left scrambling," the OPP says.

 A "fraudster" will impersonate a person and call their mobile service provider to report a lost or stolen phone, the OPP said. Then, the fraudster will link the victim's phone number to a new SIM card and device that they control.

At that point, the fraudster will download a series of popular apps and will select the "forgot password" button on all of them. 

If an account is connected to a phone number or email address, the fraudster will receive a verification code. They then use the code to confirm ownership of the account, create a new password and take over the victim's accounts, police said.

From there, they gain direct access to personal information, police said.

'Fraudsters may empty your bank accounts, apply for credit in your good name, or impersonate you to defraud your entire contact list. In the meantime, you lose access to your mobile service, are typically locked out of all your accounts, and are left scrambling,' the OPP says. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Ways to protect yourself, police say

But the OPP says there are ways that people can protect themselves. These include:

  • Keep all personal information personal. It is as simple as not publishing a date of birth on social media.
  • Do not answer phishing emails or text messages asking to confirm a password or update account information.
  • Use an offline password manager.
  • Contact a phone provider and ask about additional security measures that may be available.
  • If you lose mobile service on your device, contact a service provider immediately.

"Go with your gut. If a message seems fishy, it probably is," the OPP said.

Anyone who is a victim of fraud is urged to call police.

When a SIM card is swapped, the victim can still use some aspects of their phone and connect to WiFi, but he or she cannot make or receive phone calls, text, or use cellular data.

SIM cards, or subscriber identification modules, are used by cellphone carriers to store information on services about a subscriber's identity, the OPP said.

Through a SIM card, a phone number and a mobile service are connected to a particular mobile device. A subscriber then connects dozens of accounts to his or her mobile device through the use of apps.

Many logins of these accounts are often linked to an email address, a phone number, or both, police said in the release.