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Guard cellphone number like credit card: experts

Canadians are being warned they should protect their cellphone number with the same vigilance that they would a credit card.

Canadians are being warned they should protect their cellphone number with the same vigilance that they would a credit card.

That's because in our increasingly mobile world, there are more goods and services that people can pay for on the run by typing in not their credit card number but their cellphone number.

The new warnings come after a number of Canadians told CBC News they were duped into signing up for pricey text message schemes after entering their cellphone number through games and quizzes.

Unbeknownst to them, they had actually signed up for something called Premium Text Messages. These are messages you pay for in addition to standard text message fees and they can cost as much as $5 a text.

"We give out our cellphone numbers willy-nilly. This is information that is not treated with particular sensitivity," said David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, based at the University of Ottawa.

"I don't think most cellphone users think that their wireless service provider is going to act as a middle man [in these premium texting schemes]," said Fewer.

That perception must change, said Iain Grant, head of Montreal-based SeaBoard Group, a telecom consultancy.

"Your cellphone number is far more than just a phone number," said Grant.

While it's not as common in Canada, in Europe, cellphone numbers can be used to pay for small services, like parking and restaurant bills, said Grant.

"It's used more as a small change purse," said Grant.

Cell-related services are coming to Canada, particularly in the area of fundraising, said Marc Choma, spokesman for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Last month, the CWTA helped launch mobilegiving.ca, a website that allows people to make online donations to charities by simply typing in their cellphone number.

"Your cell number is really a personal piece of information and your cellphone is more than a phone," said Choma. "It's a computer in your hand."

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