It seems that everyone wants our personal phone number. It is used to create a new account, rewards programs, reservations, account verification, 2-factor authorization, and, recently, contact tracing. When starting a new business, it can be enticing to give clients and other business contacts your personal phone number because it’s convenient. You already have one, it’s easy for you to remember, and there are no extra expenses or setup involved. However, there are a growing number of risks associated with using your personal phone number for business, and it’s essential to understand what those risks are.
Brian X. Chen, a writer for the New York Times, shared an experience he once had working with a security analyst to see how his personal phone number could expose him to possible identity theft and other personal risks. His findings can help us to understand how our personal phone number can reveal sensitive personal information.
Chen provided his personal cell phone number to the security analyst. The analyst performed a simple web search of publicly available records on White Pages Premium. According to Chen, the analyst discovered “a full dossier on me — including my name and birth date, my address, the property taxes I pay and the names of members of my family.”
The security firm Chen worked with was equipped with access to more powerful analytics software which could extract all sorts of information about his personal life, including online consumer and government databases. In the hands of a knowledgeable identity thief, this data could be used to guess passwords, steal his identity, and extort family members.
Our personal phone numbers are one of our most robust personal identifiers, online and offline. That number is attached to you and only you. Mobile phone service providers and other services we interact with regularly provide or sell our usage and browsing data to third parties. Outside of using a VPN to protect our usage and data, we can’t always control who has access to our data.
Tlholohelo Makatu, a writer on Medium.com, writer about horrific experiences that she had after giving out her personal phone number to business clients. “I would receive calls or messages from clients and suppliers. A lot of the time, I’d get these when I’m on my way to work, considerably before 8 AM.”
For Makatu, things only progressed from there. When she provided her personal number to business contacts, she opened her personal life to unwelcome contacts outside of business hours. From her experience, it appears that when customers and providers know they can reach you away from work, they can and will take advantage of that.
These stories illustrate the risks that giving out our personal numbers for business-related interactions can expose us to. While there are many risks, the following are the most detrimental to you, your identity, and your personal life.
Business Life and Personal Life Become Intertwined
If you choose to list your personal number for your company, there is no way to separate business communications from personal interactions. It’s already complicated as it is keeping track of the calls and texts from friends and family. Now layer in customer contacts and service providers and you’ll spend more time managing and organizing communications than that which is far more important – growing your business.
Changing Your Number Later Become More and More Difficult
As your business grows, you may think it’ll be easy to update your business phone number. Think about your business cards, clients that are accustomed to dialing a number they already know, marketing materials, business accounts, ads, website, social media accounts, suppliers, and other services you use to run your business. Unfortunately, changing your phone number mid-growth will be a herculean project to execute flawlessly.
Robocalls and Telemarketers
Managing unwanted calls is hard enough on your personal line. Even though it’s illegal to call someone who hasn’t given their consent for marketing purposes, most robocalls ignore national Do Not Call lists. Robocalls have become an increasingly severe and annoying problem in this hyper-connected time we live in. As our connectivity expands, call spammers and telemarketers can automatically dial hundreds or thousands of numbers instantaneously. According to the FCC, we received nearly 4 billion robocalls per month in 2020 alone, and chances are you’ve received more robocalls than ever during the last few years. With your personal phone number out and available to the public, your time will be consumed by managing many more potentially unwanted calls.
Personal Privacy is Compromised
As we saw with Tlholohelo Makatu’s experience above, giving your personal number to clients and providers opens you up to all sorts of unwanted communications. From business calls outside of work hours to unwelcome advances from people you work with, your personal life and privacy are highly likely to be compromised.
Vulnerable to Identity Theft
As Brian Chen noted in his NYT article, your personal number is a primary identifier for lots of sensitive personal information. These days, one must be careful about giving out their personal phone number to strangers, let alone having it available on public websites and other public arenas. In addition to business cards and materials, your personal phone number is tied to your personal accounts, supplier databases, business licenses, tax records, and government agencies. By putting your personal number on business materials, you are amplifying your potential exposure to being targeted not just by annoying telemarketers, but even by scammers and identity thieves.
What Options Do I Have to Get a Business Phone Number?
If you are starting a business, you have multiple options available to you for establishing a business phone number. You can buy a separate cell phone with a phone number dedicated to your business. Second, you can go through your phone company to set up a traditional business phone system. Most business owners don’t want to be bothered with two cell phones or don’t want to deal with buying new equipment and being locked into long-term service contracts. That’s where our third option comes in – simply download a mobile app. Today’s technology empowers business owners to add a second phone number to their personal cell phone for business. Your business phone number would not intertwine with personal calls, text messages, or voicemail. These mobile apps enable you to talk and text with customers and suppliers from your Business Caller ID so that you can maintain your personal privacy. In evaluating your options, choose one that provides you with the security and convenience you’re seeking as you build your business.