Most of us realize a clone is a genetic copy of something else. But, did you know it is possible to clone a phone? Cloning a phone means that the identity of one phone is copied to another phone, making a nearly exact replica of the original. This frightening practice happens more than you might imagine.
Cyber forensic expert Ali Dehghantanha says, “On average, we check our mobile phones about 110 times a day. We use them for just about everything from summoning an Uber car, paying for our latest Amazon purchases, receiving prescriptions and even tracking shares and trading on the stock market.”
Mobile phones, though, are also a major source of security breaches, and your phone number is the only thing a hacker needs to launch a major attack.
Why Clone a Phone?
Hackers clone phones so they can use them or sell them to people who use them to make calls and to get access to data on the phone. When a phone is cloned, the calls made by the hackers are seamlessly billed to your account. But that’s just the beginning.
Think of all of the information on your phone: financial accounts, credit cards, apps of all kinds. Once the hacker has access to the phone, there is no end to the financial damage that can be done.
The hacker or criminal can listen to you from their own phone and even use the camera on your phone to watch you. He can look at your pictures, read your messages, access your passwords and view your contacts.
Additionally, these cloned phones are convenient devices for criminals to use because they are harder to trace. Cloning is particularly prevalent in drug-related crime, since drug dealers must maintain constant contact with their sources and clients. To avoid their calls being traced, the dealer may use a cloned phone for a few days and then throw it away and use another one.
It may even appear to authorities that you are engaged in criminal activity if the phone number is used this way. The police may target you because of a cyber attack where your phone number was used.
There are a number of ways a hacker can clone a phone. Generally, every phone has a unique serial number and phone number. When a cellphone is cloned, it is reprogrammed to transfer these settings from a legitimate phone. The easiest way to clone a phone is to use readily available software. There are hundreds of sites that offer phone hacking software, so this is not a rare occurrence and requires little technical expertise.
How do you know your phone has been cloned?
Often, you will be unaware that your phone has been cloned until you notice some unusual occurrence, such as credit card bills that include charges you didn’t make, financial account withdrawals and unusual items on accounts, such as Uber or Airbnb. You may be contacted by your financial institution about a loan you did not actually apply for.
However, you can sometimes detect hints that the phone has been cloned. You may receive a lot of wrong number calls or hang-ups when you answer the phone. You might have difficulty making outgoing calls or retrieving messages. Your phone bill may contain unknown numbers.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
While cellular companies have many methods in place to identify cloned phones, there are some things you can do.
First, always review your phone bill. If there are numbers you don’t recognize and charges that are much greater than usual, you may suspect trouble. Have your provider run a diagnostic test to check for viruses that may have resulted from cloning.
Another way to possibly detect cloning is to put your phone number into a search engine, such as Google, to see if any links include your number. You can also use someone else’s phone to call your number and see if someone picks up. Contact your financial institution to see if anyone has tried to open credit cards or loans in your name. Make sure your phone is password protected. Create new passwords and PINs for all the accounts that may be available on your phone. Finally, you may have to resort to restoring your phone to its factory settings.
If you determine your phone was cloned, contact your phone provider and the FBI. You can use the FBI website and select “Tips and Public Leads in the Reporting Crime” section. It is important that you do this, so the authorities can follow up on the information you provide.