Ever wondered how telemarketers get your phone number? Well, chances are, they found it online. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who can find it.
In fact, it’s likely your phone number has been bought and sold at least once alongside much of your personal data. But the exposure of your phone number presents a serious risk.
A hacker gets hold of your number and can suddenly intercept any call or message. Two-factor authentication is the main way people protect online accounts, but if a fraudster has your phone number, it’s easy to exploit.
All told, phone scams result in almost $40 billion in losses a year in the U.S. alone. Fortunately, there are things you can do to remove your phone number from the Internet, so read on to learn how to minimize your risk.
Remove Your Number From People-Search and Background-Check Sites
The first step to removing your phone number from the Internet is to find out where it’s posted. A good place to start is by looking at common people-search and background-check sites.
For some sites, opting out is merely a matter of filling out a form. For others, it gets more complicated. Below is a list of guides to remove yourself from some of the most common and most prominent data-broker websites.
Here are some additional guides. But remember, data-collection sites can make personal information removal pretty difficult, even going so far as demanding a photocopy of your driver’s license or other ID.
Remove Your Number from Social Media
So how did your number get to all those data-collection sites in the first place?
Social media is the main harvesting site for your information. Some people will just list their phone number right on their Facebook, or any other social media profile, and if you’re one of these, remove it and any other personal information right away.
You should also never use your personal phone number when setting up a business profile on a site like Yelp, or any other platform like it.
That being said, it’s not uncommon for data to leak from social media in other ways, as well. Instagram and Facebook Messenger users post contact details of non-users in their “Address Book,” and many Twitter users report experiencing phone numbers being publicly exposed.
In fact, default settings on Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat allow for a tactic called “reverse look-up,” wherein someone creates false accounts to test various randomized or sequential phone numbers against various usernames to match phone numbers to various people.
As you can see, social media is a dangerous place for your phone number to be.
1. Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram
If someone has posted your phone number as part of their “Contacts” on any of these sites, you’ll need to make a request to have it removed. The process will allow you to remove your info from Facebook, Messenger, or Instagram. 1. Access this form. Select the type of contact information you want to remove, whether mobile number, landline, or email address. Hit “Next.”
2. Enter the information requested and choose to search for it on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or all three.
3. Enter the confirmation code sent to your email or phone. Hit “Next.”
4. If you see the email or phone number isn’t found, you’re home free. If either has been found, hit “Confirm.” Unlike many sites, this will prevent the information from being somehow uploaded in the future.
5. You should see a page that informs you that your request was successful.
Twitter allows other users to search for you based on email or phone number by default. To prevent this, turn off “Discoverability” for your phone number on Twitter.
In the “Discoverability” section, uncheck “Let People Who Have Your Phone Number Find You On Twitter.” These settings will auto-save.
TikTok allows other users to search you based on phone number, but only if your phone number is already in their contacts.
However, that won’t stop hackers from uploading fake contact list numbers that just might include yours. Using this method, a hacker can find out a name and an account associated with a phone number, then verify the number in order to sell it to a data broker, or hijack it entirely.
Be aware, if you deselect “Suggest Your Account To Others” in the privacy settings, your original phone number will still be associated with the account, unless you didn’t connect in the first place. If so, your best option is to delete your number entirely.
To delete your number, follow these steps:
Go to “Settings” in your profile.
Go to “Report A Problem.”
Select “Accounts and Profile” from the list.
Then, select “Email and Phone Number.”
Next, click “Change The Phone Number or Email Associated With An Account.”
You’ll be shown a brief tutorial on how to change your phone number, but not how to delete it, so when asked if your problem is resolved, click the “No” button.
Click “Still Have Problem.”
Type a message explaining why you want to remove your phone number.
Wait for TikTok to respond. Support will likely request various pieces of information to verify that you are the authorized user for the account.
Once you’ve sent your information, TikTok support will ask you for a new number or email address. Simply send an email address instead of a phone number.
Snapchat has no easy way to delete your phone number. You can, however, hide your number from other users.
In your profile, go to “Settings.”
Select “Mobile Number.”
Uncheck the box next to “Let Others Find Me Using My Mobile Number.”
Unfortunately, some social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, have no options to either hide or delete your phone number.
Protect Your Number from Phone Apps
Another way malicious individuals and sites get your personal info is through phone apps.
It’s quite easy to accidentally give smartphone apps permission to collect and distribute your phone number to third parties. Privacy policies for apps dictate how your information is collected and shared, including your phone number, and 87% of people don’t read the policies they agree to. As a result, you may have accidentally given a smartphone application this permission.
If you think you’ve made this mistake, check the permissions you’ve enabled for each app on your phone. If you’ve given apps permission to collect and share your phone number, disable it immediately. Take a careful look at free games, in particular. They’re notorious for this.
You can do this by:
Accessing your settings.
Scrolling down to where it says “Apps” or “App Permissions.”
Under apps, select the app that may be a problem.
Take a look at the permissions that have been enabled or disabled.
Disable any permissions that risk exposing your phone number and device information.
Remove Your Number from Third-Party Websites
If your phone number appears on a privately owned website or blog, you need to contact the site owner directly to get it removed. If you’re not sure who owns the site, conduct a Whois search to get contact details for the listed owner.
Copy and paste the domain name of the website into the search box.
2. Scroll down the page to the “Tech Contact” section. The contact information there will tell you who you can reach out to.
3. Email the contact and request that your information be removed from the website.
Unfortunately, most sites have no obligation to remove your data. You might have a better chance if you’re a California resident, protected by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which dictates additional rights to control the use of your own data. The E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) similarly protects individuals in Europe in the event of having their data exposed without their permission.
If you do have to send a site owner an email to request they remove your information, be sure to use a masked email to avoid exposing even more of your information.
Remove Your Number from Google Results
In most instances, Google won’t remove your personal information from search results, instead leaving that up to the site owners. But, in certain circumstances, such as when your number is posted in a malicious way or in a manner that may harm you, Google will take action.
In these cases, Google can “delist” a site that hosts your number from its search listings. In fact, this just recently became easier to request. If Google does this, your number will no longer appear when someone searches for it, though it can continue to appear elsewhere.
First, access this page. Under the options for “What do you want to do?” select “Remove information you see in Google Search.”
Under “The information I want removed is:” select “In Google’s search results and on a website.” The other option only applies if the content is no longer on a website but still appears in Google search results. In this case, use the Remove Outdated Content tool.
Under “Have you contacted the site’s website owner?” select the appropriate option. Google may be more likely to respond if you’ve already tried to make contact.
Under “I want to remove” select “Personal info, like ID numbers and private documents” and beneath that, “Contact information, like address, phone number, or email address.”
5. Check the box that says “The content is live.”
6. Answer whether or not the contact info is being shared with malicious intent. Either way, you will be able to make the request, but Google is not obligated to remove info unless there is malicious intent.
7. Fill out the form with your personal info.
8. Enter the website links. You can get a search result page URL by right-clicking and selecting “Copy link address.”
9. Upload screenshots of the offending sections on each page.
10. List the terms that generate the content in search results. It could be a name, maiden name, nickname, or other identifier. The best way to uncover terms is with an “Incognito” window (right-click the Google icon and select “New Incognito Window”), to search the terms safely and securely.
11. Check the box at the bottom to indicate you have authority to make the request.
12. Hit “Submit” and wait for Google to deal with the situation.
Unfortunately, Google doesn’t directly remove your number from a website, so it remains visible on the site hosting it. Your phone number will also still come up in search results if someone uses an alternate search engine, like Yahoo or Bing.
Remove Your Number from Phone Books
Online phone books publicize your personal information based on your phone number. Thankfully, the opt-out process for these is usually fairly straightforward. But, here’s a list of our guides for how to remove yourself from the most common phone book sites:
Even if you can’t remove your phone number from every site, you can still prevent many telemarketers from targeting you. The National “Do Not Call” Registry allows you to opt out of many telemarketing calls. Here’s how you register:
Double-check your information and click “Register” if it’s all correct.
Go to your email and click the verification link. Your phone number is now registered.
Now, this won’t prevent all calls, but it means you can report telemarketers who still call you.
Get Professional Help
It’s not easy to keep your phone number secure and off the Internet. That’s why professional help in the form of a subscription-based service like DeleteMe is often your best option. Getting help now could save you a lot of money and effort in the long run.
DeleteMe scans the web for your phone number and other personal information every three months and coordinates requests to delete it. It also sends customers detailed reports to let them know the types of their personal information found online.
It Pays to Keep Your Phone Number Private
One extremely useful precaution is to have a throwaway number you can share without exposing your real personal number. But, all in all, if you’re ever uncertain about whether or not it’s a good idea to share your phone number, we promise you it’s probably not. However, if that train has already left the station and your phone number is all over the Internet, the only way to give yourself the best chance of deleting it completely is to use a service like DeleteMe. DeleteMe will do everything possible to remove your phone number off the Internet. More importantly, we’ll make sure it doesn’t reappear.
Laura Martisiute is DeleteMe’s content marketing specialist. Her job is to help DeleteMe communicate vital privacy information to the people that need it.
Since joining DeleteMe in 2020, Laura has done exactly that.
Creating some of the internet’s most popular privacy content on DeleteMe’s blog, writing the leading privacy newsletter Incognito, and helping DeleteMe plan and craft its messaging across different channels, Laura drives DeleteMe’s content.
Laura has a degree from University College Cork.