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How to Protect Your Voice Mail from Being Hacked

While CTIA and the U.S. wireless industry are not familiar with the details from the British voice mail hacking beyond the news stories, Americans should know that there are several laws in the U.S. and measures taken by wireless carriers that protect consumers’ privacy.

Based on media reports, it appears the British voice mail hacking was done through pretexting, which is a federal crime in the U.S.PDF Document. Pretexting occurs when someone pretends to be the customer and contacts the carrier’s customer service representative to obtain or reset the customer’s voice mail password. This allows the fictitious customer access to the voice mails. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has specific regulations that require carriers to report their efforts to secure Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI). As a result, carriers will not reset passwords or send billing records to anyone other than the customer and this information can only be sent to their device or to their billing or e-mail address.

Many forms of spoofing are also against the law in the U.S. Spoofing occurs which is when an individual deliberately manipulates the caller name and phone number that is transmitted via the network and appears on caller ID screens. When we originally wrote a blog post educating consumers about spoofing, the practice was legal but there were bills in Congress and FCC regulations that CTIA advocated to ban these practices. On December 22, 2010, the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 was signed into law, which made “manipulation of caller identification information” illegal when it was done to deceit, cause harm or wrongfully obtain information of value.

Our carrier members are dedicated to keeping their customer’s information protected because, quite simply, they want to keep them happy. Since customers in the U.S. have a number of options throughout the wireless ecosystem, including carriers, a happy customer is vital to their businesses.

In addition to complying with all laws, carriers share best practices and augment their systems to address new and evolving threats. These practices include limiting the number of people that have access to customer records, voice mail systems and call records. Accounts that have access to this information are also routinely subjected to technical audits for signs they have been compromised or misuse by an employee.

Carriers continue to actively protect their customers’ privacy. Even though pretexting and spoofing are illegal in the U.S., CTIA recommends consumers take these simple precautionary measures:

  1. Keep your wireless device with you at all times. Use the lock feature, so that if someone takes your phone, s/he cannot use it to access your voice mail.
  2. Don’t give your device to a person you don’t know. If you lose your device, contact your carrier immediately so they can turn off service and prevent others from accessing your voice mails (or other personal information).
  3. Create a voice mail password and change it periodically, using passwords that are hard to guess.
  4. Limit the number of messages allowed in your voice mail and delete once you’ve listened to them.
  5. If you are prone to losing things like your phone, consider purchasing one that allows you to remotely wipe the data clean from your device.

If you are a victim of pretexting or caller ID spoofing, contact the FCC to register a complaint.

20 Responses to “How to Protect Your Voice Mail from Being Hacked” Leave a reply ›

  • avatar

    It's disturbing to know with enough patience on a hacker side that they can do "spoofing and pretexting" and get into your account. What's even double disturbing is the hacker being able to convince the carrier's customer service rep that they are you! Good to know that "spoofing and pretexting" are against the law and a federal crime. Thanks for this insightful information.

  • avatar

    Simple -- just don't answer any calls from numbers you don't know.

    • avatar

      Good idea! And a timely one since I have been research a number that I don't know! It's probably an okay one, but the phrasing they used, and the muffled way the first words were, made me immediately suspicious. They left a message that said (couldn't tell what the first few words were) "...if this is your number, give us a call." I don't recognize the number and didn't give out my number to more than about five places --until earlier that day when a friend of mine specifically asked for it. I thought it was rather bold of her to ask a few weeks prior, I had explained to her that I had gotten a "new" number and wanted to keep it private for a while. So, when she asked me for it yesterday, I didn't say anything about it and did go ahead and give it to her. I was upset with myself for doing that at the time. And, I was more upset later in the day when I got that strange message from that number that I didn't recognize. I think my friend isn't such a considerate friend when asking me for that number after all. Something about it really does bother me still. Oh well...

      I'm glad to have read your suggestion about when in doubt, don't answer it. I am just going to delete the message from that number and forget about it. Thanks!

    • avatar

      Good idea! And a timely one! I have been researching a phone number from a call yesterday that I don't recognize. It's probably a legitimate phone number, but the phrasing the caller used along with the muffled way they spoke the first few words made me immediately suspicious.

      If this is a duplicate message of mine, I apologize. This is the one I wanted to submit.

      They left a message that said, "...if this is your number, give us a call." I didn't recognize the number. Also, I had not given my phone number to more than three people.

      That is until earlier yesterday when a friend of mine specifically asked for it! I thought it was interesting that she was specifically asking for it at all. The reason I was surprised is that two weeks ago I had explained to her that I had gotten a "new" number and really wanted to keep it private for a while. When she specifically asked me for it yesterday, I didn't say anything, and did go ahead and give it to her.

      I was upset with myself for giving the number to her as she really didn't need it. And, I was more upset later in the day when I got that strange message from that number that I didn't recognize.

      I'm glad to have read your suggestion of not responding to a number that one doesn't recognize. Thanks!

  • avatar

    Thank u very much for your information.Your concern for your costumers is very much appreciated.

  • avatar

    I want to set up a password. I believe my account is being hacked. Should i change the number?

    • avatar

      Hi Barbara - Thanks for your comment. Please contact (via phone, email or website) your carrier for their instructions on how you can set-up the password for your wireless device's voicemail. Don't forget to make the password hard to guess and change it periodically. If you think are a victim of pretexting or caller ID spoofing, contact the FCC to register a complaint [http://www.fcc.gov/complaints].

  • avatar

    I want to set up a password so my account won't be hacked. I want a voicemail set up on my phone thanks for your time.

  • avatar

    so a couple of months back I've been getting calls from my own number, even when I have no service due to payment conflicts. For instance I would press a button to access my voice mail, however my phone has randomly tried to check my voice mail twice. And I didnt even touch my phone/press a button

    does that count?

  • avatar

    when i go to check my voice mail it is always busy now it been doing this for the last month what can i do to get my voice mail back the way it was

    • avatar

      You may want to reset your voicemail settings. If you aren't sure how to do this, contact your carrier and they'll be happy to walk you through the steps via phone or Internet. Thanks Dagan.

  • avatar

    HOW DO I CHANGE MY VOICEMAIL PASSWORD

  • avatar

    What worries me is when I lost my phone recently is google gmail is just a button push away, as well as the play store linked to my credit card. If you are as lazy as I was about my information, shame on you.
    Is there anything we can do to shut down google plus, and facebook? I know I should have had a password, I did not, my bad. Is there anything I can do? I installed a new google password, but will that stop them from getting on my account when the phone is linked to google?
    Thanks it is a night mare.

  • avatar

    My phone won't stay turned on. Just keeps powering up and down forever. When it did temporarily stay on I checked my account to see if I had any calls while it was not working. It showed a few a couple calls were for as long as 8 minutes. I am assuming that I have voicemail but like my main call list it shows none. My question is can I call from a different phone to my voicemail and check for messages?

    • avatar

      Hi Margie - Yes, many carriers offer a different number so you may check your voicemail anywhere, using any phone. Please contact your carrier for that number.

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