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CHICAGO (CBSMiami) — Crooks are out to steal your cell phone numbers. Their goal is to get your bank account and other financial information by stealing your phone number.

It happened to Bill Stillwaugh, whose bank account was drained of thousands of dollars.

“I got a text from my wife, ‘Did you buy a car on Zelle last night for $2,000?’ I’m like ‘Not me,’ and we knew something was wrong,” said Stillwaugh.

Stillwaugh also noticed that his phone wasn’t working and eventually learned, “What happened was my phone number got stolen,” he explained.

It’s called phone porting.

A crook uses your stolen, personal information to transfer your cell phone number to a new phone, which they possess.

“They have stolen my cellphone number and technically they are me, because that’s what we use to prove our identity these days, our cell phone,” said Stillwaugh.

Once the crooks have your number on their cellphone, the crooks assume your identity and have your bank send a new password that gives them access to your accounts.

The verification code the bank sends goes directly to the scammer.

In Stillwaugh’s case, the crooks were able to withdraw $4,000 from his bank account.

He said he never imagined having problems with his long-time cell phone number.

“It was horrifying,” Stillwaugh said. “We were shocked and our first thought was if this just happened, what else could they be doing.”

“Scammers can essentially rob you or rob your bank account without ever actually having to step foot inside the bank branch to do that,” said John Breyault of the National Consumers League. “We think this is a very significant problem. We’ve seen warnings about this from some of the nation’s largest wireless carriers who have millions of subscribers,” said Breyault.

To avoid the phone porting scam, experts say you should:

*Attach a pin number to your cell phone account.

*Choose strong passwords and change them frequently.

*Act quickly once you notice fraud to stop money withdrawals.

Lessons Stillwaugh has learned.

“My wife and I both started to look at how we secure our information and how we use passwords.”

The Stillwaughs were able to stop payment and have the $4,000 returned to their accounts.

It’s unclear how or when their personal information was stolen.

  1. I’m glad neither of my banks use my phone as verification. For too long technology companies have had it easy & played it loose & easy with security matters, not to mention they don’t hire the right employees that have the critical advance thinking skill. Scientists are working on the ultimate password. It’s located in a part of our subconscious brain & just like snowflakes, everyone’s is different. Even if we were tortured, we couldn’t remember it. Can you believe before digital technology & the internet, people actually had to prove their identity?