There are a few reasons why using a free virtual mobile number for SMS verification may seem like a good idea. However, it can actually cause more pain than it’s worth.
Using a free virtual number for SMS verification puts your privacy and security at risk. Burner numbers are recycled, so when reallocated, someone else may gain access to the accounts you have connected it to. These free numbers are also frequently found on multiple lists of robocalls.
Keep reading below to find out why you shouldn’t use a free virtual mobile number for SMS verification— or anything else.
What Is A Free Virtual Mobile Number?
A free virtual mobile number is a phone number that isn’t attached to a physical cell phone.
They’re automatically generated by companies and used to make calls and texts from any device, typically before being thrown away. You might also have heard them referred to as “burner” numbers.
Why People Use Virtual Numbers
People use virtual numbers for a lot of reasons. The most common uses are verifying SMS messages, making international calls, or meeting an app’s requirements. Some people think that using a virtual number will help protect their privacy.
A few more reasons include the following:
Taking Calls From Any Device
Being tied to your cell phone isn’t always great.
You might want to use your laptop to make and record calls or use your iPad to send text messages without signing up for an additional mobile plan.
You don’t need a cell phone to use a virtual number. This makes virtual numbers attractive to people who want a second number but not necessarily a second phone.
One of the operative words in “free virtual number” is “free.”
You don’t have to sign up to a service provider to use it and can use the number across as many devices as you want without paying for each one.
This can make them appealing to groups who want to be able to share a common number but don’t want to have to pay.
Of course, if you do, use a free virtual number for your group. In that case, the security risks are magnified – as are the chances of security breaches.
Most users identify this as one of their biggest motivations: When required to use a phone number to sign up for a website or service, you’ll have the burner number to use.
If someone might need to contact you— but to whom you don’t feel comfortable giving your main cellphone number— a burner number comes in handy, too.
Similarly, suppose your work won’t spring for a phone. In that case, you might decide a free virtual mobile number is the best option to keep your free time actually free on the weekends!
Security & Privacy Problems With Free Virtual Phone Number
You might think a burner number enhances security and privacy. However, the opposite is usually true.
Here are some of the dangers you’re at risk of when using a free virtual number:
When Someone Else Gets The Number
One of the most significant issues with free burner numbers is they don’t actually get burned or thrown away. Instead, they get recycled.
You don’t keep the number and have no idea who will get it after you (or even how many times it gets recycled).
If you’ve used that number to verify an account, someone who gets your number can potentially gain access to your account – and the accounts you’ve linked to it.
If you’ve also uploaded your contacts, this may impact the people you’ve been using the account to communicate with.
When Used For 2FA
One of the reasons people often use virtual numbers is to refrain from giving a company their phone number when signing up for specific accounts.
However, this isn’t a great idea; virtual numbers aren’t infinite, and thus free virtual numbers often get reused.
So, if the number you’ve used to register an account gets given to someone else, they’ll now have access to your account!
Additionally, if you get locked out at some point, your two-factor authentication won’t let you back in.
NIST Says Avoid Phone Numbers As Identification
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) tells verifiers not to use phone numbers as identification
For better or worse, our phone numbers are now tightly bound up with our identities.
That’s why things like two-factor authentication are worthwhile – your cellphone is a separate device, accessed only by you and a limited number of others.
NIST has established a set of guidelines as to how the US government can use your phone to verify who you are.
The verifier SHALL verify that the pre-registered telephone number being used is associated with a specific physical device.
Why should that matter?
These guidelines are to make sure communications are secure. Using a burner number to register for an account makes you less safe and more at risk of identity theft.
You Don’t Know Who Had The Number Before You
It’s all very well to decide to use a free virtual number because you want to avoid robocalls and scams.
However, it’s essential to remember that’s also what the people who used the number before you wanted as well!
Your “new” number may already be compromised. This isn’t just because of the presence of hackers who may be able to use the number to access your accounts but also because it is potentially on a dozen lists used by robocalls.
Texts And Calls Aren’t Private
Burner numbers seem attractive if you want to keep your phone number secret.
However, when you use a free number, you may give the site – or anyone who hacks it – access to any text messages you send and any calls you make.
Services Can Be Operated In Jurisdictions With Different (Potentially Worse) Laws
What country is the company from which you got your free phone number?
Do you know what their privacy and data protection laws are?
If you don’t, you might assume you’ve been afforded far more protection than you actually have.
This ranges from services being able to collect and sell data regarding who has used what numbers (and where) to not having to disclose security breaches— or simply disappearing altogether!
Additionally, if you’re using a number for SMS verification and the provider folds, that number won’t work anymore.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Use Free Virtual Mobile Number For SMS Verification
Many problems disappear when you pay a virtual number through a reputable company.
There are inexpensive options that protect your privacy, offer you security from bad actors, and can be tailored for personal or business use.
Free virtual mobile numbers might seem like they don’t cost anything.
However, you may find that they instead cost you by removing access to important accounts, risking your privacy, or by giving you a number that’s already getting spammed.
Want to use a burner number for WhatsApp? Think again. See here for more information on why that’s a bad idea!