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Protecting your phone number is key to protecting your identity

MACON, Ga. -- There are certain numbers connected to our identity we're taught to protect with our lives.

You don't want your social security number or banking information to fall into the hands of strangers. What about our phone numbers?

We're less careful in concealing those 10 digits but the access they provide to personal information could put you at risk.

Thieves can erase your entire life by using your phone number.

Kelvin Collins with the Better Business Bureau says your phone number is considered personal information because with your phone number, you're tracked.

Mercer student Chandler Ponch says he never gives out his number on social media and in person he only gives it out to people he knows.

On the other hand, Jay Houston of Mercer is not as careful.

"It just depends," Houston said. "Like if I go to a restaurant or something or for like promos, it's not a big deal but for just a random person, I probably wouldn't give them my number."

But what are stores, their employees and businesses are actually doing with your phone number?

Most of the time, businesses use your number for statistics on your shopping history, your loyalty I.D. card or even to track you if there's a recall on a product.

"If that information is hacked by someone, it could be used to figure out what kind of medications you've been buying because a lot of times that's a part of your loyalty card," Collins said. "It could be used to trace you to your name, address and eventually your social security number."

Your phone number is a part of the package leading to your total identity, like the domino which causes everything else to fall and be compromised.

Today it's simple to have your number on a "do not call" list for telemarketers, request a Google number for public use or just tell store clerks "no" when they ask for it in the check-out line.

"It's like a whack-o-mole program," Collins said. "You can add your song to the national 'do not call' list, however every time that you do business with certain companies, you're agreeing to allow them to use your personal information. So really the only way that you can completely stop anyone from using your personal information and tracking you is to read every privacy policy that comes on the screen and you get in the mail and opt out of every one of them."

Collins says today with everything being online, identity theft is bound to happen but if it does happens for you, it's a matter of how bad it is when it occurs.

Houston said he vows to handle his digits with more care.

"I'll probably be a little bit more cautious giving out information, even though it's a cell phone number, just being more cautious," he said.

Collins says the best thing to do is keep a close watch on your phone bill, bank statements and credit report to make sure no one is using your information without your knowledge.

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