These days, it seems we have to hand out our cellphone number like sweets at a kids party. Whether it be required for signing up for a new account, entering into a raffle, returning a purchase at a retail store, or registering for a discount, your phone number seems to be like a “skeleton key” for opening up all manners of doors.

Does giving out your cellphone number put you at risk of identity theft?

The answer is both “Yes” and “No”.

Yes, oversharing or giving out your number too frequently can lead to more scam calls, texts or unwanted solicitors. These days, our cellphone numbers are being used increasingly by information brokers to gain access to personal information that’s kept by nearly all corporations, financial institutions, and social media networks.

If someone you had just met asked you for your ID number, you would likely not give it to them. What if the same person asked you for your cell phone number? My guess is that you would readily tell them the ten-digit number, with no questions asked.

No, identity thieves cannot open new lines of credit, apply for benefits or make large purchases with your cellphone number.

However, the real threat is with the device itself.

Your cell phone number – which is unique to you – is the doorway to your identity. It provides an entrance to all the data contained on your phone, and can link your other information to you – your email address, physical address, bank account number etc. If your smartphone falls into the wrong hands and isn’t protected, a thief could access your email account and change all of your account log-ins, get into your Facebook and post malicious links, access your two-factor authentication, or even drain money from your mobile wallet.

What can you do about it?

  1. Safeguard your mobile device: Make sure it has a passcode and is set to lock quickly. You’ll also want to have a phone finder app installed so that if it is lost or stolen you can either find it, or worst case, remotely erase all of your data.
  2. Use common sense: If you’re asked for your phone number, ask why. In general, don’t give it out to people you don’t know see if you can leave it blank on online forms – even if that means it may take a few seconds more to identify you the next time you make a purchase.
  3. Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication on all your devices: This is what happens every time you go to an ATM: to make a withdrawal you need both your debit card and a PIN number. That’s two-factor authentication, which increases the level of security on your devices.
  4. Sign up for the “do not call” lists, which are helpful for run-of-the-mill solicitations. While hackers don’t subscribe to such lists, you won’t get as many pesky marketing calls.
  5. Get more than one cell phone, and only gives out the number to the phone that contains no data or links to personal information.
  6. Choose which private data you are willing to share: When asked for your cell number, especially at a retailer, you may be able provide an email address, zip code or just your name as a way to identify you. It’s worth asking about.

All of this takes more time and effort, but ask yourself ow much privacy and security are you willing to trade away for a little more convenience?

According to International Business Times, a new study finds more than 80% of Americans reuse their passwords, and many others continue to use inadequate security practices when it comes to the passwords they use to protect their accounts.

The security provider SecureAuth and research firm  Wakefield Research found that not only do people use the same password more than once, they also use the same login credentials for at least 25 percent of their accounts.

While most millennials are more tech savvy and open to new and more secure forms of authentication like biometrics, their password practices are worse than the general population. A whopping 92% of millennials admitted they reuse passwords, compared to 81% of Americans overall.

Even more troubling, more than one in three people – 36% – reported they use the same password for 25 percent or more of their online accounts.

Despite the rampant reuse of passwords – a major security weakness – most Americans are very concerned about the possibility of their account information being stolen. 69% said they were more worried about their online information being stolen than their wallet.

Many Americans have already experienced such a breach of an online account. 35% of people surveyed said they have had an online account hacked – including 50% of millennials.

Of those people who have fallen victim of a hack, 91% reported the account breach carried severe repercussions for them. The biggest issue for those who have been hacked include spam messages (42%), account lockouts and money stolen (38%) or an unauthorized purchase being made from their account (28%).

About one in five people—19%—who had an account hacked reported having personal information stolen, including Social Security numbers, date of birth, photos, tax records and other sensitive personal files.

Despite identity-based detection techniques such as geo-location, device recognition, and phone number fraud prevention, the practice of reusing passwords puts users at increased risk in the case of a data breach. Once passwords are stolen from one site or service—an occurrence that happens regularly—a malicious actor could use that same password to gain access to another account belonging to the same user.

Given the number of massive database breaches, including those from sites like LinkedIn or Yahoo that included millions of users, it is relatively easy for an attacker to cross reference an account and use the stolen credentials to attempt to break into another account.

Additional security protocols like using two-factor or multifactor authentication or using a password manager to generate more secure, unique passwords can provide some additional protection from these types of attacks.

Don’t think for a moment that this survey is only relevant to Americans, in an article recently tweeted by Stellenbosch University’s Information Technology, South Africa has the third highest number of cybercrime victims worldwide and lose in excess of R2.2bn to internet fraud and phishing attacks annually. South Africans are just as bad as the Americans with their poor password practices!