AUSTIN, Texas (KEYE) - If hackers hijack your cell phone, cyber security experts and the Better Business Bureau say they can wipeout your bank accounts.
"I got a text from my wife, 'Did you buy a car on Zelle last night for $2,000,' I'm like, 'Not me,'" Bill Stillwaugh said.
Then Bill checked his cell phone. He says suddenly it was not working. "What happened was my phone number got stolen," Bill said.
Jenn Nelson's phone also mysteriously stopped working. "And I thought it was weird but I didn't really worry about it," Jenn said.
But she got scared when her bank account was wiped out.
Using WIFI, she tried logging into her bank account app but her password didn't work. "The thought of it kicked in and I'm like, 'Oh my god, somebody stole my passwords to my bank,'" Jenn said.
Her bank sent her a low balance alert. Hackers stole nearly $2,000.
"I bet you're talking billions of dollars when it's all said and done," Cyber Security Expert Chris Humphreys with the Anfield Group said. "I bet there's probably 40 percent of the attacks that happened out there those folks don't know they've been compromised yet."
It's called phone porting. Hackers use stolen personal information, like emails, phone numbers and social security numbers they buy off the dark web.
Humphreys says then the hackers have enough information to call your cell phone carrier. "And impersonate you and say it's you," Humphreys said. "And they could simply say, 'Hey I lost my phone. I'm moving my phone number to a different provider.'"
The hacker then cancels your phone service and buys a new device with a new cell phone company but they keep your phone number. Then they go to your bank's website and enter your username that was also stolen, for some banks it's as simple as your email address.
This is where they get you. They request a new password code from your bank. But that comes to the new cell phone with a text. Then they're in and can drain your bank account.
"It was horrifying," Bill said. "We were shocked and our first thought was if this just happened. What else could they be doing?"
"Once they have that access they can pretty much go into your bank account," Humphreys said. "They can configure your Venmo or PayPal stuff. Once they've got the device they've got everything on it."
"They've stolen my cell phone number and technically they are me because that's what we use to prove our identity these days," Bill said.
There are some things you can do right now to protect access to your phone. First, talk to your wireless provider about port-out authorization to make it more difficult for someone shut off your phone. Add a unique pin number or a verification question only you would know.
Humphreys says you can't be lazy with your passwords. "Password hygiene and those kinds of things are part of life now," Humphreys said.
Also, pay extra attention to suspicious emails or texts. "You've just got to know not to ignore those things and do your due diligence and follow up on everything you see that's suspicious because once they get your phone and have your device they can get everything you have on that device," Humphreys said.