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Privacy Experts Say Your Phone Number Is As Sensitive As Your SSN

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Cellphones, for many are life lines. They hold pictures, contacts, schedules, some even act as a mobile wallet.

That's why losing a device can feel devastating. All of your personal information in a stranger's hand.

But what if you were told that a stranger didn't need your actual device to get private information about you? All they need is your cell phone number.

Every time a business asks for a phone number, many of us give it to them. Cell phones will soon outnumber landlines in the U.S. The CDC says almost 50 percent of homes in the U.S. are cell phone-only homes and the cell number is what many of us give out.

Take Walmart for instance: very few of their shoppers probably scroll to the bottom of their web page, click on the tiny tab labeled Privacy Policy. You then have to scroll some more and click on another tab which tells you how the company shares your personal information.

Personal information like your cell phone number.

"You don't think twice because you always do this," says Juan Carlos, who says he gives his number out all the time.

"The government should be on top of that," says Willy Gonzalez. "It's your information. You don't want it to fall in the wrong hands, especially in this country, where the credit really matters. It's a big issue."

Experts say there needs to be a federal law, and some lawmakers agree and have tried to pass bills. But attorney Al Saikali, an expert in Privacy and Data Security, says, "It never passes and it's come up each of the last four years, and it just doesn't get through Congress."

Here's the problem with state laws: every state has a different law regarding Personally Identifiable Information. Here in Florida, companies cannot share your Social Security Number, your medical information, even your bio metrics. But your cellphone number is fair game.

"Every company is supposed to have a privacy policy that discloses what personally identifiable information is," says Saikali. He says companies have to disclose what they're "Collecting from consumers, what they're doing with that information, who they're sharing it with, and how they're using it."

He says companies are tracking our every move and we're giving them permission.

"A telephone number is not considered Personally Identifiable Information under the law, so technically there's not a legal obligation to protect that information."

Companies use your cellphone to track your spending habits and also use it as your mobile identity. But this information in the wrong hands can lead to identity theft just as easily as your social security number.

CBS4 gave a private investigator a cell number and he sent back the first and last name of the owner, along with four pages of personal information including a Date of Birth, Social Security number, address, and information about the owner's family members.

"That's really crazy. I never thought something like that could happen," says Carlos.

There are options to protect your private information, like the Sideline app which assigns you a second phone number to your cell. You can dial and receive calls and texts without giving out your real cell number.

While we wait for the laws to change, the advice -- treat your cell phone number with the same care as your social security number.

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