How many people and companies have your phone number if you had to guess? Maybe a hundred? Think again.
Want to be shocked? Your cellphone and landline number (if you still have one) are probably posted online where I found mine – at a people search site that doesn’t cost a dime. Tap or click here for 4 sites that let you search for phone numbers.
Your phone number can do a lot of damage in the wrong hands. It’s an easy way for someone to connect you to a leaked password or even intercept your two-factor authentication codes. Tap or click for a safer way to lock down your accounts.
No matter how long you’ve had your phone number, it’s never too late to start being more discreet with it. Here are a few ways to do just that:
A free, easy option from Google
Google Voice is a free service that gives you a phone number that you can use for just about anything. It works for both domestic and international phone calls and texts and voicemails.
I first set up a Google Voice number when I listed a house for rent online. When that number called, I knew what the call was concerning.
It’s easy to get your own number right on your phone. All you need is a Google account to get started.
• Open the app and sign in to your Google account.
• Review the terms of privacy and tap Accept or Continue to proceed.
• Tap Search to choose a phone number from the list. You can search by city or area code.
• Tap Select next to the phone number you want.
• Verify the number and enter a phone number to link to your Voice account.
• You’ll get a six-digit code to enter for the next step. Enter it and you’re done.
Now you can use your Google Voice number however you please.
You can also use Google Voice to keep your old phone number if you're switching to a new one. This step is smart, given all the accounts and services tied to your number these days. Tap or click here for the steps to get that done.
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Or try a burner app
A burner app gives you a second phone number by using your internet data or Wi-Fi to make and receive calls and texts. You can use this for just a short time – like to contact someone selling an item you want to buy – or keep it long-term.
A burner number is great for online dating, shopping, web forms, social media, and lots more.
Burner is one of the most popular options for iOS and Android. You can route calls directly to your secondary number. You can try it out free for seven days. After that, plans start at $4.99 per month for one line or $47.99 for a year.
Hushed for iOS and Android lets you create numbers from all over the world, so you can go outside your area code or the U.S. if you’d like. That’s handy for traveling out of the country or obfuscating where you live. You can access your Hushed number(s) anywhere you have Wi-Fi.
A prepaid plan starts at $1.99 for seven days and comes with bundled minutes for local calls and texts. Unlimited talk and texting cost $3.99 per month and international service is $4.99 per month.
This secret works in a pinch
There are times when using an actual phone number you have control over is essential. But perhaps, you only need something to complete a form when you're creating an account online.
When in doubt, make up a phone number. Most forms won't let you move on without putting in 10 digits, so go with 555-123-4567 or something similar. Remember, if this is an account that will use your number for authentication or it's a company you want to hear from later, use your actual number or a burner.
You can always go with an alias if the site allows you to sign up and register with an email address instead. Tap or click for the easy way to do it if you use Gmail. Scroll to No. 5.
You can’t protect your privacy and security if you don’t know the lingo. In this episode, Kim teaches you 10 important security terms you need to know and why they’re so crucial.
Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to get phone calls without sharing your real number