Texts to my personal number are showing up on my work phone - why?
March 28, 2020 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I recently received texts on my work phone from someone who only has my personal phone number and I'm trying to determine if there is an innocuous explanation before I take it to my company's IT. I also want to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Two days ago I reached out to an old colleague at another company and we exchanged some lighthearted texts. I used my personal phone for this and their replies only went to my personal phone.

Yesterday I received a text from an unknown contact on my work phone and after some confusion discovered that it was from this person. From their perspective they were replying to our final message from the day before. They absolutely do not have my work phone number. I haven't shared it with anyone except my spouse and parent for emergencies only, this person doesn't have a connection to my family or my work, they have no reason to have sought it out, and have not contacted me except to congratulate me on the new job last year - and this message went to my personal phone.

The company I work for is associated with a particular government and I absolutely want to keep my digital personal and work lives separated, hence my concerns and mild (but founded in this case) paranoia about privacy. I can go to our IT department but want to see if there's a simple answer first. I cannot see any connection between these two numbers but you might be able to figure it out?

Details (probably too many but explaining the full picture):
- My personal phone is an Android. I have had the number for 6 years.
- My work phone is an iPhone. I have had the number for 4 months.
- I use two Gmail addresses - Email A and Email B. Email A is for personal and Email B is professional (used for job hunting last year, LinkedIn, and communications with my new employer prior to starting and receiving a company email address).
- Both phones are on the same carrier but on entirely separate accounts - I pay for mine as an individual and my company pays for my work phone as a corporation. The carrier (AFAICT) should have no reason to believe they belong to the same person.
- The phone carrier only has Email A associated with my personal account.
- I signed up for an iCloud account for the work phone under using Email B.
- I just logged in to my iCloud account settings and only my work phone number and Email B are associated with the account.
- I have never communicated with my company using Email A.
- My company has both my personal and work cell numbers in Workday (and this is the only connection I can think of between the two).
- The person I communicated with doesn't have my work number. There is absolutely no concern that they received it from me or anyone else. Nothing nefarious going on here with this person.
- This person has an iPhone.
- They screenshotted their contact information for me in their phone when we were trying to figure out what was happening and it only shows my personal number.
- I replied a few times from my work phone yesterday trying to figure out who was messaging me. After resolving the confusion I texted them from my personal phone. Their replies came up on my work phone and they said that both numbers were coming up in the message string they saw in iMessage. No texts from them came through my personal phone. They then deleted our entire text string, I messaged them another time from my personal phone, and when they replied it went to my work phone.
- This hasn't happened with any of my other contacts.

Any ideas? And if the most likely answer is the Workday connection how can I ensure this doesn't happen again when I contact my company's IT?

Thank you!
posted by reader to Technology (12 answers total)
Does the person who messaged you have Email B? Maybe they even just have it because you're connected on LinkedIn or something? iPhones will really aggressively try to use iMessage instead of a regular text, so if the person who messaged you has Email B in their contact info for you that would be a really easy way for this to happen. (Also it will likely keep happening until the other person takes steps to avoid it.)
posted by mskyle at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

Did you ever use your personal number on an iPhone in the past? And/or have it registered to your iCloud account? I strongly suspect this has something to do with iPhone/iMessenger and not your company's ERP system, so much so that I predicted your former colleague was using an iPhone before I got to that line.
posted by muddgirl at 10:29 AM on March 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

You likely signed into a google account with both phones. Is it possible your work email is managed by google? Your carrier, possibly Verizon, also has a strong partnership with google. For your convenience, they have somehow linked or cross referenced the accounts, either through your carrier or google. This was probably clearly spelled out for you as a possibility on page 108 of Appendix B of a user agreement you happily accepted 4 years ago. It could conceivably be another app common on both phones. I would start by making a list of all apps and accounts you have common between the two phones and start googling connections between them. It could also be some apple tomfoolery.

After you have a list of the common apps, you could contact your carrier for their thoughts on how the accounts became connected. Document what they tell you. You may have to speak to a supervisor or two.
posted by Yorrick at 10:30 AM on March 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes if you ever had an iPhone in the past and use the same Apple ID on your work phone as you used on your former personal iPhone, this would explain it because iMessage works on AppleID, not phone number.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:36 AM on March 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Go to https://myaccount.google.com/security to see where your google account is signed in. I think it's more likely the Apple issue, but it's good security to check occasionally.
posted by theora55 at 11:10 AM on March 28, 2020

Hi all, will try to answer the questions so far, thank you for the replies to try to unravel this!

- The person has email B (I sent it to my former colleagues when I departed and I see that it's in their contact info for me in the screenshot yesterday). We are also connected on LinkedIn.
- This is my first iOS device - ever - and first iCloud account, though I think I had an iTunes account about ten years ago that would've been associated with Email A. If all of those are based on AppleID (and bear with me, I have a huge amount of experience with Android but can't say I really understand things work in the Apple world) then Apple had Email A from ages ago and Email B from a recent signup.
- I have never signed in to any personal account (Gmail or otherwise) on any work device through any app or browser - I don't ever want those lines crossed and I'm very careful about this. Only apps that I have on both are Uber (and the one on my work phone is with a separate account set up with my work email and work credit card), WhatsApp which I recently set up and only required my work phone number, Swiftkey which I didn't sign into as I didn't want it to sync to my personal account .
- Work email is definitely not through any Google services. I know this from an unrelated conversation I had with the director of IT, their mandate is to avoid cloud-based services as much as possible (though recent events have forced us to move to some backup communication options, there's no connection with my personal accounts at all).
- The company is very large with offices worldwide, I'm not located in the US. My carrier's only known connection with Google is home devices.

So right now it seems like the likely suspects are:
- Other person has email B and the phone is doing what mskyle suggests.
- My carrier is somehow connecting the accounts per Yorrick's comment.

A wildcard here is that it's only happening with one person and I'm certain that I have at least another couple of contacts that have iPhones and Email B (at least through the LinkedIn connection).
posted by reader at 11:19 AM on March 28, 2020

I would guess that the connection is your iCloud account under Email B on your work phone and the person having Email B in the same contact as your personal phone number. Their iPhone probably recognized that the person they were texting also had an iCloud account under Email B and used that iCloud account as the iMessage contact. Do your messages to them on your iPhone show up blue? That’s a giveaway that the iPhones switched over to iMessage (and thus your work phone) vs. sending their text to your personal number.

Also, you say you’ve never signed into any personal account on a work device, but using your personal Email B to use iCloud on your work device is creating a connection, even though you didn’t technically log in to the gmail account on that device.
posted by MadamM at 11:27 AM on March 28, 2020

Also, the fact that it’s happening with one person only could just be chance- other people that have email B and iPhones may not have added the email and the phone number in the same contact in their phone, or for mysterious reasons their iPhone isn’t choosing the email over the phone number when they message you.
posted by MadamM at 11:29 AM on March 28, 2020

Ohh yes... that's absolutely true that Email B / iCloud would be a connection. I was okay doing this since work already had Email B in Workday and I had concerns about giving up the ability to edit the account in case I no longer worked at this company because I did associate my credit card with it so that I could purchase Swiftkey separately for this phone. This purchase was the only reason I set up the iCloud account. The only app I have that uses Email B is LinkedIn (which I have on my personal phone but not my work phone).

My sent messages are all blue with the exception of my spouse from when I sent an initial text so they would have the number for emergencies. That message is green and they do not have an iPhone. All other sent messages are to colleagues and we all have iPhones.

I'm thinking that this person (naturally detail-oriented) would have manually entered my email address in their phone when I sent it out on my departure from the previous company and that nobody else has done so.

I'll ask them to delete my email from their phone, restart it, and try to text me again - open to other ideas as well!
posted by reader at 11:41 AM on March 28, 2020

Could the sender have gotten your work phone number by searching the internet or calling your employer?
posted by SemiSalt at 12:57 PM on March 28, 2020

You can also go into your iPhone to settings/Messages and make sure the only thing under the Send & Receive tab is the the phone number of the iPhone and remove any emails in there. Should fix the issue for you.
posted by nenequesadilla at 7:26 PM on March 30, 2020

Update: I asked the sender to remove my email from their contact entry and restart their phone, which seems to have fixed the issue (though the restart may or may not have been necessary, figured it couldn't hurt). I've also followed nenequesadilla's advice to update the messages settings to remove the email as a secondary measure. Thanks to you all for helping me solve this mystery!
posted by reader at 7:56 AM on April 9, 2020

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