Smartphones lull us into thinking they don’t make us vulnerable to identity theft. A survey last year by LifeLock found that more than a third of cell phone users don’t use a PIN, tracking software, or remote data-removal capabilities for their smartphone. Yet the risks of complacency are very real.
According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 56 percent of Americans now own a smartphone. Javelin Strategy & Research found that at least 7 percent of smartphone users—more than 12 million Americans—are victims of identity theft every year. It’s vital to find ways to keep your info safe online while relying on apps (or your phone’s browser) to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
First Be Careful, Then Suspicious
Your smartphone, if not protected by an access code, can reveal an extraordinary amount of personal information: your name, your image, passwords for banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions. Lifelock’s survey found that 44 percent of smartphone users have a personal banking or finance app. Many users may store private notes including sensitive information such as your children’s Social Security numbers.
Therefore, Task #1 is to protect your smartphone immediately with either a passcode, pattern, PIN or fingerprint ID, and set it to revert to the access screen no less often than every 10 minutes. Don’t use your birth date or your banking passcode as your smartphone access code. Install security software recommended by your carrier or the phone’s manufacturer. Free products such as Lookout Mobile Security are available for Apple, Android, Windows and BlackBerry phones, according to AARP. Security software scans newly installed apps to make sure they’re safe.
But don’t assume that because you have security software, all downloaded apps are safe. Apps containing malicious software (called malware) can still load viruses and worms onto your device and escape detection, according to IDTheftCenter.org. Download apps only from legitimate app stores like Google, Amazon and Samsung. Defend against malware by taking notice of outrageous promises and bad reviews for an app.
Treat your smartphone as you would any computer. Don’t open questionable links in emails or text messages, and never reply to unsolicited requests for personal information such as your Social Security or bank account numbers. Never use your smartphone to log in to your bank or other financial institution on a public wi-fi network.
Track Your Phone and Shield Important Data
An app that reports the location of your phone may help police recover it if it’s lost or stolen. As AARP explains, the “Find My iPhone” app is built into the iPhone, but it requires activation. Android devices rely on apps such as “Where’s My Droid” that are available in the Google Play store.
Inquire about remotely erasing stored data if your phone is lost or stolen. Shift sensitive data to a Google Cloud Platform or iCloud account, and back up data regularly by plugging your phone into your computer. Finally, wipe all personal information from the device before you replace it.