Cell phone identity theft is now an issue that every American needs to consider. Think about the last time you accidentally left your cell phone somewhere. Even if you were just running to the store for a quick errand, not having your smartphone with you can be an uncomfortable experience. After all, most people use their smartphones for just about everything – talking to friends, surfing the internet, finding directions and even banking.
It’s these financial uses which make smartphones so appealing to identity thieves. Plus, an ID thief looking for a cell phone to steal has a wide variety of potential targets to choose from. Over 61% of the U.S. population has a cell phone.
If yours falls into the wrong hands, you could suddenly be faced with a lot of problems. The FTC recently revealed that 6.3% of all identity thefts have occurred via a mobile phone account.
What Can an ID Thief Do With Your Cell Phone?
If a thief has your cell phone, there is potentially no limit to the amount of personal information they can then access. Your personal messages, your bank information and even your pin numbers can be available. Plus, your phone can be used to easily impersonate you. Your own phone, and the apps on it, can be used to withdraw money from your bank accounts with ease.
What to Do if You Lose Your Phone
Obviously, you want to keep your cell phone under your control at all times. This can be easier said than done. If you do lose your phone, act quickly. More people waste time thinking they’ve simply misplaced their phone when in fact their phone has been stolen. Many providers have “family locator” systems which can help you find the current location of your phone. Various locator apps can also perform this function. You also want to put a freeze on your bank accounts, credit cards and anything else a thief can access.
How to Safeguard Your Smartphone
Knowing what to do – and what not to do – with your smartphone can help minimize your risk of cell phone identity theft.
- DON’T use unknown wireless networks such as those found in coffee shops and airports. Free Wi-Fi can be tempting because it can help cut down on data costs. But some networks are able to capture any information which is sent between your smartphone and the legitimate server. A competent identity thief doesn’t need physical access to your phone in order to steal your information.
- Encrypt files and folders that may contain sensitive data.
- DON’T download or click on unknown software. There are a ton of apps out there. Some of them can be malicious. Along those same lines, be wary about opening attachments. Sometimes thieves will create fake emails which appear to be from your bank or some other legitimate organization. These emails will have attachments which contain Trojan horses, malware or other programs designed to secretly grab your personal information.
- Set your default Bluetooth configuration to the “non-discoverable” setting. This will ensure any hackers in the immediate area won’t see your device on their Bluetooth list.
- Only install trusted apps on your phone. PrivacyGrade.org is a great resource to learn more about the safety issues around specific applications.
- DO put a password lock on your phone. While this can be annoying for daily use, the extra effort is worth it if your phone ever falls into the wrong hands. Password protection can keep identity thieves from accessing your information, or at least slow them down long enough for you to hopefully recover your phone with the help of law enforcement and tracker apps.
Smartphones are quickly becoming a necessity in modern life. This makes them attractive to identity thieves. But with some simple, common sense precautions, you can make sure cell phone identity theft never happens to you.