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Is Your Smartphone a Bulls-Eye for Identity Theft?

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Are you walking around without a password protecting your smartphone? If so, you could be leaving yourself open to identity theft.

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of walking around with my smartphone unprotected, too. In fact, statistics from a 2013 Consumer Reports study found that a full 69 percent of adults failed to password-protect their smartphone. That’s not very smart, because if I lost my phone or someone stole my phone they’d have instant access to everything on my phone. Good for contacting me to claim my phone, but bad for protecting my personal and financial information from identity thieves.

Back in 2012, Symantec, a computer security company, conducted a social experiment involving 50 “lost” smartphones to see how they were used or accessed while lost. The Symantec Smartphone Honey Stick Project was conducted with smartphones containing simulated personal and corporate data placed in high traffic areas in major cities across the U.S and Canada. The project was orchestrated to show smartphone users what to expect if they lost their smartphones. Here’s what they found:

  • 96 percent of lost smartphones were accessed by the finders of the devices.
  • 89 percent of devices were accessed for personal-related apps and information.
  • Only 50 percent of smartphone finders contacted the owner and provided contact information.

But, if a smartphone is password-protected, access by most identity thieves is simply and effectively denied.

A recent Javelin study found that most people are not worried about having their smartphone stolen versus their wallet or car. I don’t know about you, but I have lost my phone before and my college-age daughter has both lost a smartphone and another time, had hers stolen.

So, protect your personal and financial information effectively by setting up a password or PIN (personal identification number) right now, if you have never done so. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also advises you to configure your phone to automatically log-out of apps and automatically lock after five minutes or less when your phone is idle, as well as use the SIM password capability available on most smartphones.

Some other smartphone security DO’s and DON’Ts from the FCC:

  • DON’T undermine your smartphone’s factory security settings by jail-breaking or other means, which leaves your information unprotected.
  • DO only install apps from trusted sources. Check whether apps are legit by reading reviews, confirming the app store and the app website itself.
  • DON’T ignore the app permissions and privacy and security statements. Instead, read them before accepting and downloading apps.
  • DO Install a security app or enable the smartphone setting that allows remote location and wiping to remotely locate and erase all of the data stored on your phone, even if the phone’s GPS is off, when your phone is lost or stolen. Visit CTIA’s list of anti-theft protection apps  that offer this feature.
  • DON’T access open Wi-Fi networks such as those at restaurants, malls and airports, especially if shopping or logging-in to financial accounts, apps or even email. Instead, use your secure wireless 4G service when in public.
  • DO accept updates and patches to your smartphone’s software, which include the latest security features.
  • DO erase all data (and restore the phone to its original factory settings) on your old phone before you donate, resell, recycle or dispose of it to protect your personal data.
  • DO report a stolen smartphone to your local law enforcement authorities and then register the stolen phone with your wireless provider.

The major wireless service providers, in coordination with the FCC, have established a stolen phone database which provides notice to all the major wireless service providers when you report your phone stolen. This allows for remote “bricking” of the phone, effectively blocking activation on any wireless network without your permission.

To get really specific on protecting your exact type of smartphone, check the FCC’s  Smartphone Security Checker.

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