Technology

How to Protect Your Identity, Finances If You Lose Your Phone

It’s a gold mine for ID thieves. Take steps to protect your information.

Lose your smart phone and you could have more to contend with than missed calls and text messages, a lost contact list, and Angry Birds withdrawal. Anyone who finds it will have an opportunity to empty your bank account, steal your identity or both.

DOWNLOAD: Smart Phone Safety Tips From a Professional Hacker

Think of your smart phone as part wallet, part computer. If someone were to access your online-banking or eBay application, for instance, the funds in your checking account could be gone in minutes. Thieves could also get information from your e-mail messages -- as well as reset passwords for your online accounts and retrieve them from your e-mail account. Or they could use your contacts for phishing schemes.

Preventive measures. Start by using your phone’s security settings to lock your screen with a password. Only 38% of smart-phone owners take that simple, effective step, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. And don’t use an obvious PIN (such as your birth year) or a simple pattern to unlock your screen. Hide the phone as you enter the code if strangers are nearby.

When you finish using your applications, log out. At the very least, sign out of your banking and payment apps (and any others that could allow someone to go on a spending spree). And don’t store your log-in information in an app’s data-entry fields for easy access. Even apps that seem harmless could be a treasure trove for a crook, says Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer for Identity Theft 911. The list of connections on your Facebook account may reveal your mother’s maiden name, for example.

If your phone disappears. You can install a location-tracking app on most smart phones. Apple’s iPhone has the Find My iPhone app built in, but you need to activate it; apps such as “Where’s My Droid” are available for Android devices. The feature is a big help if, say, you can’t remember where you left your phone. And if it has been stolen, police may be able to use the app to help track down the thief.

Also, set up your phone so that you can remotely erase its data. Your wireless carrier may offer this service, and many security apps include the feature. But keep in mind that a sophisticated thief may be able to restore the information, says Kevin Johnson, senior security consultant for Secure Ideas. Your data won’t be lost if it’s saved automatically to your Google or iCloud account, and you can regularly perform backups by plugging your phone into your computer.

Malware and more. Losing your phone isn’t the only potential danger. Hackers can collect sensitive information through malware. Android phones are particularly susceptible because developers can more easily submit virus-laden apps. (Google has an open-source market, while Apple has a rigorous screening process for apps.) Research an app’s developer and read reviews of the app before you download it. If you receive suspicious-looking text messages, don’t reply or click on links.

Some of the big names in antivirus protection offer malware protection for phones (Symantec’s Norton Mobile Security is $30). But you may want to wait until such mobile software improves, says Johnson. The programs may slow down your phone and offer little protection.

Using unsecured Wi-Fi and leaving your Bluetooth connection open are other actions that could leave your phone vulnerable to hackers. Goodman suggests turning your cell phone off at night to avoid stealth attacks while you sleep.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
How to Calculate the Break-Even Age for Taking Social Security
social security

How to Calculate the Break-Even Age for Taking Social Security

When it comes to maximizing your Social Security benefits, there are many elements to consider. One factor that can be especially enlightening is your…
August 30, 2021
Spend Without Worry in Retirement
Financial Planning

Spend Without Worry in Retirement

Fears of running out of money prevent many retirees from tapping the nest egg they’ve worked a lifetime to save. With these strategies, you can genera…
August 30, 2021

Recommended

17 Free or Cheap Things to Do With Your Kids During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Raising Money-Smart Kids

17 Free or Cheap Things to Do With Your Kids During the COVID-19 Pandemic

We’ve got lots of kid-friendly activities to do at home that will keep your family safe and your finances sound.
September 8, 2021
10 New Products Apple Could Release This Fall
Technology

10 New Products Apple Could Release This Fall

Here’s what we think Apple is going to announce at its Sept. 14 event, from sure bets like the iPhone 13 to longshots like an all-new MacBook Air.
September 7, 2021
Complain and Be Heard
Smart Buying

Complain and Be Heard

Getting our money back for the extended warranty and gap insurance we didn't want took patience and persistence.
August 31, 2021
A Fund for Betting on Infrastructure
Becoming an Investor

A Fund for Betting on Infrastructure

The SPDR S&P Kensho Intelligent Structures ETF invests in both industrials firms and new technologies for clean energy.
August 26, 2021