Even the great Alexander Graham Bell, with his scientific genius and creative imagination, could not have envisioned the vast world of magic his invention would eventually yield. The trouble is, of course, that when you unleash this kind of magic, thieves will inevitably develop some tricks of their own. Telephone scams of decades past are child’s play compared with the kinds of crimes being committed on today’s smartphones.
A smartphone is a remarkable device. A few decades ago, computers took up entire rooms, and even with all that space could store only a fraction of what will fit into an instrument in the palm of your hand today. You can carry your phone around conveniently and use it whenever you need it. You can search information, check savings accounts, play games, buy music — you can even call somebody up. All from a little rectangular instrument you keep in your pocket. But with that range of services and that convenience come some risk. Here are some pieces of advice for keeping the invaluable personal information stored in your phone from falling into the hands of thieves:
- Keep close track of your phone. That sounds like a nugget of wisdom no responsible adult needs to hear, but statistics tell us that every day 200,000 smartphones are lost, stolen or damaged. The cost of replacing it is enough of an issue to make most people seriously regret having let anything happen to their phone. But also consider the secrets that are stored in there that would jeopardize your lifestyle should they fall into the wrong hands. Insure your phone against damage or loss, which could get you a replacement within as little as a day. And by all means make sure you have an app that protects your device against malware and other digital threats. But never take security for granted, no matter how much protection you have. Take no chances on letting your phone be stolen.
- Be selective when choosing apps for your phone. Never accept them from sources you don’t know or may not be able to trust. Apps offer an astonishing array of ways to use your phone, but get them only from known sources. Check ratings or reviews, if available, to ensure that other users have been satisfied with them. The wrong apps can contain malignant malware. Be suspicious of any apps that ask for unnecessary permissions.
- Don’t store sensitive information on your smartphone. The phone is an easy place to record passwords, Social Security numbers and other unique personal data, but resist using it for that. Should it be lost or stolen, those keys to your assets could be in serious jeopardy.
- Use a pin or password to lock your phone. Your “settings” feature should make it easy to put this security feature into place. And use the passcode lock to make it more difficult should thieves somehow acquire your phone.
- Log out of sites completely when you finish with any financial transactions on your phone.
- Back up your data in the cloud. If you lose your phone or if it gets stolen, backing up such things as contacts, pictures and music will be available to you in the cloud when you acquire a replacement.
- Beware of what have become known as “shoulder surfers” who peek into your phone as you make transactions. The principle is no different from walking up to an ATM to make a machine transaction and making sure no one is trying to seize personal information while you’re going through the electronic processes there. Just stay aware of who is around you and what they are doing.
- Be discreet in the kinds of transactions you consummate in public Wi-Fi settings. Such places are not as secure as your own home or office. If you need to access a sensitive account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and changing over to your mobile network. And always turn off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth when not in use. Thieves can figure out through them how to connect to your device and access key information.
- As with your computer, your smartphone can be vulnerable to phishing expeditions. Don’t open links and attachments in emails and texts if you aren’t positive you can trust the sender. If someone claims to be contacting you from a financial institution, for example, instead of responding and handing over any information, call the institution to confirm the request. Unsolicited emails and texts can very easily be your undoing if you comply with their requests without ascertaining their reliability. And always be wary of ads claiming that your device is infected. Those ads could be legitimate, in which case you should take steps to repair that damage. But make sure the notification is valid.
- Update your apps and your entire system periodically. Not only could you upgrade what you have in very valuable ways, you could also enhance your device’s security.
- Let your credit union know immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device. And if you have any reason to suspect fraud is being committed via your phone, report that to your financial institution at once, too.
Your smartphone is an extraordinary device, and it is getting smarter all the time. Make sure all of its wonderful features are working for you, and not for a thief out to take advantage of you.