Cell Phone Safety

Identity Theft and Cell Phone Security

Man stealing woman's smartphone
Getty Images/Nathan ALLIARD

According to Norton, the antivirus software company, almost half of us expect our online purchases to increase over the holidays. Quite a few of us expect our social networking (Facebook, etc.) to increase as well. The fact is we all love to use our phones to keep in touch with friends and family, and social media has made that even easier. But most of us don’t think about cell phone safety – especially those of us with smartphones.The fact is we all love to use our phones to keep in touch with friends and family, and social media has made that even easier.

But most of us don’t think about cell phone safety – especially those of us with smartphones.

Who is Listening?

The neat thing about a smartphone is that it can connect automatically to an open Wi-Fi network, as long as you have connected to it before. This gives you breakneck speeds to check your bank account, watch eBay auctions, browse Craigslist, or update your Facebook status.

The obvious problem is you have no idea who may be on a network listening to traffic if it is open and free to access for everyone. Identity thieves will use these to snatch credit card information, or just usernames and passwords, to start an attack on someone’s life. They rely on statistics that say most people do not change passwords and use the same password to access everything. If they know your e-mail password and your user ID for your bank, statistically speaking they can get your money.

The safest course of action is to know what information to protect.

Never enter this sensitive data if you are on a public network. (If you want to know if you are on a public a Wi-FI network, chances are good there is an app for that – check your market, i-store, or whatever. You may also look for Norton DNS, a free tool that checks to see if a site is phishing for your personal information.)

“Shred” Your Cell Phone’s Data

Even more obvious is physical security. If someone gets your smartphone, they have a 50/50 chance that you don’t use a password on your phone. And, of course, to save us from all that typing, we let our cell phone store passwords for us, so all we have to do is push the login button.

If your cell phone happens to be stolen, there are a lot of headaches that come with it. Turning it off and getting it replaced are just the tip of the iceberg. All of the information on the phone is still valuable to an identity thief. To address that issue, cell phone security applications are creeping up all over the place. These allow you to log into a computer and digitally “shred” your phones data. In most instances, this means it will erase the data from your cell phone, but the word “shred” has become a buzzword among privacy advocates and marketing professionals. 

Crossing Social Media Boundaries

If you spend any time with social media, (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) You have probably found that you can “check-in” somewhere to let all your friends know what you’re up to, and maybe even stop by for coffee. But if your security settings on the social networks are not set properly, you could just as easily be telling robbers that your house is vacant right now, which they will find most helpful when they clean you out.

Sometimes, they will come back in a couple of months, to get this stuff you bought with the insurance money, too. Occasionally, they will look for important documents to commit identity theft. All told, checking-in may be one of the most reckless cell phone safety errors we can commit.

In fact, some consumer advocates even suggest GPS location information should be protected as personal information.

As an extra tip, Norton also suggested using a single card for all your online shopping. That way, if it is stolen, it is the only one stolen. Personally, I prefer a virtual card that I can cancel when I’m done shopping. But either practice will help to protect you from financial identity theft.