It’s not hard to understand the allure of smartphones. A smartphone can do a lot more than let users call or send text messages to people. It can be used to access the Internet, connect to social networking sites, and even make purchases online. You can use it to take and share photos, watch videos, and listen to music. You can even play games on it. Best of all, it’s small, light, and extremely portable.
When they were first introduced, smartphones were considered as status symbols similar to how people viewed mobile phones only a few years ago. Only the privileged few could really afford them, so if you had one you were immediately thought of as wealthy, if not, successful. The proliferation of relatively affordable smartphones has led to a huge boom in consumer adoption, however, and in 2012 the number of smartphone users finally eclipsed that of non-smartphone users.
A smartphone’s usefulness can come with a price if you’re not careful, however. Smartphones can hold a huge amount of data including passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. It’s a veritable treasure trove of personal information that a thief can use to steal your identity. Without proper precautions and security measures, its ability to connect to the Internet can open it to attacks by malicious individuals with software that are aiming to commit identity theft using your smartphones.
The fast changing mobile landscape has given cybercriminals and identity thieves a new target, and it seems they’ve found that it’s a profitable one. In the 2012 edition of information security firm Symantec’s Norton Cybercrime Report, Norton Internet Safety Advocate, Marian Merritt, says that cybercriminals are “changing their tactics to target fast growing mobile platforms and social networks where consumers are less aware of security risks.”
The numbers show that cases of identity theft via smartphones are definitely on the rise. Smartphone owners reportedly have a higher identity fraud incidence rate when compared to the general public. One possible key factor in the increase is a lack of awareness regarding the security risks faced by smartphone owners.
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Over half of mobile phone users use free public WiFi hotspots to connect to the Internet. These public hotspots, however, can be used to hijack personal information that you send over them. A criminal can set up a bogus WiFi access point and gain access to your mobile device once you connect to it.
A survey conducted last year found that almost 80% of the respondents were at least aware that their identities could be compromised through a public WiFi connection. Unfortunately, nearly 40% of those surveyed either did not know or did not believe that there are ways to protect themselves even when using public WiFi.
An identity thief can steal your phone to obtain personal data, but he or she doesn’t even have to actually hold it in their hands to take control of it. A smartphone runs on software. Software can be compromised. Unfortunately, only about a third of smartphone owners actually use software protection to keep their smartphones secure.
Cybercriminals employ a number of techniques both old and new to distribute malware to smartphones. Email spam is still prevalent, and so are hacked websites that stealthily download malware onto phones. Once a smartphone becomes infected with malware, an unscrupulous individual can then use the malicious software to take almost complete control of the phone. It can be used to steal contact details, download files and even place phone calls and send text messages.
There are reportedly over 10,000 identity theft rings operating in the United States alone. If they manage to remain undetected, identity thieves can use your personal information to make large, expensive purchases using your name. Worse still, an identity thief can commit more serious crimes while posing as you. Seeing your credit scores plummet to the ground is already hard, but getting a police record for a crime you never committed is another thing altogether.
As bleak as these possibilities seem, all hope is not lost. Most of the identity theft prevention measures that you take whenever you use your computer and go online apply to your smartphone as well. Here are a few ID theft protection tips to increase the security of your smartphone.
- Enable your smartphone’s lock screen feature and protect it with a password.
- Some smartphones offer data encryption. If your phone supports it, encrypt all of your stored data to keep it safe in case your phone gets lost or is stolen.
- Don’t open any suspicious links that you receive via text messages or emails. Be wary of email phishing scams as well.
- Be extra careful when downloading apps and other files onto your smartphone. Read reviews and stick to trusted developers and websites to minimize your chances of accidentally downloading malware.
- Install anti-malware software and keep it updated. Keep your smartphone’s operating system updated as well in order to plug any existing security holes.
- Reset your smartphone to its factory settings before you sell it or trade it in. This wipes all of the personal data you used to store in it.
The thing with technology is that it’s a double-edged sword. Every time something that can make people’s lives easier is introduced, sooner or later someone comes along and turns it to less than noble purposes. Smartphones are here to stay. Identity thieves and cybercriminals won’t be going away anytime soon, either. Fortunately, a combination of consumer awareness and new security measures can help minimize the risk of becoming a victim.
Are you a smartphone user? Do you know one? Feel free to leave a comment and share this article with your friends and family.