Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Does a smartphone raise your risk of identity theft?

        Money | Scams

Getting your smartphone stolen can cause as much damage to your life as having your purse ripped off. See more everyday tech pictures.
ViewApart/iStock/Thinkstock

Here's a scary question: What would happen if someone stole your smartphone? Is it password-protected? Are you automatically logged in to social media apps and banking apps? Do you download free games and apps without reading the fine print in the user agreement? Could a smartphone thief dive right in to your personal data and collect enough "secret" facts — your Social Security number, birth date, mother's maiden name — to effectively steal your identity? While we're at it, where is your smartphone right now?

If you just found yourself frantically patting down your pockets or digging through your purse, then you might be a prime target for identity theft. According to a 2011 study, smartphone users were a third more likely to be victims of identity fraud than nonusers. Indeed, 7 percent of smartphone users had been actual victims of identity fraud [source: Lipka].

Why? Think of all the ways people use smartphones, a mobile device that's more like a powerful pocket computer than a phone. We use them as mobile wallets and mobile cash registers. We download apps that let us check our bank account balance and write digital checks. We text donations to charities and transfer money to friends. We constantly update our status — where we are and what we're doing — on social media streams like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We even store contact information for all of our friends and business contacts right there on the phone, just a finger tap away.

Despite all this easily accessible information, the same study found a whopping 62 percent of smartphone users didn't password-protect their devices and even fewer had the ability to wipe their device's hard drive remotely [source: Lipka].

According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone and 58 percent have a smartphone, a percentage that's sure to increase in the coming years [source: Pew Research]. Keep reading for the dumbest mistakes to make with your smartphone and the smartest security tips for keeping your data and your identity safe.


More to Explore