Even if you avoid the biggest smartphone security mistakes, you can still leave yourself vulnerable to identity theft. What if you forget your phone at a restaurant, or it gets swiped on the subway? A savvy hacker could crack your password, at which point it's open season on your personal data.
One of the best ways to protect your phone, even when it's lost or stolen, is by using a remote locator app. Apple offers the free Find My iPhone app that not only locates your lost or stolen phone using GPS, but gives you the power to remotely erase all of your personal information from the device. The free Lookout app offers the same remote location, lock and erase service for Android devices [source: Chen].
Even if your smartphone is safely in your pocket, thieves can still use malware — malicious software — to make fraudulent charges to your credit card. According to a 2013 report by security firm Trend Micro, there were over 700,000 different malware apps in circulation for Android smartphones [source: Merz]. Many of the apps disguised themselves as popular gaming and banking apps. Once the app is downloaded, it siphons money from the user by charging for undetected premium-rate texts.
To avoid malware infections, pay close attention to every app that you download, especially free apps. Make sure to only download official apps created by reputable and recognizable companies. Also, closely scan your phone bills for any unexpected texting charges.
If you work with highly sensitive information, or consider your personal information "classified," consider investing in data encryption. Many of the latest Apple and Android smartphones come with built-in data encryption that can only be unlocked by entering the device's passcode. There are also free apps like SecureMemo for Android smartphones that create a locked-down, password-protected file on your phone in which to store sensitive data [source: Chen].
For lots more information about mobile gadgets, identity theft and ways to secure your digital world, check out the related HowStuffWorks links below.
Author's Note: Does a smartphone raise your risk of identity theft?
A few minutes ago, my wife walked in and asked me to register for online access to one of our retirement accounts. Her timing was impeccable. At that exact moment, I was reading an article about how important it is to use different passwords with each of your online accounts. The same article suggested that you change those passwords every year but never write them all down in the same place. So there I was, staring at my billionth login screen trying to choose a unique username and password that I would somehow remember five minutes from now without writing down. Impossible!
That's why I was so excited to hear about apps for your smartphone or computer that allow you to create a password-protected document to store all of those precious online passwords. Even Microsoft Word allows you to password-protect a document. Why didn't I think of that before? Now I can throw away the scrawled list of coded password hints that I keep taped to the underside of my desk. Er, on second thought, pretend you didn't hear that.
- Arthur, Charles and Boggin, Steve. "Wi-Fi security flaw for smartphones puts your credit cards at risk." The Guardian. April 25, 2011 (April 4, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/apr/25/wifi-security-flaw-smartphones-risk
- Chen, Brian X. "How to Shield Yourself From Smartphone Snoops." The New York Times. April 3, 2013. (April 4, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/technology/personaltech/how-to-shield-yourself-from-smartphone-snoops.html
- Levin, Adam. "The 10 Dumbest Risks People Take With Their Smartphones." Credit.com. Jan. 31, 2013. (April 4, 2013) http://blog.credit.com/2013/01/the-10-dumbest-risks-people-take-on-their-smartphones/
- Lipka, Mitch. "Rise in identity fraud tied to smartphone use." Reuters. Feb. 22, 2012. (April 4, 2014) http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/22/us-idtheft-javelin-idUSTRE81L16520120222
- Merz, Theo. "Surge in malware on Android smartphone system." The Telegraph. Aug. 6, 2013. (April 4, 2014) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10225511/Surge-in-malware-on-Android-smartphone-system.html
- Pew Research. "Mobile Technology Fact Sheet." January 2014. (April 4, 2014) http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/