There are tens of millions of smartphone users in the US, and if you asked them their feelings on having their phones lost or stolen, the reactions might surprise you. The obvious answers involve inconvenience or the expense of replacing it, but some users might list losing their phone right up there with fear of bodily harm. Why? As one teenager put it, “My whole life is in that phone!”
She wasn’t really exaggerating. Her email, text messages, phone contacts, and social media accounts are all routed through her smartphone. Her credit card is stored in there in order to purchase apps or music, but also as a real-world payment method through a mobile wallet. As a college student, her textbooks are in there, complete with all of the annotations she made, and her calendar is stored in there with her work schedule, her class schedule, and even activities involving her private life.
Now envision all of that information—her physical location and when to find her there, her friends’ names, her credit card, her entire online identity—falling into a thief’s hands.
There’s a downside to all the convenience and connectivity that smartphones provide. Without the proper protection in place, anyone who picks up your device can have complete access. The best way to stop someone from using your physical device against you is to make sure you’ve passcode locked the device, and that your passcode is not a sequence that is easily guessed, like 1-2-3-4.
But even with a passcode, it’s still a good idea to log out of your apps whenever you use them, or at least log out of the critical apps if entering your password is too much of a bother. Which apps should you be especially careful of?
- Email – With all of the flashy ways to communicate now, email might seem a little bit outdated. But with access to your email, a thief can alter practically every account you own. The first step is to get into your account and change your email password. Right away, you’re locked out of it. Then, once he controls the password, he simply opens every app you have and clicks “forgot my password.” The reset link will come to your email address, which again, he now controls. He changes your password on every account you own.
- Online Banking – This one is too obvious, and fortunately, a lot of banks’ apps automatically log you out. But just in case, make sure your banking app is secure by exiting it completely every time you use it, and by protecting it with a strong, unique password.
- Mobile Wallet – The same is true for your mobile payment method. Mobile payments are very convenient and very secure, but they also have the added benefit of being accepted at more and more retailers. But with so much at stake, don’t leave it logged in or trust that the app will kick you out after it closes. Log out, and actually watch the screen return to the log in screen.
- Social Media – You might be tempted to think that anyone who gets in your Snapchat or Facebook account is going to be pretty bored by all the birthday wishes and cat videos, but there is actually a whole world of damage a thief can do with social media. The first step is to start sending out friend requests to people he knows, including himself or his ghost accounts, and then invite your friends to “like” or connect with those invitations. That opens the door to scams and fraud. Of course, the very last thing you need is relationship- and career-ending posts, like inflammatory political, religious, or even prejudicial posts, or posts which contain pornography or illegal activity.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.