People feel so comfortable with their smartphones that they’re rarely without them – they sleep next to them, use them in the bathroom and keep them within arm’s reach all day. It’s no wonder, then, that people often forget to treat them like the computers that they are, with the potential to introduce them to fraudsters with criminal intentions.
“People can get themselves into trouble because they have a different relationship with their phone than their computer,” says Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Security Response, a research arm of the Symantec security company. “Anyone you sleep with, you tend to trust, and over half the people sleep with their phones,” he adds.
Cyber experts say the rapid adoption of smartphones into daily life, especially for shopping, which requires the exchange of payment information, leaves many people vulnerable to financial attacks. A 2013 Norton report found that one in three smartphone users have experienced some form of cybercrime. Protecting yourself doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, but you should consider following these 11 steps:
- When browsing or shopping on your phone (or computer), always look for “https” in the url instead of “http.” That indicates an added level of security, which should always appear before exchanging any private information, like credit card numbers, online.
- Add a password to your phone. It might be a pain to type a number into your phone each time you want to use it, but losing your phone without that protection could lead to a far greater headache. Given that Norton reports 25 percent of smartphone users have had their phone lost or stolen, it’s a smart move.
- Use a “find your phone tool.” Certain software and apps make it easy to find your phone if you lose it, and make it easy for anyone who finds it to connect with you. Some programs, like Norton Mobile Security (there’s a free trial version as well as a $29.99 full version), also offer the option of locking and wiping your phone remotely if necessary.
- Don’t allow automatic connections. Some smartphones are set up to automatically connect with available Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth devices. Disabling this option will prevent your phone from connecting and transmitting data without you realizing it.
- Consider buying a protective app. According to a 2013 report from Symantec, which studies consumers’ online behaviors and how to stay safe, mobile crime is on the rise – with malware or malicious software increasing by 58 percent this year. Malware can steal personal information or otherwise damage your phone.
- Treat email and social media requests from strangers suspiciously. Marc Barach, chief marketing and strategy officer at Jumio, a security company, says criminals often send friend requests to people they don’t know to gather information about them. While most people will ignore or reject the request, a small portion will accept, and those are the people who criminals target. For example, they can use a seemingly harmless post, like the victim’s photos from a restaurant meal, to then call the victim, impersonate the restaurant and request a credit card number in order to process a refund for an alleged overcharge.
- Be a savvy shopper. It’s not wrong to shop from your phone, whether by browser or retailer app, but Haley urges shoppers to be extra careful with vendors they aren’t familiar with, especially if the store initiated contact through an email, text message or social media site. “Make sure you’re not being taken in but doing business with legitimate vendors,” he says. You can always run a web search on the company first, or visit the Better Business Bureau site to check for any complaints.
- Check privacy settings on apps. Some apps request a lot of information from you, including your location and passwords or access to other apps or your text messages. If they don’t need all of that information (and why would they?), then deny access.
- Beware the package tracking scam. If you’re ordering a lot of packages online, you might not be too surprised to receive an email from what looks like a major retailer about a package that it couldn’t deliver. But take a closer look, and you might notice that the email isn’t actually from the domain name of that retailer. It’s a common scam, and typically works by getting the recipient to click on a fraudulent link that then collects personal information. Don’t click on it, Haley warns.
- Avoid fraudulent Wi-Fi networks. Call it the coffee shop problem: A fraudster sets up a Wi-Fi network that has a similar name to the coffee shop he’s sitting in, but instead of simply providing free Wi-Fi, he’s using the signal to collect information from the people around him who log onto the network. Barach says this common scam easily ensnares people who aren’t paying attention to the network they connect to.
- Use better passwords. According to Jumio, six in 10 consumers re-use passwords for multiple sites, and many also select passwords that are easy to remember, which often means they’re also easy to crack. Barach warns against ever using your mother’s maiden name, for example, because anyone with access to your Facebook account can likely figure out what it is based on your family connections.
Part of the problem, Barach says, is just how useful phones are today. “There has been a giant onboarding of more people into the mobile environment and an increase in the number of complex and higher-end transactions. Five years ago, almost no one would be trading stocks or depositing checks on mobile. But today, more people are doing more complex transactions,” he says.
There’s no reason to stop leveraging your phone for that kind of productivity, but just be sure to apply a few street smarts first.
By Kimberly Palmer