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5 tips to protect your phone from ID theft

If you're using your smartphone for mobile banking, you really want to pay attention to this.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 10, 2012 12:21PM

This post comes from Brian O'Connell at partner site MainStreet.


MainStreet on MSN MoneyIdentity thieves are increasingly targeting the rising popularity of smartphones as a gateway to grabbing consumers' private financial data.


If you don't act to safeguard your smartphone from ID thieves, you could be taking a big risk. But some preparation and a little bit of help from financial services companies are two good places to start protecting yourself.


According to a report from Javelin Research (.pdf file), about 8.1 million Americans were victimized by identity theft in 2010, for a total of $37 billion. The average cost per consumer was $631, Javelin adds.


Sometimes simply waiting too long to address an ID theft is what will really cost you. Post continues below.

"The longer identity fraud goes undetected, the more expensive and difficult to resolve it tends to be for the consumer. Therefore, it is vital for consumers to monitor their accounts frequently and to partner with their financial institutions to help prevent, detect and resolve fraud," Javelin says in its report. "About half of identity frauds are detected by consumers, and half are detected by third parties (45% vs. 55%)."


With smartphone usage growing by 40% in 2011, the potential for increased identity theft activity will likely rise, too.


To guard your personal data on your smartphone, put the following tips into play:

  • Make sure your bank's firewall is strong. Don't sign up for mobile banking unless you have assurance from your financial institution that it can protect you against viruses and security breaches. Consider the Zeus virus, which recently haunted Android phone users. Hackers were able to use the virus to access Droid users' personal banking data without them even knowing it.
  • Lock your phone. Lock your smartphone when you're not using it. Ask your phone provider about password-protection settings for your phone if you don't know how to set up the feature. Then choose a password that's not obvious.
  • Work with your bank. If you're doing some mobile banking, make sure you sign up for automatic email alerts when money leaves your account, or at worst, for "unusual" withdrawals (say, $250 or more).
  • Disable text notifications from your bank or credit card. Many financial institutions communicate with customers via text messages, and while banks aren't likely to include your account number, other data like your address may be easily visible to anyone who looks at your phone. Make sure to erase all texts from your bank or card carrier as soon as you've read them, or disable the function altogether.
  • Have an emergency plan if your phone is lost or stolen. If your smartphone disappears, don't take anything for granted. Chances are your smartphone has an "enable remote tracking" feature where your carrier can track its whereabouts. Find it and activate it now.

In general, experts say you should also be cautious about downloading free apps that may come from disreputable sources. You're giving away private data to strangers every time you install one, and you have no way of knowing whether the app's publisher is legit or not. Always check the app's security features before pressing the button. If they don't offer any, don't download the app.


Protecting the personal data buried inside your smartphone should be priority one, but combine it with a close monitoring of your financial accounts. If you let things slide, your next call may be to your bank's claim processing service.


More on MainStreet and MSN Money:



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