Are your digital devices, like your smartphone, tablet and laptop, putting you at risk of identity theft? Believe it or not, Consumer Reports estimates that identity theft carried out through mobile devices alone costs more than $30 billion a year.
Once cyber-criminals have collected data like your name, birthdate, credit and debit card numbers and email address, they can sell that information on the black market. Before you know it, someone you have never met may have spent thousands of dollars under your name, seriously damaging your credit.
There are several ways in which identity thieves can use your mobile digital presence to gain access to your personal data.
Some apps require permissions that allow them to see and even control parts of your smartphone or tablet. Depending on the app, it may be able to view your web browser history, text messages, photos, name and contact information. And while many smartphone and tablet users believe that all apps are safe to download, it is always possible that a cyber criminal is using one of yours to steal your personal information, including passwords and banking information. Think before you download, and only use well-known apps from reputable developers.
If an identity thief found or stole your phone, think of the treasure trove of information that they would have at their disposal. It is crucial to password protect all of your devices so that if they do fall into the wrong hands, you aren't a sitting duck. Make the code as long and obscure as you can. If you are an iPhone user, then disable the "simple code" setting, which will allow you to create a harder-to-crack login that includes letters, symbols and numbers.
You should also set up your smartphone so that it will automatically erase all of its data if someone tries a certain number of incorrect passwords in a row. Some devices even have a feature that allows you to remotely clear data if your device is lost or stolen.
When you take your laptop or tablet out, be sure to carry it in an unmarked bag that has a secure zipper or latch. Avoid using a case that looks particularly valuable or as though it might contain a tech device.
Using free, public Wi-Fi may be convenient, but it could also expose you the potential for identity theft. Hackers can easily "eavesdrop" on your digital activity, whether on your smartphone, laptop or tablet. Stay off of your personal banking account and don't do any online shopping. You don't want cyber criminals making a note of your credit card information. When you are browsing the Internet, only visit websites that have URL addresses beginning in "https://." This indicates that the site is establishing a secure connection. It's also a good idea to enable "Use SSL" in your email account settings to add an extra layer of protection.
Unfortunately, someone may have already stolen your identity, either through a digital device, from a store you shop at or by hacking your own computer. That's why it is a good idea to also invest in a credit monitoring service, in addition to taking the above precautions. Such systems cannot guarantee your protection, but they can alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud, enabling you to take the appropriate steps to help protect your credit and identity.