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The Resource Center Identity Theft & Protection The Resource Center | article

Smartphone Thieves Are After Your Data, Not Your Device

For identity thieves, your cell phone represents a goldmine of personal information and private data that can severely compromise your cybersafety.

For identity thieves, your cell phone represents a goldmine of personal information that can compromise your cybersafety.

According to Fox Business, more than $7 million worth of smartphones are lost in the U.S. every day. Before, mobile devices were often stolen for their inherent resale value and ability to function. Smartphones, however, have changed the nature and potential magnitude of mobile theft.

For identity thieves, your cell phone represents a goldmine of personal information and private data that can severely compromise your cybersafety. Individuals don't just make calls on their phones anymore. Now they bank, send work emails, complete transactions and access social networks, often without taking any security precautions.

Researchers at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton recently conducted a survey of 339 American respondents. Of those questioned, 60 percent reported using their mobile devices for personal functions and 38 percent used them for both work and personal reasons. A full quarter of respondents reported having lost their phones at least once previously, but very few of those individuals took even elementary steps to guard against data theft.

The most basic precaution consumers can take to secure their devices is to implement a passcode or fingerprint ID feature to lock their phones to outsiders.

"Quite a lot of people don't do even this very simple thing," said professor of information systems at DeGroote, Yufei Yuan.

Mobile phone loss is commonly considered an individual responsibility, but large corporations might soon take a greater interest in this matter as a great deal of employees access restricted information with login credentials that are stored automatically in their device.

"As more and more mobile devices are used in the workplace," the study reported, "mobile device loss will become a very important security threat to organizations."

Mobile security firm Lookout reports that in the U.S. alone, 113 cellphones are lost or stolen every minute, and the average adult will misplace their phone at least once a year.

Last year, a Federal Reserve survey found that 51 percent of smartphone users accessed mobile banking apps to check account balances and transfer funds, and 24 percent used their phone to make a payment.

“If you don’t put a PIN on your phone, if you don’t encrypt anything and you have done all the pre-login stuff for banking apps," said Paypal senior director of global initiatives, Anuj Nayar, to Fox Business. "It is the equivalent of leaving your front door open and your checkbook on the hall table."

You should also download a mobile app that can act as a "kill switch" if you lose your phone. This allows you to remote wipe all of your data so thieves will not have access to it even if they have your physical hardware.

Implement two-step authentication procedures to access bank accounts and secure information. This protects you by requiring users to enter a code that is sent to a second device, in addition to the regular password. This provides added security and makes the login process more complicated for thieves.

While your mobile devices can expose you to an increased risk of identity theft, they've become an integral part of life for many of us and they're not going away anytime soon. But there are additional steps you can take for added peace of mind. Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service. While these services cannot prevent identity theft they can alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud. The sooner you know, the sooner you can take action to stop further damage. You may also want to start using a password manager, which will encrypt all of your online credentials and securely log you on with a single sign on from both your mobile devices and desktop computers.

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