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The Resource Center Credit Fraud & Credit Monitoring | post

Why Your Smartphone Could Betray Your Identity

by Neal O'Farrell on

In our post today, Intersections’ Consumer Security Adviser, Neal O’Farrell shares his insights on the recent identity theft report released by Javelin Strategy & Research.

Hackers, identity thieves, and scam artists follow the crowds. This is why there are more attacks targeted at Windows PCs instead of Macs, and endless scams focused on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

With so many people relying on increasingly powerful smartphones, this may be the new battleground for your information and identity. A new report may provide the first hard evidence. Just last week, Javelin Strategy and Research released their ninth annual Identity Fraud Report which provides the most comprehensive and detailed look at the current state of identity theft.

The news wasn't good. The study found that in spite of a significant drop in the number of identity theft victims in 2010, that might have just been a temporary blip, because in 2011 the number of identity theft victims in the U.S. spiked back up to more than 11.6 million — possibly the highest on record.

One of the more interesting facts revealed by the report was the heightened vulnerability of smartphone users to identity theft. The survey found seven percent of smartphone owners were victims of identity fraud, which was nearly 30% higher than the general population.

The report attributed this increased exposure to a number of reasons. For example:

• 32 percent of smartphone owners do not update to a new operating system when it becomes available.
• 62 percent do not use a password on their home screen—enabling anyone to access their information if the phone is lost.
• 32 percent save login information on their device.

According to James Van Dyke, president and founder of Javelin Strategy & Research, "The study found specific opportunities for improvement. Consumers must be vigilant and in control of their personal data as they adopt new mobile and social technologies in order to not make it easier for fraudsters to perpetrate crimes."

Identity thieves have plenty of opportunities when it comes to attacking smartphones. There are estimated to be more than 200 million Android phones and tablets in use today, with another 700,000 being added every single day.

Every day, users of those devices are downloading some of the nearly 500,000 apps that are available for Android devices. With those apps come lots of data-stealing malware. A company called NQ Mobile says it discovered more than 22,000 instances of mobile malware in 2011, Google saw a 40% increase in potentially malicious apps in its own Android market, and Juniper Networks saw a 150% increase in mobile malware in 2011.

There are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Keep to a minimum the amount of personal information you keep on your smartphone.
  • Password-protect your device.
  • Be careful and selective about the apps you download.
  • Consider using one of the free apps that will help you find, disable, and backup a lost or stolen phone.
  • Consider using one of the growing number of free security apps that can protect your smartphone from malware and malicious apps

Learn more about identity theft protection.

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