Thousands of cell phones are stolen every month, and you may be surprised by the amount of personal information a thief can retrieve from your phone. Thieves are getting bolder by the day, engaging in practices such as “apple picking” where they steal iPhones right out of your purse or even your hands! Here are some practical measures you can take to keep your mobile phone safe.

  • Use your phone’s security lock code, if it has one.

  • Disable Bluetooth, if not in use.

  • Only unlock the phone when you need to use it.

  • Do not give your mobile phone to strangers on the pretext of an emergency situation. They may slip away with it.

  • Report a lost or stolen phone to your service provider and to the police immediately and insist on an acknowledgment.

  • Keep your phone out of sight in your pocket or handbag when not in use.

  • Do not leave your cell phone unattended.

  • Do not disclose the relationship between you and the people in your contact list. Avoid using names like Home, Honey, Hubby, Mom or Dad. Criminals may contact these individuals to get more of your personal information.

Smartphones are a fast-growing and undeniably popular technology but, aside from the fact that they are easily lost or stolen, there are a number of risks that go hand-in-hand with smartphones:

Spyware - Smartphone apps can be infected with spyware, just like your computer. Once spyware has been downloaded, criminals can hear your calls, see your text messages, emails and photos and track your location. They can take control of your phone and even make calls from it. Signs of spyware infection include:

  • Outgoing texts to unknown numbers on your phone bill

  • Warm battery even when phone is not in use or reduced battery life

  • Flickering screen

Geotagging - Most smartphones encode a GPS stamp called a “geotag” onto digital photos, which can reveal the exact location a photo was taken. When shared on social websites, criminals can use this data to steal identities, stalk victims and scout locations.

Identity Theft - According to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2012 Identity Fraud Report, seven percent of smartphone users are victims of identity fraud. Sharing personal information publicly can help criminals authenticate your identity (e.g., if you share your pet’s name on a public social media profile and then use it for passwords or security questions).

Protect Yourself

  • Use a password to lock your phone.

  • Install anti-virus, anti-malware and security software designed for smartphones and download updates.

  • When installing apps, read the “fine print” to find out how your data is gathered and used.

  • Don’t open suspicious emails or click on suspicious links.

  • Update your operating system regularly.

  • Never store passwords on your phone.

  • Enroll in a backup/wiping program through your smartphone’s manufacturer or your wireless provider.

  • Use your 3G or 4G connection instead of public Wi-Fi.

  • If making a purchase using your smartphone, make sure the payment info starts with “https://”

  • Disable geotagging.

  • If your phone has data encryption features, use them.

If Your Smartphone is Lost or Stolen

  • And you HAVE enrolled in a backup/wiping program, have the administrator “wipe” your phone and call your service provider to report your phone missing.

  • And you HAVE NOT enrolled in a backup/wiping program, report the crime/loss to local law enforcement and sign up for fraud alerts through major credit reporting agencies.

When you’re replacing your smartphone, wipe the memory from the phone and restore to factory settings. Destroy the SIM card unless it is being transferred to another device.

For more information on mobile technology safety...

Identity Theft Resource Center
Consumer Reports
National Consumer Advocacy Commission