How to protect your smartphone from fraud
According to a recent survey commissioned by PayPal, nearly a third of Canadians have lost their smartphone or had it stolen.
We bring these gadgets with us everywhere, so it's no surprise they end up missing or stolen. Not only do you need to worry about replacing the hardware and freezing your mobile phone account - so someone doesn't call China and talk for three hours - a lost or stolen phone also creates easy opportunities for criminals to defraud you as you likely have financial data and personal information stored on the device.
It seems we're justifiably concerned about increased risks associated with mobile devices. A recent poll from TD Canada Trust found Ontarians are worried about emerging types of fraud such as online fraud (83 per cent), malicious social media apps (71 per cent), phishing attempts (70 per cent) and fraudulent cell phone apps (61 per cent).
So what to do?
Here are some tips to better protecting your smartphone and more importantly, the data that resides on it:
Passwords & passcodes
Ensure you've set up a 4-digit PIN (personal identification number) to use your smartphone – and don't use 0000, 1111 or 1234 or any other numbers easy to guess. Sure, a PIN is a bit inconvenient, but you'll get used to it quickly and will be thankful if you can't find your mobile phone. Better yet, choose apps that require a password to gain entry, too. You could also draw a pattern to gain access to your smartphone, which is popular on many Android phones, or use facial recognition technology, though it's generally not as secure as a PIN or pattern. Some phones have a fingerprint scanner, too.
Track it, wipe it, report it
If your smartphone is lost or stolen, there are free mapping tools to remotely track the GPS-enabled device on a computer, smartphone or tablet. Note: if your phone was stolen it's recommended to give this info to authorities rather than you trying to retrieve it. These same tools - such as Apple's Find My iPhone. Android's Find My Droid and BlackBerry Protect - can also remotely wipe the smartphone clean, making it ring loudly (if, say, left under the cushions) or display a message on the screen (such as "Please call me: 416-555-1212"). You need to set up these tracking apps ahead of time, so be sure to do that before it's too late.
Related: BBM hoax adds salt to RIM's wounds
Check your statement
Be sure to comb through your monthly statement for suspicious calls and SMS (text messaging) charges. You might find charges made without your consent. If you find any, contact your carrier immediately to dispute the charges and they'll identify the company or service for you. "Smishing" attempts, for example, come in the form of text messages that try to defraud users out of money (delete these suspicious texts immediately or forward to your carrier).
App-etite for destruction
Be aware of malicious smartphone and social media apps designed to steal your personal information, which is then used to commit fraud. Last year alone, hundreds of Android apps were removed from the Android Market after there we found to secretly lift information from devices without user consent. Stick with reputable app developers and check the comments section of the app store before you download. There are also anti-malware software options for smartphones, too, such as McAfee All Access, that aim to protect you from threats.
Back it up
The first line of defense is to back up your smartphone regularly in case it's lost, stolen or compromised. The easiest and least expensive way to do it is to connect the smartphone to a computer – via USB cable or wireless Bluetooth – and synchronize the data between the two devices. Should you need a new smartphone, all the info will be copied back onto the new device. There are also many "cloud" services that can wirelessly back up your contacts and other information to a password-protected website.
A few other random tips to consider: Never text or email banking information or other sensitive information. Don't do online shopping or banking when using a free Wi-Fi hotspot in case it’s really a rogue network. Never share email or social media site passwords with friends and create a good password on them. A few Bluetooth bracelets and watches can vibrate when you walk away from your mobile device. Use common sense when carrying around your smartphone – remember, this is a personal computer for all intents and purposes – so treat it with consideration, caution and care.