Keep your Mobile Data Safe

Cellphones and tablets make life easier — unless they fall into the wrong hands.

You wouldn't leave your wallet lying around in a public place, right? Well, you should be just as diligent with your mobile gadgets. Follow these five essential practices to help protect you from becoming an identity theft statistic.

  1. Use Passwords, Locks and More:  Always password-protect your mobile device, use the auto-lock security feature, and activate the encryption feature if one exists.

    Many devices can be set so that if the wrong password is entered a certain number of times in a row, the device automatically deletes all the stored information. But don't worry — you should be able to retrieve your data from your computer if you've been synchronizing the two devices.

    When creating a password, choose one that's easy for you to remember but will be difficult for others to guess. And make sure your auto-lock feature is turned on so it will kick in after a couple of minutes. That helps ensure no one will be able to use the phone or tablet without knowing your password. Also, don't share your password with anyone or tape it to your mobile device.

    While encryption offers some protection and may prevent unauthorized access to your mobile data, many mobile devices don't include this feature in their operating systems. Look in the owner's manual to see if your phone has encryption, and make sure the feature is included when you purchase a new phone.

    To encourage the return of a lost handset, consider writing or engraving your name and contact information — but not your password — on its back with the promise of a reward. Several applications for cell phones let you offer a reward for the return of a lost phone.

  2. Back It Up:  You should store only the information you think you'll need immediate and frequent access to in your mobile device. Remember, syncing your device to Outlook or another email application may automatically synchronize any notes in your contacts database, so pay special attention to what you have in those fields. Take care not to store user names and passwords in the note fields.

    Also make sure you have a separate record of the data, including all account numbers, passwords, phone numbers, addresses and any other sensitive information, as well as the device's make, model and serial number. Then, if your gadget is lost or stolen and you want to change your passwords quickly, you'll have the information you need at your fingertips.

  3. Beware the Jailbreak and Out-of-Market Apps:  Such practices can open up your phone to substantial corruptions, such as viruses or Internet scams, without your knowledge. The only way to remove these harmful software threats, known as malware, is to completely wipe out the phone's memory and revert it to its original factory status.

    Just because your iPhone® isn't jailbroken doesn't mean you're immune from risk. Apple® says it rejects more than 100 spyware-infested or phishing-laden applications every day. The same risk applies to the Android. Beware of all apps downloaded from outside the Android Market. Out-of-market apps can be infected with viruses, Trojans and other malicious software applications that can steal your personal information. As hackers get more sophisticated with these devices, the possibility of malware increases. Mobile phishing apps — phony versions of real applications designed to separate you from your personal information — are also on the rise. An example recently hit close to home when USAA thwarted a phony USAA app for Android.

  4. Pay Special Attention to Your Tablet:  Most tablets are thought of as overgrown cell phones that can be used for web browsing, video viewing and playing games. But tablets are just as capable as a phone — if not more so — of doing real work. They require the same amount of security foresight, yet few users even secure them with a password. Its larger size makes a tablet a more visible and natural target for would-be thieves. Because tablets are fully usable even without a cell phone plan, they are easier to resell on the black market.

    While a phoneless tablet may not contain your cellular directory, remember that it will have everything else: from web bookmarks to all your apps (complete with account information). Tablets have been touted for banking, investing and online shopping. You probably have a few apps along these lines installed, yet minimally secured. Letting your tablet fall into the wrong hands can be as disastrous as losing a phone.

  5. Handle With Care:  If your mobile devices are lost or stolen:
    • Call your provider to report the theft.
    • File a police report (if you know it's been stolen).
    • Place fraud alerts on your credit reports.
    • Notify anyone whose contact or other information is stored in the phone.
    • Consider using a remote wipe capability (if available) to prevent someone accessing your personal information. This feature gives you the ability to send a command to your device that will delete your data.