Communication is an integral part of society, and several advancements in technology only prove just how much importance we give to it and to staying in touch. Mobile devices such as PDAs, tablet PCs, cell phones and smartphones are among the gadgets of choice most people use for communication because they are more portable compared to bulky laptops. You can send text messages, make calls, access your email, post updates on your social accounts, and surf the Internet using these devices.

These gadgets are so handy and convenient that 88% of adults in the US own or use a cell phone for communication and other purposes. Of these cell phone owners, 46% own a smartphone of some kind according to Pew Research Center.

Smartphones as a tool to prevent identity theft and fraud

Taking this statistics into consideration, you’d think that enterprising individuals would already be using smartphones for purposes other than communication, entertainment and accessing the web. What if smartphones could become a tool for identity theft prevention as well? If that were so, than 46% of US adults would definitely have better chances of avoiding ID theft and ID fraud. If your phone can become a medium for additional security measures for, say, online bank transactions, online shopping and logging into your social network accounts, then it will become much more difficult for identity thieves and scammers to target you.

Currently, some banks are experimenting with providing you an access code which you’ll need aside from your password/pin and account number for online bank transactions. The bank sends you this access code through a text message once you initiate the transaction on the bank’s website. The code is usually only good for one transaction and can’t be used again for another one (or by another person trying to access your bank account online without your knowledge). Security-conscious companies that deal with sensitive data do something similar when employees need to access their systems. Every minute or so, the access codes to their systems change so employees who need access to their networks will need to provide the latest access code apart from their username and password.

For smartphones to become the ideal tool for identity theft prevention, an application similar to SecureID could be developed to run on them. Instead of bringing along a gadget that generates pass codes randomly, you could instead install an app that does the same thing on your phone. This technology is also handy because like most people, you probably bring your phone everywhere you go, making this app conveniently accessible anytime.

Smartphone users also at risk for identity theft and fraud

However, the statistics provided by Pew Research Center also show the number of people who can be potential victims of identity theft and ID fraud. According to a survey released by Javelin Strategy & Research, 7% of all smartphone users became victims of identity fraud in 2011. Identity thieves are targeting smartphone users because the latter tends to be less cautious. Some users also don’t install reliable anti-virus or anti-spyware software in their mobile devices, making them vulnerable to phishing and spyware attacks.

The recent years have seen a steady increase in ID theft and fraud victims, so like most people, you probably do regular credit monitoring. People’s awareness over how credit monitoring can help in lowering the effects of identity theft and fraud has shifted the criminals’ focus to smartphone users – most of whom keep personal information and some financial details in their phones. Criminals can easily hack into Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections to access these phones and steal information contained in them.

Criminals can also send emails or text messages to your smartphone asking for your credit information. These criminals pretend to be representatives of your bank or lender who ask for your information under the guise of verifying  your details and securing your accounts. These messages might look like the real thing, even containing your bank or creditor’s logo. They might also call your phone directly asking for your details, and if you do give them your credit information, you’ll surely become a victim of credit card fraud.

Protecting yourself by protecting your smartphone

Smartphone use continues to grow and ID theft is growing right along with it. However, security experts believe victims could avoid having this happen. Sometimes, the solution is simple: protect yourself by protecting the gadgets where you store your information.

As mentioned, not all mobile devices are equipped with reliable anti-spyware and anti-virus software so criminals take advantage of this weakness. One way to prevent hackers from stealing information from your phone is by turning off its Bluetooth connection and avoiding using public WiFi connections. It’s also important that your phone locks automatically after a short period of time and asks for a password before you can access it. These are just a few simple ways to safeguard the contents of your phone.

If you want extra protection for your smartphone, you can equip it with an app that requires your fingerprint to unlock your phone. You can also get a smartphone that uses facial recognition software to unlock it. You can choose whatever security feature you think offers the best protection and is most convenient to use.

You should also be aware of how criminals phish for your credit information by calling you up or sending emails and text messages. Keep in mind that legitimate banks and credit card companies will never ask for sensitive details over the phone and via text or email messages. If someone claims to be a representative of your bank and asks for your information, hang up right away. You should also avoid clicking on links sent to you via email.

A new level of protection

Credit card companies, banks and other businesses have done a lot to lower the chances of their customers falling victim to identity theft and fraud; however, these means might not be enough to completely avoid these crimes. Criminals, for one, are becoming more aggressive when it comes to tearing down security systems of companies in order to gain access to their database which contain customer information (personal details, credit card numbers and the like). Using biometrics – your fingerprint, for example – for added security during transactions might not be feasible just yet since all cash registers and computers will have to be equipped with fingerprint scanners.

Smartphones are undoubtedly susceptible to security breaches as well, but it’s a tool that a lot of people own or have access to. It can be the medium for the aforementioned security app that generates random access codes, and it’s a tool which banks and credit card companies can use to send passcodes to their customers. It’s a gadget that has multiple uses and can provide a new level of protection when you transact with your bank online, shop online, and log in to your social accounts.

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Featured photo credit: Tall businessman fencing with a smaller one via Shutterstock

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