smart spending

3 money facts your phone knows about you

Young man with iPhone outside © Kinga/Shutterstock.com

Toting the details of your financial life around with you on a smartphone may be convenient, but it also puts that information at risk for anyone who gains access to that phone.

"Our whole lives are on our phones," says Robert Capps, senior director of customer success at RedSeal Networks, a digital security firm. Which means our whole lives, including our finances, are up for grabs.

The primary dangers to your cellphone privacy come in two forms:

  • A criminal physically gets possession of your phone: When it comes to what they can pull from it, "for most people the sky's the limit," says Adam Ely, co-founder of Bluebox Security, a data security firm.
  • Malware that infects your phone: Malware can come from another app you put onto the phone; even something as seemingly innocuous as a game could turn out to be a mask for an intruder.

Some basic protection

There are some basic steps you can take right now to protect your information:

  • Use any kind of pass code system already on the phone. Sure, it's annoying, but it creates a first line of defense in case anyone swipes your device.
  • Make sure you can "brick" or wipe the phone remotely using built-in functionality, such as Apple's Find My iPhone, or a security program such as Lookout. That way, if the thief breaks the code, there's no information he or she can steal.

Still, those systems aren't perfect, and your phone still knows an awful lot about you.

Here are three key things your phone may know, and how to stop someone else from accessing that information.

Financial Fact No. 1: Your bank login information

Accessing your bank account through an app is easy, but that means it's also easy for a thief, especially if you skip the step of putting in your login and password each time.

"A lot of apps are storing usernames and passwords in the apps themselves," says Capps. "Not all the app authors are taking the right sorts of protections to protect those credentials when the customer isn't using the app itself."

And if you use the same password and login for every single financial account in your life, hackers can grab access to those accounts, too.

What to do: If you're going to use a banking app, make sure you set it up to sign in each and every time. Don't let the app store that information for you. Also, make sure the app logs you out when you close it. If it doesn't, do it yourself every time.

Smartphone users vunerable | Smartphone © SiuWing/Shutterstock.com; Thief © Tomnamon/Shutterstock.com; Man © Ziven/Shutterstock.com; Silhouettes © Mix3r/Shutterstock.com

Financial Fact No. 2: Your Social Security number and answers to security questions

If you store this information anywhere on your phone, it's accessible to anyone who gains access to that phone.

"I've seen cases where people record Social Security numbers in their contacts," says Capps.

In that case, not only is it in your phone, but if you back up your contact list to a service like iCloud, it's now in the cloud and vulnerable there, he says.

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