Jean Chatzky: Protect your phone from ID thieves

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Some 68% of Americans have smartphones, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. We use those devices for mobile banking, mobile shopping and countless other transactions that use personal and financial data.

The result: Open season for identity thieves.

In fact, one-third of smartphone users reported being a victim of some type of illegal activity in 2013, according to a report from security software company Norton.

To avoid becoming one of these statistics, you need to be every bit as diligent with your phone as you are with your computer and your wallet. Here’s what you can do to help fraud-proof your phone.

Protect against viruses. Your phone, just like your computer, can be infected with malware designed to steal personal information. To protect against viruses you need to remember the same rule as your computer — never open email attachments from senders you don’’at recognize.

In addition, many savvy phone users will remove hardware restrictions on their phones to allow unapproved apps. The process is known as “jailbreaking” for Apple devices and “rooting” for Android phones. While jailbreaking and rooting do let you use more apps, they can also open the door to viruses and malware, says Jason Porter, vice president of security solutions at AT&T.

Pay attention to software updates. Yes, those update messages are pesky. The flipside is that updates often include the latest (and most effective) anti-virus protections. What’s more, updates often fill in “security holes” found in previous versions of the software, says John Oldshue, founder of It’s worth the time to install them.

Consider special protection software for mobile devices. Virus protection apps can often recognize viruses and malware should they creep into your phone. You can find these apps for free in the Google Play and Apple App stores. You also may want to consider software that helps you find your phone if it is lost or stolen and even wipes out your information remotely. These apps are also available through your app store.

Beware of public Wi-Fi. Identity thieves love to hang out on public Wi-Fi in places like cafes, libraries and airports. Fraudsters may successfully eavesdrop on your Wi-Fi transactions, stealing sensitive information. In other cases, thieves set up a Wi-Fi network with a similar name to the public network, then use that network to steal information from people who sign on to shop or bank — yet another reminder to always use a secure, trusted network to do transactions. And, always disable the option on your phone that automatically connects you with available Wi-Fi networks. That way you’ll avoid unwittingly transmitting sensitive data.

Watch out for Smishing. Phishing by text — or Smishing, as it’s called when it’s done via SMS — is becoming more common. Just like those bogus phishing emails, these texts look as if they come from your bank or a well-known company in an effort to fool you into disclosing personal information like your credit card number. Smishers also like to send texts with “special offers” and other enticements to get you to respond. Be wary of texts and emails sent to your phone from unfamiliar establishments.

Use a password. It can be a pain to type in a password each time you access your phone, but the extra effort can be well worth it if your phone is lost or stolen and contains personal data. Even if your phone uses fingerprint recognition, adding a password is something to consider. Security experts agree that dual protection like this can be the most effective tool to thwart identity thieves.