Study: Majority of consumers fear identity theft

A recent online poll conducted through revealed that the majority of consumers — 64 percent — believe they are at risk of identity theft.

And while acknowledging this risk is wise for consumers, it's counterproductive to be fearful without changing your habits. Especially with the prevelance of financial apps on smartphones.

“People often become complacent, particularly with their mobile devices. When people see their wallet, credit cards or checkbook, they think of money. However, they don’t connect the dots that critical financial information may be stored on their smartphone, thus putting them at significant risk if lost or stolen,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).

Consider the following:

  • The sales of smartphones outpaced the sales of personal computers last year
  • Growth of smartphone sales is expected to continue for the next four years
  • Sixty-two percent of smartphone owners do not utilize passwords to protect their phones.

So with those figures in mind, how can you protect your mobile device from the threat of identity theft? The following are eight best practices, courtesty of the Identity Theft Resource Center:

  1. Password-protect your phone. This is the simplest step you can take to prevent your information from being accessed. Make sure it is a strong password that is not similar to or associated with any other personal information.
  2. Install Security Software. There are a number of companies which offer anti-virus, malware and security software designed especially for Smartphones. Make sure to download security software updates.
  3. Be aware of what you are doing on your phone. The same precautions you would take while on your home computer apply to your Smartphone. Double check URLs for accuracy, don’t open suspicious links, and make sure a site is secure (https) before giving any billing or personal information.
  4. Do not “jail-break” or use a “jail-broken” phone. A “jail-broken” phone is a phone that has gone through a process which opens its operating system to applications which would otherwise not be compatible with the operating system. However, once “jail-broken”, the phone is vulnerable to anything the user downloads. Note: The application necessary to jail-break an iPhone may put both your phone and PC at risk.
  5. When installing an app on any Smartphone, take the time to read the “small print”. Evaluate the information the app requires access to, and consider if this information is necessary for the app to run successfully. If you cannot see a reason for the app to have access to the information, you should reconsider installing the app. Install a “phone finder” app. These apps are designed to help you find your phone if it becomes lost or stolen.
  6. Enroll in a backup/wiping program. You can enroll in a program that will back up the information on your Smartphone to your home computer. Many of these services are also able to “wipe” your phone if it is lost or stolen so that no data remains on the device itself. These services are available through your Smartphone’s manufacturer or through your wireless provider. iPhones have a built-in “wipe” feature that can be turned on that will wipe the phone after 10 failed log-on attempts.
  7. Limit your activities while using public Wi-Fi. Try not to purchase things or access email while using a public Wi-Fi zone. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are targeted by hackers since they can give the hacker direct access to your mobile device. Using your 3G network provider connection is much more secure than using a public Wi-Fi connection.
  8. Check URLs before making a purchase using your Smartphone. Any page that requires credit card information should start with https://. This means it is a secured site.

To increase awareness of identity theft, and provide ID theft protection resources, the NFCC in conjunction with the National Sheriffs Association (NSA) and the National Association of Triads, Inc. (NATI) are hosting the fifth annual Protect Your Identity Week (PYIW), which runs Oct. 20 to 27, during National Crime Prevention Month.

Nearly 100 Protect Your Identity Week events will be held across the U.S. the week of Oct. 20 to 27, to find one near you, visit the official website for Protect Your Identity Week.

Jessica Horton is a former copywriter and community manager at MMI.

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