People feel so comfortable with their smartphones that they're rarely without them – they sleep next to them, use them in the bathroom and keep them within arm's reach all day. It's no wonder, then, that people often forget to treat them like the computers that they are, with the potential to introduce them to fraudsters with criminal intentions.
"People can get themselves into trouble because they have a different relationship with their phone than their computer," says Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Security Response, a research arm of the Symantec security company. "Anyone you sleep with, you tend to trust, and over half the people sleep with their phones," he adds.
Cyber experts say the rapid adoption of smartphones into daily life, especially for shopping, which requires the exchange of payment information, leaves many people vulnerable to financial attacks. A 2013 Norton report found that one in three smartphone users have experienced some form of cybercrime. Protecting yourself doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming, but you should consider following these 11 steps:
1. When browsing or shopping on your phone (or computer), always look for "https" in the url instead of "http." That indicates an added level of security, which should always appear before exchanging any private information, like credit card numbers, online.
2. Add a password to your phone. It might be a pain to type a number into your phone each time you want to use it, but losing your phone without that protection could lead to a far greater headache. Given that Norton reports 25 percent of smartphone users have had their phone lost or stolen, it's a smart move.
3. Use a "find your phone tool." Certain software and apps make it easy to find your phone if you lose it, and make it easy for anyone who finds it to connect with you. Some programs, like Norton Mobile Security (there's a free trial version as well as a $29.99 full version), also offer the option of locking and wiping your phone remotely if necessary.
4. Don't allow automatic connections. Some smartphones are set up to automatically connect with available Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth devices. Disabling this option will prevent your phone from connecting and transmitting data without you realizing it.
5. Consider buying a protective app. According to a 2013 report from Symantec, which studies consumers' online behaviors and how to stay safe, mobile crime is on the rise – with malware or malicious software increasing by 58 percent this year. Malware can steal personal information or otherwise damage your phone.
One particularly creepy type of malware involves keylogging, which means tracking the keys you touch, allowing fraudsters to collect passwords as you log into various accounts. "As users move into things like mobile banking and mobile wallets, expect increased efforts by hackers to push out keylogger-infected apps," warns Neal O'Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council, a nonprofit focused on fighting identity theft.
6. Treat email and social media requests from strangers suspiciously. Marc Barach, chief marketing and strategy officer at Jumio, a security company, says criminals often send friend requests to people they don't know to gather information about them. While most people will ignore or reject the request, a small portion will accept, and those are the people who criminals target. For example, they can use a seemingly harmless post, like the victim's photos from a restaurant meal, to then call the victim, impersonate the restaurant and request a credit card number in order to process a refund for an alleged overcharge.
"If a consumer were really thinking, they'd say no, but that's not the way it works when your head is elsewhere, and it totally happens," Barach says. While he doesn't recommend going so far as to avoid sharing food photos on Facebook, he does suggest being wary of any unsolicited phone calls, even from retailers or restaurants you've visited, and to never post vacation photos while you're away because that lets criminals know that you're not home.