Consumer Watchdog: Password Protect Your Phone

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Updated on Thursday, September 4, 2014

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Last weekend, I picked up my friend’s phone to make a phone call. I swiped right to open up the screen and expected to be blocked by a passcode request. I started to say, “Hey – put in your passcode,” but realized I’d accessed her phone without any sort of blockade. Looking up I said, “You should really password protect your phone.” “Why,” she inquired? “Well, if someone stole it, you’re making it incredibly easy for them to get access to all your financial information,” I responded.

Less than a day later, we were leaving my apartment when she realized her phone was missing. We mentally retraced our steps before realizing she’d left it in the booth where we’d eaten brunch. I hastily called the restaurant and discovered they’d found the phone. As we walked back to the restaurant, I, in a bit of an “I told you so voice” mentioned this moment is why you password-protect your phone.

Massive technology hacks, like the breach of credit card numbers from Target or even the most recent leak of celebrities’ intimate photos being stolen through their iClouds, makes us realize our personal information is incredibly vulnerable.

With so much of our lives stored on our phones, tablets and computers, it’s important to be proactive about setting up as many roadblocks as possible for potential thieves and hackers.

Why it would be easy for a thief to access your financial life

Bank app

The rise of Internet-only banking and bank-related apps have made our financial lives much simpler, but those same apps could cost us dearly if our tech products are compromised.

Typically, bank apps or sites won’t allow you to stay logged in, so if a thief gets ahold of your phone, he will need to figure out your login information and password in order to access your bank account.

If you have your email synced to your phone, or automatically open on your computer or tablet – which most people do – then you’ve just made the thief’s ability to get into your bank account incredibly easy.

Email

A thief can simply click “forgot password” or “forgot User ID” and use your email to get access to your bank account.

He could reset your email password to lock you out and guarantee his access, while also changing your bank password.

Once inside your bank account, he could easily wire transfer your assets to another account or, if he has access to your debit card, change your pins so he can withdraw money.

Payment apps

Certain payment apps, like Venmo, don’t require you to submit a password each time you make a transaction.

If you have a Venmo account and app, a thief could use it to transfer money from your account into his own account.? With access to your email, he could also change your password to lock you out. Venmo does enable people to deactivate access to their account from a computer, should their phone get stolen. But, if you can’t get access to your account because a password was changed, this would be tough to change.

Granted, if a thief drained a bank account by wire transferring it to his own, it would be pretty simple to identify a perpetrator. He could used a fake name and account, but the average petty thief may not have such technical skills to do this before you go on the defensive.

What if your phone, tablet or computer is stolen?

Get in touch with your bank and any financial insinuations/apps you use to notify them of a security breech with your account(s).

Apple users who have enabled “Find My Phone” can track their device – assuming it’s online. They can also remotely wipe everything off their phone, so thieves don’t have access to bank accounts, email or any other personal information. Once you erase all the information off the phone, you will no longer be able to track the device, but buying another iPhone will likely be cheaper than the damage a thief could do if he has access to your bank accounts.

Android users can also use a find my phone service through the Android Device Manager, but unfortunately there isn’t a way to remotely wipe data off the phone.

As soon as your device is stolen, change all your passwords for email, financial institutions, and in the case of Apple users, the iCloud. Report the device stolen to your carrier and the police.

Ultimately, a thief can likely get around the password (or passcode) on your device, but hopefully it will give you enough time to get to another computer or phone to change important passwords, wipe your phone and protect yourself.

If you have questions or a tip, then reach out via Twitter, Facebook, email [email protected] or in the comment section below!

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