Every once in a while, I misplace my iPhone. When this happens, I admit that I’m initially gripped by the same level of panic I get when I can’t find my wallet.
But then I realize that, unlike a lost wallet, it’s not incredibly difficult to find a missing smartphone. And, because I use standard smartphone security safeguards, the chances of someone being able to access the sensitive information on my phone are very slim.
You might mistakenly think this is because I’m well versed in cybersecurity best practices. I’m not.
But, fortunately, I’ve received useful guidance on smartphone security from my children. And maybe from a couple of technology professionals whose job is to help people keep their data secure. If you’re not sure your own smartphone is thoroughly protected from prying eyes and hands, you might find their advice useful.
Backup your data to the Cloud
iPhones and Android phones both offer ways for you to back up photos, documents and other information on your phone to the Cloud. Get into the habit of doing this on a regular basis. Some phones can schedule these backups automatically.
That way, if your phone breaks and is unfixable or you lose it forever, you should be able to restore the information you saved to the Cloud to your next phone.
Keep it locked when not in use
If you can always access your phone’s features every time you turn it on or when it’s been sitting awhile, you risk giving away the keys to the kingdom if someone with less-than-noble intentions ever gets their hands on it.
Every smartphone offers the ability to “lock” the home screen after a certain amount of time to prevent unauthorized access. You were probably required to set up a numerical passcode or longer password and choose a "lock screen" period when you first set up your phone.
But are these codes secure enough? If you use easy-to-guess numerical passcodes like “1234” or passwords that include your birthdate or the name of your spouse or children you make it easy for a would-be hacker to get access to your phone. Instead, change these to harder-to-guess codes or longer passwords containing letters, numbers and special characters.
Better yet, use some of the more "harder-to-crack" unlock features your phone offers, like facial recognition or biometric fingerprints.
Some phones offer optional features that keep them unlocked for several hours under certain conditions, such as when you're carrying them or when they're in a "trusted place" or linked to other devices. You may tempted to take care advantage of these "smart lock" features. But is the risk of leaving your phone unlocked for extended periods really worth it, when it only takes a few seconds to unlock it with a code, glance or fingertip?
Make sure all sensitive apps require logins
If you use online apps for your bank, brokerage account or credit cards, make sure that every time you start the app you need to login to access these accounts.
And don’t assume that all transactional apps require logins. Many online retail apps and even some payment apps keep you logged in all the time. If a thief is able to access these apps without logging in they may be able to change your password, change your shipping and billing address and maybe even steal credit card numbers stored on the app.
Make it easy for people to return your misplaced phone
Is there anyone who hasn't accidentally left their phone in a public location, even for a few minutes? As an optimist, I have faith that most people who find it will want to return it to you. Make it easy for them by adding a locked-home-screen text message that says, “If found contact [your landline number or email address].” You may even want to add a label to the case listing the same contact information in case the phone's power runs out.
Find your missing phone
Of course, it’s always better if you can find your lost phone yourself rather than counting on the kindness of strangers. Fortunately, nearly all smartphones offer web-based ways to pinpoint their location.
- For iPhones, sign onto iCloud.com/find and enter the Apple ID associated with the phone.
- For Android phones, go to android.com/find and sign with the Google account associated with the phone.
Once you see your missing phone listed, follow the instructions to show where it is. For these lost-and-found services to work, you’ll need to have “Location services" activated on your phone. If they’re not activated, you may only see where your phone was the last time Location services were “on.”
If your phone is lost forever
If recovering your lost phone seems like an impossibility, you’ll want to make sure that if you can never use it again, no one else can, either.
Your first step is to contact your cellular service provider and find out what they can do to disable your phone.
If you’re more technically inclined, you can also use the iCloud and Android websites to turn your phone into a non-functioning hunk of plastic.
- For iPhones go to iCloud.com/find and login using your Apple ID. Click “Find Phone,” locate the missing phone and choose “Erase iPhone.”
- For Android phones, go to android.com/find and sign in with the Google account associated with the phone. Select your phone, choose “Enable lock and erase” and choose “Erase device.”
Again, you will need to have Location services activated for these methods to work.
If you believe someone has accessed the personal information on your phone
If the worst possible situation has occurred—you lost your phone, you can’t locate it, or you’ve never “locked” access to your apps—assume that the person who finds it may try to use it to steal your identity or make fraudulent purchases. In addition to contacting your cellular service provider, be proactive in heading off financial damage by:
- Logging to the web-based versions of your apps and check if there’s been any suspicious activity or changes your account. And change your passwords immediately.
- Contacting your bank, credit card providers, financial institutions and financial advisors immediately to let them know what happened and ask for their advice on next steps you can take to secure your accounts or close them.
- Contacting the three main credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and Transunion—to report a fraud alert or request a credit freeze, options that may make it difficult for scammers to open new credit card accounts using your stolen information.
- Visiting the FTC’s Identity Theft web site at https://www.identitytheft.gov/ to report what happened and get a suggested recovery plan.
Remember, a lost iPhone can easily be replaced. But recovering from identity theft and fraud can be painful and time-consuming. Taking steps today to secure your smartphone will go a long way toward limiting financial damage should it fall into the wrong hands.
This article was authored by Chris Gullotti and Jeffrey Briskin. Chris is a financial advisor and Partner located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jeffrey Briskin is Director of Marketing at Canby Financial Advisors.
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