Identity theft can strike at any time, but vacationers who use smartphones should be on high alert. Removed from your everyday routines and habitat, there's always a greater risk of losing your wallet or having it stolen. But in this high-tech age, when people many carry smartphones, your financial information could be lifted without your knowing it -- until the next credit-card bills arrive. Remember, your smartphone is more than a convenience. It is a computer typically brimming with personal data.
While many don't like the hassle of having to type in a password each time they use their smartphone, when you're on vacation this should be a mandatory precaution. "If you turn off that feature, your phone is a full gateway for someone to get into," says Ken Chaplin, a senior vice president at Experian, the credit-rating and consumer-services company. Chaplin heads Experian's ProtectMyID, a service that monitors credit-card activity and offers insurance against identity theft for a monthly fee.
Even if your phone is not stolen, high-tech thieves may be able to grab your personal information. Chaplin says be cautious when using free Wi-Fi provided at hotels, airports, restaurants and other public places. "Potentially, someone with the right skills could get access to see the same things you're seeing," he says. "If you're logging on to your bank account or something that has sensitive information, the hacker would be able to see it." If you must use your phone to check on a bank account or credit-card statement, switch off Wi-Fi and use your carrier's 4G or 3G data plan when typing in a password. You may pay data charges, but at least your information will be secure. Chaplin notes that public Wi-Fi is fine as long as you are not accessing sensitive data.
Chaplin also recommends installing an app that can "wipe" your phone's storage card remotely. If your phone is lost or stolen, you can activate the app and erase the data via the Internet. There are apps that can lock your phone and make it impossible for a thief to extract data or make calls. Your carrier also can immobilize your stolen or lost phone.