A new study confirms what many consumers have suspected for a while: The risk of identity theft has increased as the number of people who use mobile communications devices and social-networking websites grows.
The number of consumers who were exposed to identify fraud increased by 13 percent in 2011 over the previous year, according to a study that was released Feb. 22 by Javelin Strategy & Research, a financial consulting group that focuses on fraud prevention. The study says 11.6 million individuals were subjected to identity fraud in 2011, which is 1.4 million more individuals than in 2010.
The study says the increase in identity theft is related to an increase in the use of smartphones, tablet computers and social-networking websites. The information that consumers store on mobile devices or share on social-networking sites can put them at a greater risk of identity theft, the study says.
One-third of smartphone/tablet computer users who were surveyed say they save personal information, such as passwords and financial-account information, on their mobile devices. So, if your mobile device is lost or stolen, the personal information that’s on it can end up in the wrong hands. Also, if you download a mobile application that contains malware, it can allow a hacker to access your information.
Young people are at risk the most because they are more likely to divulge personal information on their mobile devices or on social-networking sites, says James Van Dyke of Javelin.
For instance, even revealing seemingly harmless information on your Facebook profile such as a birthdate, a maiden name or an alma mater can give criminals clues to what you might be using for security passwords or answers to financial-account security questions, says Mike Urban, who is a risk and compliance manager at Fiserv, which is a payment and security consulting firm. Consumers should consider removing these personal details from their social-networking accounts.
As a rule of thumb, consumers should use privacy settings on social networks and set up passwords to access their smartphones or tablets. And if you’re downloading apps from your favorite coffee shops or restaurants, make sure it’s an official app from that store rather than one that was made by an unknown source, Urban says.
– K. Fanuko