An identity thief stole my phone!

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Identity theft can happen to anyone. I’m a fraud investigator, and I’d like to tell you about my identity theft. Knowing how to respond will help you if you ever have to recover your identity.

My purse was stolen recently. Charges appeared on my credit cards before I even knew it was gone. I knew I had to act quickly to protect my identity, so I went to IdentityTheft.gov. It’s the site where you can file a report and get a personalized recovery plan. My plan involved putting alerts on my credit reports, notifying my bank, canceling all my credit cards, and getting a new driver’s license.

But the thief also got my phone, which had everything on it. Contacts, photos, other valuable (to me) data. The thief turned off my phone, so I couldn’t locate it using the “Find my Phone” feature. Even though I had a strong password to lock my phone, I didn’t want to risk the thief getting into it. I was able to send an erase command that will wipe the device clean, once the phone connects to the internet. If I’d done a backup recently (which you really should – in fact, go do it now), all of my data would have been safe. But I hadn’t, so I lost some photos and files that were important to me. Seriously: go back up your phone.

This led me to realize: there was a lot more I needed to do to protect my digital identity. Whether you’ve lost your device or you want to be prepared, here are some tips you can take to protect your digital identity:

Smart Phone:

  • Lock your phone. Use at least a 6-digit passcode on your device, or use the pattern lock or fingerprint scanner. Set the device to lock when not in use. This is especially important if you use a mobile wallet or money transfer apps.
  • Update it and back it up. Back up your device regularly and make sure automatic updates are turned on. Backing up your phone regularly and automatically makes sure that you’ll still have your stuff – if it disappears.
  • Get help finding your phone. Install and turn on Find My iPhone (iOS) or Find My Device (Android). These apps could help you locate your device if you lose it. If your phone is stolen, these apps also let you remotely issue a command to erase your device – even if a thief turns it off.
  • Alert your wireless provider if your phone is missing. Make the call as soon as you know your device is missing. They can permanently or temporarily disable the SIM card to stop someone from using the device for calls or the internet. It helps, too, if you have a record of your phone’s serial number or IMEI number (a unique identifier for your phone).

Accounts:

  • Turn on two-factor authentication. That means you’ll give your password and a second way to prove that you’re you. This extra layer of security makes it much harder for thieves to get into your accounts and lock you out. Many providers give several options to authenticate your identity, so be sure you have a backup method (like one-time use codes or a backup email address) in case you don’t have access to your device to receive texts or phone calls.
  • Know which devices have access to your accounts. Many social media sites and email providers, and some phone operating systems, let you view the logins for your devices from the settings menu. You can remove devices from the account, and log out of the site remotely using a computer or another device. That’s handy if ever you lose your phone, tablet, or laptop.
  • Check your log-in and account notifications. Many email and social media accounts can notify you if a new device connects to your account, or if someone tried to change your passwords.
  • When in doubt, change your passwords. If you’ve lost your device, change your passwords. Many of us set our devices to remember passwords – which could mean that someone who gets your phone could get access to your accounts and personal information. So: if you lose your phone, change your email, social media, online banking, shopping, and other passwords right away.

For more tips on what to do to protect yourself from identity thieves, check out ftc.gov/idtheft.

Tagged with: identity theft

Comments

Very good article.

It's all getting too complicated. Pretty soon we'll all be back to using smoke signals.

Going back to a phone that was just a phone is looking more and more appealing.

SIM cards are generally pretty easy to switch out. I have a flip phone for when I camp, travel, or go to concerts. That way I don't ruin, lose, or have my smartphone stolen.

I love this article. Even though I know this stuff (as a retired computer geek), we all have our weak points.

I spend a lot of time on the computer every day. I keep a list of all accounts and sign-ons/passwords on a passworded file on my PC, which is 3 pages long. The most active accounts like email, bills, banks accounts, etc are on page one.

For the in case of death part (I'm 60+), I have a list of all my financial accounts in one area, next to all my credit card accounts. This article reminds me that I should add the CC contact phone numbers though.

I choose not to keep any financial data on my smart phone. I just feel safer that way. The most personal thing on my phone is my safe combination hidden as a phone number under a normal sounding name, ha ha ha. My $200 is not worth stealing.

One of my friend's attorney recently drew up a digital power of attorney for her giving a designee authorization over her accounts if disable or deceased.

I, too, am 60+. I have a hard copy (non-digital) record of all my important personal information, including passwords, bank account numbers, safe combination, and the like together in something I call "my death folder." I keep it in a particular place and have told my children for years to go to that folder when I die— that they'll find everything they need there to handle the business side of dealing with the death of a parent.

There's still value in paper and pencil, so to speak.

Yesterday I received a phone call at 5:54 pm, caller ID said Social Security Systems with a 9192874599 phone number. Did not answer, no message was left.
Googled the above name, only the Philippines uses the word Social Security Systems for their program. Reported this information to Social Security as I do not want someone to get scammed by this caller.

Good article. Will use with Seniors !!

Good info but I wish to add another dimension. My phone has a removable micro SD card. I no longer keep anything sensitive on it after a scare when I thought I had lost my phone. I could have encrypted the card but I didn't want to go through the trouble, a mistake in retrospect.

I would add to pin protect your sim card . Yes , once in a while , when you'll reboot your phone, you will have to enter your pin but you might also avoid getting a very expensive bill if someone use your otherwise locked phone sim card in another phone/tablet to watch Netflix , call relatives oversee or use any other scheme to extort money from your account .

thank you! this was helpful to me

A lot of the phones are actually used for two factor authentication (2FA). If your phone is stolen, the recommended action would also be to contact the companies where you have to set up two factor authentication and disable the 2FA associate it with your old stolen phone and reassociate 2FA with your new replacement phone.

I am in Thailand when it happening to me by " I get slap by retire police slap my face taking my phone from my hand happening about 3 year ago, police report I still not getting my phone back, the police do noting, this is happening in Bangkok Thailand I am US Citizen and 73 year old I am now 75 it very bad but it happen lucky I am still alive.

Thank you. This is excellent information. I shared it with family and friends.

I'm very disappointed that this article says nothing about enabling encryption on your Android phones. At least Apple iPhones by default encrypt your data at rest (depending on where it's stored) when you enable a pin code. This is very disappointing considering I got a link to this article from the Department of Homeland Security.

The email I got had a link to this article and one to another article, which does mention encryption: .us-cert.gov / ncas / tips / ST05-017 I do agree that this article also should mention encryption. BlackBerry and Blackberry/Android also encrypt by default when passwords are set.

I'm trying to tell my boyfriend about all the stuff I've read on your websites about identity theft,all he does is get mad at me for being paranoid he tells me he read this stuff but if he did he wouldn't be so sloppy about his personal information. It's putting a huge wall between us. I believe he's more concerned that someone was sneaky thieving,jerk got one over on him and that makes the thief smarter than him. Could you send some lititure to him make hell read it or listen if it's coming from someone other than me? We've been robbed continues stuff her and there to be honest I think they tract where we are with are phones to be able to no when we will be at home somehow street view ended up in our phones and a lot of times we will pull our phones out to use and they will be on??? Or SVOICE will be on screen

I'd also suggest not doing things like updating your location on things like Facebook. If a thief knows you're not at home, and where that home is, your inviting them to rob you.

Had my iPhone stolen and have done all these recommended steps. So thankful I backed everything up to the cloud!

Hello, I really like to help, but I know how to use computer skills. I'm just a high school teacher who teaches philosophy and enjoys advanced math. I am asperger I do not understand computing technically. I would love to learn. How to understand the alphabet of binary codes is a philosophical analysis that I propose lately. I ended up being a Harckers victim. Anyway I am a good student if any colleague proposes to teach me this wonderful language I would like to cooperate in what I can.

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