Every week more people are buying smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
And every week thieves are lurking to steal those gadgets — along with your banking and other personal information.
According to Internet marketing researcher comScore, more than 32 million Americans used a mobile device to manage bank accounts during the second quarter of 2011 — about 14 percent of all mobile users in the United States. That’s up 21 percent from the last quarter of 2010, and experts predict continued growth as companies improve their mobile apps.
Smyrna resident Melissa Sharpe recounts what happened when her fiancé’s work iPad was stolen this past holiday season — though she admits they share the blame after leaving it on a plane they had taken from Atlanta to Dallas last month.
The couple did about everything they could to recover the tablet, as it contained their personal banking information as well as potentially sensitive client healthcare documents. Its Find My iPad tracking system located the tablet, which had made its way back from Dallas to a McDonough address.
Sharpe says she was told by the Atlanta Police Department it couldn’t rely upon tracking software to justify a warrant to search at the address identified by the app, and that the best the police could do would be to go to the house and ask if the iPad was there. If the thief lied about it, there was nothing further they could do.
Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos confirmed “some software can only get you ‘near’ an electronic item; it will not pinpoint a precise residence,” which makes asking a judge for a warrant “unrealistic” in some cases.
Sharp and fiancé Nick Renzi delayed performing a remote wipe on the tablet –- remotely erasing all personal information -– in hopes the police might still recover it. But once the tracking signal disappeared, indicating the thief had hacked into the password-protected iPad, they deleted all their information to prevent identity theft.
“In our case, the people just wanted the iPad,” Sharpe says. “Keep the stupid $900 iPad, as long as they didn’t get into any of our accounts.” She says they’ve been monitoring their email and bank accounts but haven’t noticed anything unusual yet.
But what if someone hacks into your device and it doesn’t have a remote wiping system? Some security advocates have suggested resisting mobile banking.
But Kristen Rankin, mobile channel manager of Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank, says mobile banking is about as secure as it gets these days.
“Mobile banking uses the same sort of encryption that online banking does,” she says. “For people paying their bills, if they do the traditional way — where they put the check in the envelope, put it in the mailbox and put up the flag — that’s alerting everyone that their personal information is in the mailbox. Whereas in mobile banking, you’re required to sign on, it doesn’t let you stay signed on, it logs you out and it’s encrypted and secure.”
In other words, secure banking apps won’t store your user name and password. Wells Fargo Mobile even uses an alias instead of your account number. And some banks, including SunTrust, have a 100 percent guarantee — meaning you won’t be responsible for criminal account activity — should your device fall into the wrong hands.
Good ol’ common sense is still the key, Rankin says.
“Best practice is to know where your mobile device is at any time.”
What do you do to protect your mobile devices?
– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter