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Keeping Personal Information Safe on Your Cell Phone

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woman on phone and computer

How much personal information is on your cell phone? For many of us, our cell phone holds the keys to many facets of our lives: our bank accounts, our favorite websites, and even our health data.

With continual growth in technology, our phones have become an essential part of our everyday lives, and it’s important to keep your private information secure.

Protecting personal information on your phone

Have you thought about what personal information is on your phone? Account passwords, identifying documents, and payment information to name a few. What would happen if your data got into the hands of the wrong person? (Hint: identity theft is a potential concern.) Here are a few tools to add to your kit to bolster your smartphone security, and protect the information on your phone should it fall into the wrong hands.

Password protection

The first line of defense in protecting your mobile device is using a password or passcode. Securing your mobile device can help ensure no one else is able to access your personal email accounts and reset your passwords on other online accounts.

Today, biometrics security, such has facial or fingerprint recognition, is a common method of password protection. While this method is fast, convenient, and impossible to be guessed, you still need to be careful, especially if adding multiple biometric users to your device.

Two-factor authentication

Another method of protection is enabling two-factor authentication whenever it’s available. You may commonly see this method of protection when signing onto secured sites (such as online banking and email), or when attempting to access or change personal information such as passwords. Two-factor authentication can be a great tool in information management because it requires the user to present two forms of authenticating information to gain access to vulnerable data. Usually when you’re logging in, the site will send a code or link to another email or even as a text to your phone.

Smartphone settings to improve security

Most of us enjoy personalizing our devices. In addition to adding your favorite photo to your lock screen, downloading apps, and picking out a phone case, prioritizing your security settings can be your first line of defense in protecting your private information.

Don’t alter manufacturer settings

Have you heard of the term “jailbreaking” as it relates to modifying specific settings on your smartphone? Regardless of who manufacturers your device, safety limitations are put in place to help protect your phone from security risks. Attempts to jailbreak your device will not only void your manufacturer warranty but will leave your phone much more vulnerable to attacks, like hacking and malware.

Install antivirus software

Because our smartphones have a plethora of great features, be sure to think of your cellular device as not just a phone, but as a computer containing your sensitive information. And, just as we would protect our computers from viruses, it’s just as important to do so for our mobile devices (this means tablets too!). By installing antivirus software on your device, you add another layer of protection from malicious threats. And, in our world where everything has an app, always remember to only download from trusted sources.

Locate and delete

Although it seems many of us have our devices glued to our hands, our phone can still end up lost. We’ve all been there. The moment you pat down your pockets or purse and you have your keys, wallet, but no phone.

Did you know location apps (like Find My iPhone) can not only locate your lost or stolen phone, but can also completely erase your data? If you’ve searched everywhere and still no luck, prevent a potential hack by erasing all your data and reverting your phone back to factory settings.

Let’s talk upgrades. If you’re someone who gets the newest phone as soon as it drops, be sure to delete ALL of your personal details from your old device. You’d be surprised how much personal data is saved in your phone. This includes text messages, emails, photos, contacts, and any saved information on your internet browser. Once you’ve transferred any data you want to your device, reset to factory settings and erase all your personal data at once.

Red flags to recognize and avoid

As connected as our phones allow us to be, they can also be an open door for scammers attempting to dupe us out of our personal information or money. And unfortunately, they're constantly getting smarter about making their request seem legitimate. What red flags should you look for? We put together the video and tips below to help you spot a scam.


Suspicious phone calls

What do you do if an unknown number calls your phone? What if the caller on the other end says they’re from your local bank or credit union, or even the IRS? Whenever you receive a call from an unrecognized number or an unexpected call from a supposed trusted contact, take a moment and pause before engaging. If the caller is asking for personal information such as your name, date of birth, or social security number, this could be an attempt to phish, or steal sensitive information about you for malicious intentions.

Fraudsters also use “spoofing” technology where they mimic published phone numbers (such as those from financial institutions) in an attempt to the gain trust of their victims during the scam phone call. In these events, it’s important to remember, your bank or credit union will not ask you for sensitive information such as debit/credit card numbers or passwords over the phone. If you are ever suspicious of the caller, hang up and dial a known and trusted number back.

"It’s important to remember, your bank or credit union will not ask you for sensitive information such as debit/credit card numbers or passwords over the phone."

If you find yourself overwhelmed with phone solicitations or leery of the caller on the other end, the Federal Communications Commission can help provide guidance on your specific situation.

Suspicious messages

Phone calls are not the only technique fraudsters use to gather personal information. “Smishing” or the use of text messaging is another way bad actors target their victims. Plus, if your email is synced to your cell phone, you’ll want to brush up on recognizing email scams as well. It’s important to never disclose your personal information through text or click on links from unverified sources.

graphic showing what to look out for in suspicious messages
Can you spot a Smishing message?

Social media

As you connect with family and friends on social media platforms, being aware of what you reveal online is crucial in protecting sensitive information. Posting the names of your pets, details of your family, or where you live can inadvertently give insights for gaining access to your data. Being aware of what you post, your post privacy settings, and how you communicate with others online can help safeguard your private information.

Payment apps

In this increasingly cashless society, you’re probably using popular peer-to-peer payment services to send and receive money from friends and family. While these payment apps are convenient and easy to use, being aware of who you’re sending money to is key.

Reputable apps such as Venmo and Zelle are popular ways to send money electronically, but remember, you should treat the funds being sent and received as cash. It’s like handing your friend, coworker, or hairdresser a $20 bill. Be sure to read terms and conditions of the payment services you use and confirm you’re sending money to the right person. Avoid sending or requesting money from anyone you don’t know and trust. Don’t agree to pay unexpected requests. Scammers may pose as legitimate businesses to request payments for a product or service.

With the smartphone technology ever-changing, protecting ourselves can sometimes feel overwhelming. But staying vigilant and taking protective action from our cell phones to wherever we go online can help provide relief. And, if you’ve experienced unauthorized access to your account information, you should notify your financial institution immediately and keep a close eye on your accounts.

Quickly report lost or stolen Virginia Credit Union account information or call us at 804-323-6800 if you have questions or we can help you in any way.

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