Keep your mobile device from getting hacked

The newest threat of electronic identity theft is no longer just your computer. It's your phone or wireless tablet like your iPad.

If you're not careful, responding to a message or downloading an app on your cell phone or tablet could cost you. It's a growing concern for cell phone providers and wireless security companies who intercept these kinds of spam and suspicious texts daily.

More than 300 million people in the U.S. have wireless devices and many use mobile apps to bank, trade stock, even track their tax refund. Phones hold so much personal info they're now like carrying a computer in your pocket.

How do the scams work? It's called "smishing," meaning criminals try to swipe personal info via SMS text messages. A text claiming to be from a credit union it asks you to call a number.

"When you call the number they're actually looking to scam you out of your personal information," said Jamie De Guerre, Chief Technology Officer at Cloudmark.

Another text from a friend asks you to download an "incredible media player." When you do it, security experts say your screen just blinks. The problem is, you may have just downloaded mobile malware that could allow hackers to monitor your accounts, or send high priced text messages from your phone, running up your bill.

"The amount of malware targeting mobile handsets has increased significantly in the past year," said Kevin San Diego at Cloudmark.

David Kwong says someone hacked into his app store account through mobile malware. First he got an email written in Chinese saying his credit card was charged. Then he got a bill for purchases he did not make.

"I can't believe that somebody somewhere could hack into my account because I keep all my information secure," he said.

Or at least he thought it was. After he complained to his provider he got a refund. The wireless industry admits it's a race to keep up with the scams and cell phone companies are monitoring suspicious activity closely.

"We take a lot of extraordinary steps on a daily basis to make sure that doesn't happen," said John Walls with CTIA the Wireless Association.

How can you protect yourself?

  • When you download an app check out the reviews and make sure it seems reputable.
  • If an app asks for a lot of permissions to access your information, that's a big red flag
  • If you get a text from what appears to be your bank don't respond.
  • B suspicious of any text asking you to text, email or call in personal information, and don't download an app from a link you get in a text.

The wireless industry says it does all it can to keep you safe, but relies on customers to use common sense.

  • Make sure your phone is up to date on the latest software updates so you've got current protection against new threats. There are a number of anti virus app's out there you can download that may help.
  • Some cell phone providers allow you to forward them questionable texts so they can investigate.
  • Always lock your phone so you need a password to open it, so if old fashioned thieves swipe your phone or you lose it, no one can access your account.