published Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Consumer Watch: Avoid ‘apple picking’ with right phone apps and plans

by Ellen Phillips

In the past few months, I’ve lost one phone and my husband’s was stolen. Since we both maintain confidential information on our phones, what precautions can we take to protect ourselves?

— Sarah Smartphone

Dear Mrs. Smartphone: In watching a recent episode of the new drama, Chicago PD, I learned a new term: “apple picking.” Thieves watch for unsuspecting folks who lazily hold onto their phone or set it down, only to have the thugs casually walk by, snatch the sucker, and run for the hills. While a market for stolen smartphones certainly exists, the primary goal for many cybercrooks is to obtain the owners’ private data for identity theft purposes. And since 2014 is shaping up to be a record-breaker for these thefts, we should be aware of the methods by which we can protect our phone and subsequent confidentiality. Thanks to AARP for its suggestions.

1. Enable encryption if your phone offers this service. Learn if and how by going to

2. Be sure to use security software that’s recommended by the carrier or manufacturer.

3. When shopping, use the retailers’ dedicated apps instead of those from the phone’s browser.

4. Read app reviews before installation. Stick with Google or Apple and read the “permissions” before downloading; avoid any that want your identity or location.

5. Remember what I’ve written recently about public Wi-Fi networks. Try to use the ones from the provider’s network.

6. Never auto-save your user ID/password on apps or when making financial transactions.

7. Regularly clear your browser’s history. If you leave info available, cyber thieves can retrace your steps.

8. Get an app that tracks and reports the location of your phone if you lose it. (I just did this on my iPhone a couple of weeks ago.) The latter smartphone has a built-in app, and you can find the best one for your Droid entitled “Where’s My Droid.” In fact, if the phone is stolen rather than misplaced, these apps may help the police to find it.

9. Don’t click on links in texts or emails, especially if from an unfamiliar person.

10. And, even if it’s a hassle each time you get ready to use it, lock your phone with a PIN that no one could ever guess.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Sunday. Email her at

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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