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Attorney General's Office Says Smartphone Hacking Can Be Avoided

Hackers are on the increase, and the Tennessee Attorney General's Office says there are ways to avoid someone hacking into your phone or laptop.

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper, Consumer Affairs Director Gary Cordell, and the Tennessee Regulatory Authority have provided tips to ensure this does not happen to you.

Hackers cannot just select a phone number and start seizing the user's information. A smart hacker will trick the smartphone or tablet owner into clicking on an unsecure link or will seize sensitive information by tapping into your information while you are on public Wi-Fi connections. A hacker can also learn your location by perusing the apps you use regularly to check the weather or when you post vacation photos or other details on social networking sites.

Another trick that hackers use is to set up a fake free WiFi hotspot in a public place. Once you connect to the hotspot, it becomes very easy for the hacker to gather information from your device or place unwanted malware on your device.

"The problem is that information you provide for conveniences in your everyday life can be used against you by people who want to steal your identity or break into your house while you're away," Attorney General Bob Cooper said. "It's important to arm yourself with as much information as possible to ensure you do not become a hacking victim."

General Cooper, Director Cordell, and the TRA offer the following tips to avoid becoming a hacker's next victim:

• Make sure the connection is protected by a unique password and is secure. If a Wi-Fi hotspot doesn't ask for a password, the Internet connection is not secure. Home and work Internet connection are probably the safest. Wi-Fi hotspots that use generic passwords could be risky. To protect your privacy, make sure the website is fully encrypted and the network is secure. Look for https (the "s" stands for secure) at the beginning of the URL address to confirm its security. And be sure to log off when you leave the wireless hotspot after each use.

• Change your passwords frequently and use different passwords for different accounts. Make sure they have a combination of letters and symbols not the names of your pets or children (especially if you have that information listed on a social network). If one password is hacked, the chances of other accounts being hacked becomes greater with repeated passwords.

• Be careful using your phone or tablet for banking. Make sure you use a secure network. If you are shopping online, consider using a credit card which provides more consumer protections than other payment forms such as debits cards.

• In certain situations, smartphone apps that rely on GPS such as Google Maps, weather or navigation can expose your location to people who may wish to harm you or your family.

• You should be aware that there are also apps that help hackers steal passwords or other confidential information. Guard your phone or tablet as if it's a credit card. Log out and turn it off when you finish using it.

• The safest course may be to assume that public "hot spots" are not secure and that other people can access any information you see or send over a public wireless network.

"We fully support the Office of the Attorney General's efforts to protect Tennessee consumers from telephone hacking," said Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Eddie Roberson. "Preventative measures to protect one's identity, such as not giving out your social security number over the telephone unless the source is fully verified, can go a long way in preventing acts like these."

Federal and state laws provide consumers with a variety of tools to help protect themselves against identity theft. Consumers who have a reasonable suspicion that they are or are about to become victims of identity theft can place free fraud alerts on their credit reports by contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies. In addition, consumers can file a complaint or call the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance's Consumer Affairs Division for more information at 1-800-342-8385 (toll-free inside Tennessee) or (615) 741-4737 or online at To file a complaint with the FTC or for more consumer tips, visit or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.

Published July 27, 2011, 6:59 a.m.

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