As if cybercriminals weren’t dangerous enough, it looks like ordinary street muggers have also developed a keen interest in your online financial accounts. Unlike their digital counterparts, they’re not afraid of getting violent.
In an extremely alarming account, James Ball, a tech reporter for the Times, recalls how he was ambushed by four men while walking home in North London. He was physically assaulted, robbed of his mobile phone and credit cards, then forced to give up card PINs, his phone security code, and unlock financial apps on his phone.
Restoring accounts is sometimes more painful than being robbed
Fortunately, Ball managed to escape his attackers, alert the police, and block all his accounts. Still, the criminals got away with his phone, which meant he now had to deal with a different kind of drama: trying to regain access to his multi-factor authentication (MFA) protected accounts without the authenticator app on his phone.
“In the past three weeks I’ve spent about 30 to 40 hours trying to get back up and running – and I’m still not done. Phones have become instrumental to our lives, not just as communication tools but as the way to access our email accounts, our bank accounts, passports, and more,” Ball said. “The best advice now says to use “two-factor” security for your online shopping, email, and social media. Instead of just using a password, you get sent a text with a security code or use an authenticator app, all of which relies on your phone. It may be more secure against hackers, but it means your phone is a back door to your Amazon, Apple, eBay, and social media accounts at a time when you don’t have the two-factor code generator on your phone to hand.”
Thieves are interested in Bitcoin
The most unsettling detail in Ball’s unfortunate story remains the fact that, according to police, he was probably targeted by thieves looking for a crypto wallet and some Bitcoin or Ethereum, a practice that’s becoming much too common among petty criminals in London.
What to do if you can’t access your phone?
Mobile phones really have become vital command centers for a lot of important things in our lives, but at the same time they can easily be lost, stolen, or destroyed, which means it’s a good idea to have a plan B in case disaster strikes.
- Regularly back up your phone on your computer or through a cloud service. If you need to change phones, you can restore your device in a matter of minutes.
- Always store backup codes for your multi-factor logins so you can quickly regain access to e-mail, social media, and bank accounts.
- Use a multi-platform password manager to generate strong passwords and store them safely. That way, even if you can’t access your phone, you can still access your passwords on another device. If your phone is stolen, it’s also a good idea to change your passwords.
- Most phones nowadays have a “Find My Phone” function. If your phone is stolen or lost, you can activate that feature and, even if you can’t recover your device, you can still remotely erase it and block it from further use.