The more sophisticated technology gets, the more sophisticated the criminals get.
Because of that, protecting yourself and your family these days involves a lot more than just making sure the front door is locked and that you haven't left the keys in the car.
Smartphone owners, for example, are increasingly the target of the same sorts of attacks and scams — many of which can result in identity theft — that have been plaguing computer users for years.
Users of Android-based phones users recently learned that more than 50 malicious apps had been uploaded to the Android Market app store, and then installed on roughly 260,000 phones within a few days.
(Google yanked the apps from the Android Market, then used its “kill switch” to remotely remove the installed apps from users’ phones; Apple has a similar “kill switch” for iPhones and iPads.)
Landlines can also be hit by scams, such as the call-forwarding *72 attack in which a stranger tricks the victim into forwarding all incoming calls to another number — and then proceeds to rack up charges on the account.
Even cars, which have security systems built into nearly all new models, continue to be a major target. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a vehicle is stolen every 33 seconds in the United States.
And, of course, home break-ins continue. The FBI reports that in 2009, the most recent year with confirmed data, there were 2.2 million burglaries in the U.S., costing victims an estimated $4.6 billion in lost property.
So how can you protect yourself from scams and break-ins?
In addition to writing down the vehicle-identification number of your car and serial numbers for expensive equipment, such as a flat-screen TV or computer, there are several ways to protect everything from your phone to your home using some relatively simple technology.
Smartphones: For your smartphone, first make sure you've enabled password protection. Then consider a "lost phone" tracking app, as well as anti-virus/malware software.
There are several on the market, including one from Lookout Mobile Security. A free version is available for Android and Blackberry phones, and it includes a lost/stolen-phone location service and virus scanning. If you can't get your phone back, it will also remotely wipe your personal info from the device.
Credit: Lookout, Inc.
A premium version, for $29.99 a year, includes privacy tracking and protection.
Vehicles: Car and truck owners can also take advantage of GPS tracking and warning devices. For GM owners, there's the OnStar service, but any car can be outfitted with similar security and tracking features.
LoJack has an Early Warning Package for $995 (installed). If your car is moved, the LoJack network can send a phone, email or text message alert.
However, LoJack is available only in 29 states. For nationwide coverage, there's the Escort EntourageCIS, $400, plus $60 for installation and a $180-a-year subscription.
Credit: Escort, Inc.
Like LoJack, the EntourageCIS can warn a driver via email, text or phone message if a car is moved. More important, if your car is stolen and you don’t respond to alerts, a 24-hour monitoring station will contact local law enforcement and send them after the thieves.
Home: As the summer approaches and more home owners leave for long vacations, alarms and monitoring services can be useful. As an alternative to calling in a professional (and paying monthly fees), you now have the option of installing your own cameras and monitoring equipment.
Among the raft of do-it-yourself equipment now available is the $300 Logitech Alert 750i Master System. The video-based monitoring system can be installed in about 30 minutes and uses a home's electrical circuits to connect to a home network and the Internet.
Using a Web browser, owners can log in any time for free to see and hear what's going on back home, or they can have email alerts sent to them whenever motion is detected.
Some people may find all this monitoring and scanning technology brings with it a touch of paranoia. But, if you're ever the victim of a burglary or lose your phone, you won't seem so paranoid any more.