Anyone who’s re-read a risky text on the tube or swiped through their gallery in the supermarket will have experienced that rising panic – wait, did that stranger see my screen?
Well, now it seems there’s another reason to keep your phone concealed; showing your screen might put you at risk of theft.
Shoulder surfing is a term given to theft that occurs after the thief has seen a mark entering their PIN, opening their phone, or inputting sensitive data through a screen.
Shoulder surfing thefts can result in the loss of life-ruining amounts of money; the BBC reports that one victim lost 22k in savings, while Revolut reported multiple shoulder surfing scams from criminals in Ireland last year.
And the crime can take many, many forms too. While some people lose their phone through pickpocketing, only to realise the thieves have spotted their details and camn now access their bank accounts, others are involved in more elaborate scams; the Irish cases involved a fake taxi driver grabbing the victim’s phone after their accomplice swiped logins and PINs.
In both cases, victims had unknowingly entered their details in full view of a thief.
When am I most likely to get shoulder-surfed?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably starting to panic about your near-constant phone use in public by now.
Pros say that some outdoor screen use is more dangerous than others, however (though it’s never a good idea to let your guard down completely).
You should be especially careful when entering your PIN at an ATM or in-store, when logging into banking apps, when accessing your work’s online system in public, and when giving your details out loud – either in person or over the phone.
Online safety site Aura also says that thieves often operate on public transport, too, and that you should even be wary when starting a new job.
After all, you’re sharing everything from your national insurance number to your address and your bank details – no wonder thieves see new starters as prime victims.
Ok, so what can I do to prevent this?
It can be hard to spot when a shoulder surfing crime is taking place – after all, lots of us use our phone in public, and it isn’t realistic to assume you can monitor everyone around you all the time.
Thankfully, pros have some sage advice to keep your savings safe:
Cover your PIN with your hand when using ATM machines or card readers
Don’t use public Wi-Fi or public computers to access sensitive information
Enable two-factor authentication where possible
Use biometrics, like fingerprints, to open your phone in public – and don’t rely on four-digit pins or repeat passwords
Create physical barriers between your screen and roving eyes – cover laptop screens with your back, move away from a crowded area while sharing information over the phone, and invest in screen shields
Avoid working in public places where possible
Never leave your laptop unattended in public
Shoulder scamming is scarily hard to spot and easy to commit, but taking some steps to protect your data can really help to keep you and your information safe.
Oh, and consider this an intervention – you need to change that basic password you use for every site ASAP.
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