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Why you should think twice before lending your cellphone to a stranger

Posted: 8:02 PM, Nov 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-02 09:46:37-05

If someone asks to borrow your cellphone, would you lend it them? If you have a popular payment app on there, you might want to think twice.

Popular money transfer apps and services like Venmo, PayPal or Apple Pay are all attached to people’s bank accounts.

Brittany Burmeister uses Venmo every day. She wasn’t aware police in cities across the country are warning of a scam circulating, costing some thousands of dollars.

It works like this: someone asks to use your smartphone, says their battery died or they left theirs at home, they use your payment app and steal your funds without you even knowing.

Joseph Martinez, an information system security professor at Milwaukee Area Technical College, says when you’re not using them, log out of the money apps and while you’re at it, get off of Bluetooth.

“They can hack into the phone via the Bluetooth portal and then through that portal have access to any application that you have your password and credentials automatically stored,” said Martinez.

He also suggests linking your credit card instead of a debit card, so you have more protection. 

Burmeister is taking notes, considering her cell, like so many others, is a digital wallet. She says she’s not sure now if she’ll hand off her phone to a stranger. 

“I’d probably just say 'hey, I bet the restaurant has a phone inside' or if they’re in a public place,” said Martinez. 

A spokesperson for Milwaukee police hadn’t heard of any reports but urges people to be cautious. 

Martinez says as another precaution, you should download antivirus and spyware apps and what’s called a VPN app, or "virtual private network." It will shield your financial apps from strangers trying to gain access.