As smartphones get cheaper and more cell phone carriers begin to offer highly-coveted versions, Experian is warning all smartphone owners to practice safety and common sense when it comes to protecting their identity online.

According to Experian, smartphone users may be risking the security of their identity if they store sensitive information on their phones and use unsecure Wi-Fi networks to get online. This is according to new research by ProtectMyID, Experian's identity-protection service.  

According to this latest research:

  • Nearly two thirds (65%) of smartphone users send and store e-mails on their phones -- even if these include sensitive information such as receipts and credit card details from shopping online.
  • More than half (53%) of smartphone users access social networking sites from their phones. This could easily reveal key pieces of information like names, dates of birth and other details commonly used as passwords for online banking and other accounts, such as first school or place of birth.
  • Nearly one third (29%) of smartphone users take advantage of public Wi-Fi hotspots, which are popping up more and more in coffee shops, airports, libraries and other places people gather. These hotspots are insecure and highly vulnerable to electronic eavesdroppers.
  • Of these, one in five (19%) say they conduct online banking while using public Wi-Fi, risking their accounts, PINs and passwords.

According to CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service, mobile phone identity fraud rose by three quarters (74%) in the first half of 2010, but more than half of the smartphone users who took part in the Protect My ID survey were completely unaware of the problem.

"The personal information on an average smartphone is like gold dust to an ID thief and many of us could be putting this on a plate by using public Wi-Fi networks," said Peter Turner, Managing Director of Experian Interactive.

Turner said criminals can use this information to masquerade as the phone's owner, drain his or her accounts, run up debts in their victim's name and even open new accounts.

"Often, the first people know about it is when they receive a demand for payment for services they haven't used or for an account they have never heard of. We've certainly seen cases where criminals have changed the address of the smartphone, ordered new handsets and run up huge bills," said Turner.
And while the survey was conducted in the UK, that doesn’t mean the US is any safer for smartphone users.

The Washington. D.C.-area news blog TDBreported last month on the rise in iPhone robberies in our nation's capital -- some phones being snatched right out of their owners' hands in broad daylight -- and how users have almost no recourse except to buy a new phone.

Similar stories have been cropping up all over the US and the world, making it crucial to keep sensitive information off smartphones as much as possible.