PhotoHow many of us are walking around with all manner of highly sensitive information in our pockets or purses, completely exposed and vulnerable?

If you have a smartphone – and nearly half of American consumers do – you could be at risk.

“In today’s digital age, while we enjoy the benefits of technology, we must also be aware of the risks it presents,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. “Criminals have turned to technology as access points for key personal information. The best way for consumers to protect themselves is to make sure their technological devices are secure.”

Smartphones are sophisticated little devices. Many have the same functions as your laptop or desktop computer at home. But while your home computers may be protected against malware, chances are your smartphone isn't.

According to mobile security experts, there are six steps you should take to keep your smartphone secure:

1. Password Protect Your Phone

Loss or theft of your phone is the easiest way to put your personal data at risk, and with data showing that smartphone theft is on the rise, security experts suggest consumers secure their phones with a password to ensure that if it is misplaced, gaining access won’t be easy.

Consumers should change their passwords frequently and should not use passwords containing their name, information found on their driver’s licenses, or other easy to guess passwords such as birthdates, anniversaries, and your children’s names. Encrypting your smartphone provides an even greater level of security.

2. Set Up “Remote Wipe”

Most smart phones carry a “remote wipe” feature allowing consumers to destroy all data on a phone that is stolen including emails, texts, contacts, documents and passwords. Consumers should consult their smart phones’ instruction manuals to learn how to remotely wipe. For smartphones that do not have the feature, there are a number of programs that can be purchased to perform this function.

3. Beware of Unknown Applications

While some third-party applications actually help consumers prevent viruses from overtaking their smart phones, others can be malicious. It is recommended that consumers always beware of the applications they are using.

What kind of ratings and reviews does the application have? What company made the application? How much information does the application ask you to share?

Applications can require a multitude of permissions including obtaining access to various functions of your smartphone such as your phones Global Positioning System (GPS) or camera. Applications can also access sensitive information stored such as contacts, text-messages, and email.

4. Where Are You?

Geotagging is a relatively newer concept that allows a consumer to “tag” a photo or video with their current location. Usually, the geotag contains GPS coordinates for pinpoint accuracy.

Similarly location-based services operate by utilizing the GPS on smartphones. Sometimes by “checking in” to participating merchants and locations, consumers can earn rewards or discounts. However, by “checking-in” others can find out where and how long consumers were not home. Consumers can prevent geo-tagging by turning the function off on their smart phones or by paying particular attention to pop-up requests when opening various applications or websites.

5. Be Careful When Surfing

As stated earlier, smart phones can be as powerful as desktop computers and like desktops, they can pick up viruses and other mal-ware from simply surfing the Internet. It is recommended that consumers be careful when using the Internet. Just as when working on a desktop, do not click on unknown links and do not open suspicious emails.

6. Be Cautious When Online Banking and Shopping

Consumers should use caution when banking online and ensure that they are using a secure network and not an unsecured Wi-Fi hot spot. When shopping on-line, credit cards provide better protection than debit cards if your card is used fraudulently.

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