Just as cell phones were one of the greatest boons to busy people everywhere, the cell phone’s shinier cousin—the smartphone—has literally changed the way we work and live. Thanks to these little devices, we have access to unheard of communication and capability. Text, email, internet surfing, watching movies, and even online shopping are just a few of the many functions of a smartphone.
Unfortunately, all the things that make your smartphone so invaluable make it highly lucrative in the hands of an identity thief. Whether someone accesses your smartphone by physically finding or stealing it, or by hacking into its network, too much stored information and not enough security protocols make it incredibly useful for the wrong reasons.
In terms of physically grabbing your phone, remember that anyone who picks it up can access all of the information you make available. A would-be thief can press that email app just as well as you can, or can go to your online banking app if you have it enabled. If you’ve stored the passwords to any of your apps, then a thief can use them just as thoroughly as you can.
Always make sure you password protect the phone itself; depending on the brand, you can even activate the password feature when you go out, and deactivate it if you’ll be staying home that day. By locking your phone with a password, you’re helping slow down a thief, giving you time to secure your accounts or block access to them from another computer.
Never store your passwords for important, sensitive apps, like your email or banking. It’s convenient to be able to transfer money or check your balance from your phone, just be sure to log out completely when you close the app, and do not tell it to store your password for later use. The same is true of your social media apps; it’s fun to be able to update your status or upload a picture (as long as you’ve remember to turn off the geotagging feature so that hackers cannot trace where you took the picture!), just be sure that you log out of the app so that anyone who gains access to your phone cannot inflict damage on your Facebook, Twitter, or other sites.
But a thief doesn’t have to physically access your phone in order to retrieve your important personally identifiable information. News often circulates of individuals who’ve managed to hack into entire cellular provider’s networks, just like ones who access the financial information of a major retailer. Phone calls, emails, text messages, and other forms of communication can show up on their radar, providing them with pieces of the puzzle they need in order to steal your identity.
In this type of situation, prevention plays a bigger role than good security habits. Many people rely on their cell phones to keep them connected to their jobs, so having your work email enabled through your cellular provider might be necessary. Just remember that any information you send over your email can be accessed by the wrong people with the right know-how. Avoid sending or receiving sensitive documents or news that can come back on you as a workplace security breach.
Always keep in mind that your phone is a really just a tiny computer. It’s subject to viruses and hacking, just like the one that sits on your desk. Never open attachments that you weren’t expecting, even if you think you know the sender, as that person’s account could have been hacked to send you the malicious file. Stay on top of things like your cell phone bill and watch for unauthorized activity on your statement. Guard your passwords and change them regularly with new, strong passwords in order to thwart access to your information.
Eva Velasquez is president and chief executive officer of the , where this post originally appeared.