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How To Protect Your Smartphone From Online Crime

56 percent of all adults in the U.S. own and use smartphones. Ownership climbs to 79 percent for people ages 18 to 24; to 81 percent for people ages 25-34. Ownership climbs even higher for people with higher incomes. With 4.5 million smartphone stolen during 2013, the threat of theft is real. So, it makes sense to protect both your phone and the sensitive personal and financial information you have saved on it.

Yes, there are apps to track a stolen mobile device (e.g., phone, tablet), but when your device is stolen your sensitive information is out there for thieves to use and abuse. And, some types of theft occur while you still have your phone in your hand.

How should a consumer protect their smartphone or tablet? There are 12 things you should do.

The first recommendation on the list probably is not what you'd expect. The obvious recommendation to lock your device with a PIN (personal ID number) or password is number 12 on the list. There are several more important things you should do first.

The top four recommendations by AARP to protect your mobile device:

"1. If your phone offers encryption, enable it. You can learn how at help.unc.edu/help/encrypting-cell-phones. "Most encryption software will then automatically update as needed," says Adam Levin, founder of IDentity Theft 911."

Encryption protects both your device and your information during wireless transmissions both to and from your device. It makes the transmissions unreadable to everyone else, but you. Anyone spying on your wireless transmissions would see illegible gibberish.

This protection is critical especially when using public WiFi hotspots. Thieves often lurk at these locations to scan the air waves for un-encrypted transmissions with cosnumers' login credentials (e.g., user name, password) to their bank accounts, retail stores, e-mail services, social networking sites, and so forth. Thieves will use stolen credentials to access as many online accounts as possible, since many consumers use the same passwords at multiple websites.

Using HTTPS (instead of HTTP) at websites with your web browser is a good start. There are other and stronger encryption solutions available, such at GetCocoon and PrivateWiFi. As a usability and information architecture consultant, my clients regularly require the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) software to remotely access their network and information. VPN software encrypts transmissions.

Next on the list of security recommendations:

"2. Use security software recommended by your carrier or phone manufacturer, or free products by companies such as AVG, Avast and Lookout Mobile Security.

If you visit websites infected with malware, chances are your mobile device will get infected. It doesn't matter what brand of mobile device you use. Scan your device frequently (e.g., once or twice monthly) with security software to identify and purge any malware. Keep that software updated. Also:

"3. When using your smartphone to shop, use retailers' dedicated apps rather than your phone's browser.

4. Before installing apps, read their reviews — and stick with trusted vendors such as Google or Apple. Always read the "permissions" before downloading apps; avoid those wanting your OK to reveal your identity and location."

This can't be over-emphasized. Reviews can indicate how trustworthy the app and the app developer are. Reviews can also indicate if an app has encryption built into it, or not. Plus, you don't want to download and use an app that has already abused other persons' privacy. One chief privacy abuse has been the theft of contact information from address books on consumers' devices -- without notice to users and without consent.

Besides reading the reviews, also read the terms-of-use and privacy policies before downloading an app. The policies indicate how much of your personal information that app will share with other companies and business affiliates. If an app doesn't have these policies, experts advise consumers not to download that app. Some states, such as California, enforce the disclosure of these policies to consumers both before and after download.

Read the full list of 12 AARP recommendations to safeguard your mobile device. To surfithe web and/or do online banking on your mobile device without these security protections is just plain foolhardy, in my opinion.

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