(BPT) - Mobile devices make your life easier; everything you need to contact friends and family, manage finances and juggle your personal and professional lives is at your fingertips.
But what if that information were to fall into the wrong hands? Then, scammers and thieves would have everything they need to drain your bank accounts and steal your identity.
To keep your smartphone and tablet safe from such prying eyes, follow these safeguards.
1. Use passwords, locks and more.
Always password-protect your mobile device, use the auto-lock security feature, and activate the encryption feature (if it's built in), advises Jack Key, chief information security officer for USAA, a financial services provider for military families.
When creating a password, choose one that's easy for you to remember but will be difficult for others to guess. And make sure the auto-lock feature is turned on so it will kick in after a couple of minutes. That helps ensure no one will be able to use the phone or tablet without knowing your password.
The operating systems on many tablet PCs are more advanced than those on smartphones, and additional security measures may be available.
To encourage the return of a lost device, consider writing or engraving your name and contact information — but not your password — on its back.
2. Back it up
Only store the information you'll need quick and frequent access to in your mobile device, Key advises. Remember, syncing your device to Outlook or another email application may automatically synchronize any notes in your contacts database, so pay special attention to what you have in those fields.
Also keep a separate record of your phone's basic data, including all account numbers, passwords, phone numbers, addresses and any other sensitive information, as well as the device's make, model and serial number, in case it’s ever lost.
3. Beware of jailbreaking and out-of-market apps
Such practices, which bypass limitations imposed by the manufacturer or mobile carrier, can open your phone to viruses and Internet scams without your knowledge, Key warns. The only way to remove these harmful software threats, known as malware, is to completely wipe out the phone's memory and revert it to its original factory status.
Just because your iPhone isn't jailbroken doesn't mean you're immune from risk. Apple says it rejects more than 100 spyware-infested or phishing-laden applications every day. The risk is even greater with Android, because these apps are not always thoroughly vetted before they go on sale, so beware of all apps downloaded from outside the Android Market.
4. Keep close tabs on your tablet
Most tablets are thought of as overgrown smartphones that can be used for browsing the Web, viewing videos and playing games. They require the same amount of security foresight, yet few users secure them with a password. Because tablets are fully usable without a smartphone plan, they are easier to resell on the black market.
Tablets have been touted for mobile banking, mobile investing and online shopping, so letting this device fall into the wrong hands is as disastrous as losing a phone or a laptop.
5. Shield your list of contacts
Among the most sensitive pieces of data on your computer, tablet or phone is your contact list. Filled with personal information about hundreds or thousands of people, many contact databases also contain account information, passwords and sensitive information.
Did you know many third-party apps can access your contact list? If you use an Android phone, you will be notified if an app you install requires permission to access your contacts.
6. Act quickly
If your mobile devices are lost or stolen:
* Call your provider to report the theft.
* File a police report (if you know it's been stolen).
* Place fraud alerts on your credit reports.
* Notify anyone whose contact or other information is stored in the phone.
Consider using a remote wipe capability (if available) to prevent access of your personal information. This gives you the ability to send a command to the device that will delete your data.