According to a survey released by The Pew Research Center in January, almost half of all American adults now own smartphones. The same survey found that 17 percent of all consumers use their mobile device as their primary means of accessing the internet.
Smartphones can be a treasure trove for hackers. Through apps and mobile browsers, people store personal information like passwords, bank account information and credit card numbers in addition to their contacts and other information.
BBB urges consumers to remember that a smart phone is no different than a desktop or laptop computer, in that it is vulnerable to the same hackers, malware, spyware and viruses.
Here are a few practical tips from BBB to secure your mobile devices:
Lock your phone. If your phone is lost or stolen, your personal information is at risk. Add a security code to your phone to prevent thieves from accessing your data. Then set your device to lock automatically when not in use for a specified time.
Update your operating system. Those alerts on your smart phone that tell you to update your apps and operating system are more than just a minor annoyance. These updates close security loopholes and other backdoors hackers can use to access your phone without your knowledge.
Beware of unknown apps and links. Do not download any apps or click on links in your email or social media pages without first researching their source. They may contain viruses, malware or spyware that can compromise your personal data.
Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi. If you choose to connect to an unsecured or public Wi-Fi network, do not enter any passwords or access any personal data. Bad guys can use such networks as an easy means to hack your device.
Turn off Bluetooth. Bluetooth creates a wireless connection between your phone and other devices or phones. If you are not actively using an enabled device, such as a headset, make sure your Bluetooth is turned off.
Check your permissions. Check all of your apps to see what data they are accessing and revoke permissions for information those apps don't need to properly operate. Check your phone's owner's manual or contact your wireless provider for directions on how to do so.
Report missing devices. If your phone is lost or stolen, immediately report it to your wireless carrier and have the device disabled.
Back up your data. Make sure you have a backup of all the apps and information -- especially important photos or other irreplaceable items -- stored on your phone in case it's lost, stolen, hacked or damaged.
Delete "smishing" texts. Like "phishing," "smishing" schemers often pose as banks or lottery sweepstakes asking customers to contact them immediately about a pressing issue that needs to be discussed. Do not reply and erase the message immediately.
Pay close attention to your phone bills. Unanticipated, sudden increases in data usage can indicate a problem. In addition, third-party content providers sometimes add erroneous charges to bills for apps or services the consumer never authorized. In addition, keep an eye out for strange texts and disrupted service. They can be red flags that indicate your phone has been hacked.
Erase old phones completely. If you're selling, donating or recycling your old phone, ensure all your data is completely erased and the phone is returned to factory settings before letting it out of your possession. There are online tutorials to teach you how to do this, or your wireless provider can walk you through the steps.
Shop with caution. When shopping online with your mobile device, take the same precautions you would with a desktop or laptop. Look for the "s" in the "https://" in the address bar and research sites at bbb.org before providing any personal information or credit card numbers.
Consider mobile security. Many sources offer antivirus or other security apps for your phone. Research them thoroughly before choosing which is right for you.