If you think of your smartphone as just a phone, rather than a very powerful mini-computer that happens to make phone calls, you may be cruising for a world of pain.
That's because the amount of sensitive data many of us store on our phones is truly staggering. A smartphone provides us direct access to our savings and checking accounts. It may store our passwords to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, even our email accounts. The phone numbers and email addresses of all our friends and colleagues are easy to find in our contacts directory.
What chaos could ensue if a thief happens to get his hands on all that data? And it probably isn't especially hard to steal. Any security system is only as good as its weakest link, and humans are the weakest link of all. Despite our best intentions, how many of us have left our phones -- or come dangerously close to leaving them -- in the backseat of a taxi, sitting on top of the toilet paper dispenser at our favorite restaurant, in the seatpocket of an airliner, on the bar of a tavern, by the hotel pool, or on a conference table after a meeting?
Equally unpleasant, your phone could be hacked or compromised by a virus while you are doing online banking -- or browsing the Internet at your favorite Starbucks, at the airport, in a hotel lobby, or sitting at a table waiting for your date to arrive.
If you've taken the right steps to protect yourself, losing your phone will be just an annoyance. But if you've failed to safeguard your phone with a password, backing up all your data and installing a program that can wipe the phone's data remotely, you are setting yourself up for a seriously traumatic event.
To help you prepare your defenses, here are the 10 dumbest things that people do (or fail to do) with their smartphones.
1) No password protection.
If you could "lock" your wallet, wouldn't you? Well, why don't more folks lock their iPhone or Android phone? While it is nowhere CLOSE to being foolproof, a phone password works like the theory of the burglar and the dog: If you take that extra step to protect yourself, most bad guys will simply move on to the next (easier) target. It's a lot easier for a thief to steal a smartphone with no password than it is to work on cracking your phone.
2) Shopping online with an Internet browser instead of a shopping app.
If you have the choice between shopping at Amazon.com using your phone's browser versus Amazon's app, use the app! Ditto for eBay, Overstock, and any big retailer that gives you the option of using their app. Unlike browsers, dedicated shopping apps are designed to ward off phishing and other kinds of scams. (Before you download it, just make sure it's really their official app!)
3) Remaining logged into banking, PayPal, eBay, and other sensitive apps.
Would you keep your Macy's credit card, Wells Fargo debit card or AmEx on top of your desk at work? How about the front seat of your car? I think not. Then why would you keep your phone permanently logged into those same accounts? When you finish banking or shopping, make sure to log out. And NEVER click the box asking the app to save your user ID or password. Yes, it's a pain in the butt to log in every time. We all tend to value convenience over security. But if a thief gets a hold of a phone that is already logged into sensitive accounts -- especially if that phone has no password -- it could spell financial disaster. And remember, turning off your devices every now and then can be a good idea.