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Protect info on your phone from theft
NEW YORK (5/20/14)--Would you risk personal injury to retrieve your cellphone? Surprisingly, most respondents (68%) to a recent study said they'd put themselves in danger to get back a stolen cellphone (Fox News Insider May 9).
 
Another study, by Consumer Reports (April 17), reveals more troubling information: More than 3 million smartphones were stolen from American consumers in 2013.
 
Whether you become a victim of physical theft or you simply lose your phone, someone you don't know might end up accessing a pocket-sized summary of your digital life: photos of the places you've been and the people you know, what you've posted on Facebook or bought from Amazon, the content of your text messages, where you keep your money, Web searches, and more.
 
Before your phone is gone, here are some ways to guard your personal information and increase the chances of recovering your phone: 
  • Enable encryption on your smartphone. Encrypting data can protect you against identity theft and the loss of sensitive data. If your device doesn't offer encryption by default, ask your carrier to recommend additional security software.
     
  • Use a strong screen lock. You don't have to settle for the four-digit PIN options among your cellphone's security features. Consider creating a strong password that contains a string of at least eight letters, numbers, and special characters that don't form recognizable words or phrases that could be associated with you.
     
  • Install and regularly update anti-theft software. Look for an app from your provider or manufacturer that will locate your phone from any computer, lock it to restrict access, erase sensitive data (contacts, messages, browser history, social media posts), and emit a loud sound to help police locate it (AARP Bulletin May 2014). But don't rely on it. Thieves know that for the app to work the phone must be turned on, have a network or Wi-Fi connection, and GPS must be enabled.
     
  • Regularly clear the browser history. This prevents smartphone thieves from retracing your digital steps to hijack your accounts.
     
  • Make your lock screen display "if found" contact information. If your missing phone is found, it might be returned to you. Provide only safe contact information such as an e-mail address or alternate phone number. Search for carrier-approved apps to help you create a lock screen that meets your needs.
     
  • Back up photos and videos. Most carriers and manufacturers offer free over-the-air backup for your phone. Select a carrier-neutral source, such as Apple's iCloud, Android's Google+, or Microsoft's OneDrive so you can retrieve your information if you get your next phone from a different carrier.
 
Explore your phone's settings, search the Web, and ask your wireless carrier about ways to accomplish these tasks. For related information, read "What to Do if You Lose Your Smartphone" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.
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