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Be smart about smartphone security

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Our smartphones are filled with private information, things like sensitive business emails, personal financial information and family photos - things you don't want falling into the wrong hands.

"More and more people are using it, and more and more people want to get access within those cell phones,” said Leon Mare, owner of Expert Data and Forensics.

Mare said as technology continues to grow, so too does the interest of hackers. He said now that most adults are doing close to everything on their phones, security is a major issue, and these hackers are finding ways to get your personal information.

"They either sell it to people who want that information or they'll use it to get into your accounts and move money from one bank account to another, and it's happening a lot,” Mare said.

One major way thieves are stealing data is from cell phones that aren't properly wiped clean. With new technologies coming to the market, more and more people are trading in their old phones for the newest gadgets at places like AT&T.

"We give them an AT&T promotional card, which they can use in the store toward the purchase of another device, purchase toward accessories, toward their phone bill, or they can even donate those proceeds towards our Phones for Soldiers program,” said AT&T Retail Sales Manager Yoan Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said recycling also keeps toxic chemicals out of landfills. When people come in to recycle, employees at the store restore the phones back to factory settings to make sure personal data is cleared.

"We send them back and they are discarded properly, so they are sent back and discarded in an e-friendly kind of way,” Rodriguez said.

Mare said going to a trusted company to recycle is the first step toward security. Before handing your phone over to a sales associate or someone you don't know, you should restore it yourself, Mare said.

"Because now he has access to your phone, he's copying the data over, and then he can be copying it to somewhere else. This is just one area where it could be a problem,” Mare said.

Before you restore you want to have your cell phone backed up, then make sure your phone has a secure passcode. Having this passcode requires you enter a pin every time you turn on your phone. This passcode adds encryption. Anyone attempting to recover data from your phone after you will need that special pin to decrypt it, and they won't have that key. Also, if your phone has an SD or SIM card, you should take those out of the phone before handing it over. Mare said if you don't follow all the proper steps your personal data is fair game.

"Everything from emails to text messages, Social Security numbers, bank account information, pass codes to get into bank accounts,” Mare said.

Mare said it isn't just old cell phones people are getting your data from; it could be from the one you're using now. Hackers can access your data while you use free Wi-Fi at places like restaurants, coffee shops, and the airport. What they do is open a connection labeled "internet" or "free Wi-Fi" pretending to be the legitimate site. Once you log into that site, that hacker then has access to all of your information.

"They can get it through Bluetooth, which is one of the ways to get through to it, Wi-Fi, or get access to it directly from the phone itself,” Mare said.”

Mare said it's best to make sure Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned off when you're not using your phone, along with the location services. Another great way to protect yourself is to keep your phone in your possession at all times.

Mare said you should change your passwords regularly and always have a different password for different sites.

Copyright 2014 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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