Smartphone identity theft: Too many apps for that

The rise in identity theft in 2011 has been linked to careless consumer use of smarphones.

Whether you leave it on a table, browse on public Wi-Fi networks at Starbucks or download a seemingly harmless gaming app, smartphone users are putting themselves at risk of a data breach everyday.

Javelin Strategy & Research reports 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2011, which was a 13 percent increase from 2010. The firm found smartphone owners are 33 percent more likely to become victims than the general public due to "careless consumer usage."

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"You can't guarantee right now, if you have your cellphone on you, that someone doesn't have access to it," said Seth Powless, University of Toledo IT lecturer. "I have never met an IT professional who could guarantee me that someone isn't listening in on my phone, more importantly though, 'listening in' on my text messages or on my typing."

Watch: What to do if you become a victim of smartphone identity theft

From failing to set up a phone password to accessing bank accounts on unsecure networks, cyber crooks and hackers are preying on everyday consumers who just don't have a clue. But University of Toledo cyber law professor Llew Gibbons says these users face more consequences than just losing their identity.

"If your cell phone is not locked, if it's not encrypt, you do not have anti-malware software and all someone has to do is double click and have this information... If I was a bank or financial institution or a merchant, and I'd been ripped off by your negligence by not taking reasonable measures, then I might counter by suing the consumer, rather than being sued as the merchant for the data loss." he said.

Watch: Consequences of being a smartphone identity victim

Protecting your phone is easier than you'd think. Enrolling in a data wiping program that can be accessed from a computer if you lose your phone, plugging your phone into a USB drive on your computer and running a virus scanner, deleting unused apps, adding a password lock and not opening suspicious links are a few simple steps.

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"The scammers are looking for those who are on the go quite a bit, they're looking for people who are distracted, who are looking at something," said Gallon, Takacs, Boissoneualt & Schaffer attorney Michael Dansack. "You've got to guard your driver's license number, your date of birth, any of that personal information you wouldn't give out through traditional sources. And if you're divulging personal financial information, you're just asking for problems."

View: Smartphone identity theft raw interviews