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Lost Cellphones Added Up Fast in 2011

Americans lost about $30 billion worth of mobile phones last year, says a new industry report.

A pile of old cellular phones.
AP
A pile of old cellular phones.

More phones were lost in Philadelphia than any other U.S. city, says the report by mobile security firm Lookout Labs. The company based its findings on data from 15 million users who downloaded its app that locates lost devices.

San Franciscans and New Yorkers lose their phones three times more often than Chicagoans, it says. Top five cities in the U.S. for phone loss during 2011 were Philadelphia, Seattle, Oakland, Long Beach and Newark.

The study points out that four of the 10 cities with the highest rates of lost and stolen phones — Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland and Newark — also were among the 10 cities with the highest crime rates.

Last year, Lookout's app located 9 million lost smartphones, or one phone every 3.5 seconds. Based on the sample data, Lookout concludes Americans lose a phone, on average, once a year.

"Each day, $7 million worth of phones are lost by Lookout users alone, and if unrecovered, it would take a significant toll not only on our wallets, but on our psyche, too," says Kevin Mahaffey, co-founder of Lookout.

People are most likely to lose their phone at night. A large majority of lost phones — 67 percent — are located between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Phones were most often lost at coffee shops, bars, workplaces and restaurants. In New York City, fast-food restaurants topped the list of places where phones are most likely to be lost. In San Francisco, coffee shops topped the list.

Losing a phone can be a costly experience beyond the $200 to $300 it typically costs to replace the hardware. With so many users failing to use a password to gain access to their phone, personal contacts, e-mail, social-media accounts and other sensitive information are just a few taps away, says Kevin Haley, a product management director at security software development firm Symantec .

Only about half of lost phones are returned, he says, citing a recent Symantec trial that placed and tracked "lost" phones in several North American cities. Nearly all who found the lost phones tried to access the information on the phone, he says. "Once people find the phone, curiousity gets the better of them," Haley says. "Everyone needs to put a password on the phone. You don't even have to go buy an app. Some operating systems have the (feature)."

According to a survey last year by data security firm Sophos, 22 percent of respondents have lost their phones, while 70 percent didn't use password protection.

Apple's iOS has an app, Find my iPhone, that allows users or corporate administrators to remotely lock or reset the phone's password and wipe data remotely. Google's Android has a similar feature. With many Android services linked to your Google account, experts recommend changing your Google account password immediately when you lose your phone. Other third-party apps can also help wipe data remotely.

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