Over the past four years, Chelsey Lutz, 25, a blogger in NYC, has lost her iPhone seven times. "I usually leave it in cabs," she says. Somehow, the phone always finds its way back.
Lady Luck has been on Lutz's side. For many others who are less fortunate, lost phones not only mean a loss of money and banking or personal credential items, which will need replacing, but a risk that private photos and financial and banking details may be pried (or hacked) into. And there are plenty of those falling into the less lucky group.
Lookout Inc., which makes the Lookout mobile phone-recovery application for Androids and iPhones, found that nine million of its more than 15 million users lost their mobile phones in 2011. These were lost most frequently between 9:00 pm and 2:00 am, in coffee shops, bars, restaurants and offices, Lookout said.
Among just the company's app users, lost phones were valued at an average of about $7 million a day. Lookout extrapolated that figure to all U.S. mobile phone users for a potential replacement cost of $30 billion a year if those phones weren't recovered. Many of those phones, of course, do get returned or turn up, said Lookout, which is studying recovery rates.
"If you're out and around, there's just a higher likelihood of misplacing your phone," says Ayan Mandal, director of products at Lookout, adding that the sheer volume of people losing their phones was striking. Loss reports jump, for example, following festivals, sporting events and other large gatherings, Mandal says.
To glean some insight into the fate of lost phones, the data security company Symantec Corp planted 50 "lost" phones, 10 each in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Ottawa, and learned that seven out of 10 people who found them attempted to access stored photos, more than half tried to read a spreadsheet call "HR Salaries," and 43 percent tried to use an online banking app. "Clearly that's not someone trying to find out who the owner of the phone is," says John Engels, principal product manager with Symantec's enterprise mobility group.
The first precaution any smartphone user should take to protect their information against phone theft or loss is to set a password for the home screen, says Alicia diVittorio, consumer safety advocate for Lookout.