Be savvy when it comes to holding on to your smart phone

Millions of phones are lost or stolen each year. Here’s where they go missing.

Published: May 10, 2014 06:00 AM

A projected 3.1 million smart phones were stolen in 2013, according to data from the Consumer Reports National Research Center, and such crimes are on the rise, according to recent police data reported by The Huffington Post.

But crooks aren’t to blame for most smart phones that go missing—owners are. A staggering 70 percent of people have lost a cell phone or other mobile device, according to a global study by Mozy, a Seattle data-protection firm. Only 18 percent of those gadgets were reported stolen.

You can’t predict where or when you’ll lose a phone, but there are peak periods, according to Mozy: Commuter hours—8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.—are peak times. July and December are peak months. And Fridays and Saturdays are peak days.

Here are the places, behaviors, and actions that play prominent roles in lost or stolen devices.

Public transportation

Buses, subways, commuter railroads, and taxis are collectively are the most likely places that people and their devices part ways. To keep your smart phone from disappearing, don’t place it on an empty seat next to you, and before you prepare to get off public transport, stow it safely in clothing or in your briefcase, backpack, or pocketbook.

Airports and airplanes

Airports are crowded, and it’s common for travelers to be distracted and weighed down with stuff. This combination creates the perfect situation for a phone to be lost or stolen. Leaving it at the security check-in or in the seat pocket on the plane are common ways that people lose phones.

Restaurants and bars

Many of customers treat restaurant tables like a desk, leaving the phone or tablet strewn about. Bad idea if you don’t want to leave it behind or have it grabbed by sticky fingers (not to mention spill a glass of water on it). Jesus Chavez, a visitor to the Consumer Reports Facebook page, shared his experience at a bar. “I had my phone inside my jacket, I placed the jacket over a chair as I was about to start playing pool,” he wrote. After the game, the phone was gone. Lesson: When holding your phone interferes with another activity, put it in a pocket in clothing you are wearing or get a trustworthy companion to hold it for you.

Retail establishments

Ever place your phone on the counter at the cash register, or take it with you into a dressing room? Those are two typical spots for people to leave it or have it swiped.

Public bathrooms

People told us they’ve left their phones on the toilet-paper dispenser or on the sink counter in a public restroom. (Tip: Think twice about keeping your phone in the back pocket of a pair of pants. Your phone could take a dive into the toilet, leaving you to fish it out and, possibly, requiring a replacement.)

School property

Students leave phones behind in the cafeteria or on a playing field or school bus, or the phones are stolen from lockers.

Amusement parks

Phones fly from roller coasters and take dives into water attractions. Entrust your phone to your scaredy-cat friend who’s waiting for you on the ground. Or get a durable waterproof pouch that you can secure to your body and keep your phone there throughout the day.

Hood or roof of a car

Setting your phone on the roof or hood of the car while you strap your kid into the car seat, load the groceries, or take off your jacket is a common mistake. You might not notice the phone is gone until you reached your next destination, and if you remember before then, you might find your phone sitting damaged on the road or in a parking lot. One colleague said that he doesn’t start driving until he sees that his phone is connected to the car’s built-in Bluetooth—that way he’s sure he hasn’t left it sitting on the desk in his office.

—Susan Feinstein

Whether your device was lost or stolen, check our smart phone buying guide and Ratings before you buy a new phone.

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