Not more than a decade ago, losing your phone wasn't the catastrophe that it is today. In 2012, losing your phone is right up there with losing your wallet. Losing your phone may put your finances at risk as well as making you an easier target for identity theft. Here's what you should do if you lose your phone.

Use the App
If you have an iPhone, you likely know about the "Find my iPhone" app that allows you to find the location of your phone from another Apple device like an iPad or your spouse's or friend's phone. Other phones have similar GPS-based apps.

Call Your Phone
If the app reveals an unfamiliar place or you didn't have it set up, call your phone. Somebody may have found it and will gladly return it to you. You may also find that it fell behind your bed or in between cushions. If your phone was stolen, it's not likely that you'll get an answer, but it's worth attempting.

Call the Carrier
If you still fail to locate your phone, call your carrier. Tell the company that your phone is lost or stolen and you would like all features disabled and all data removed from your phone. This will lock your phone from being used if it was stolen.

The Police
If you know your phone was stolen, report it to the police. They're not going to launch an investigation to find it, but your carrier will likely require a police report if you have phone insurance.

Preventative Steps
As the cliché goes, the best defense is a great offense. Taking steps to protect yourself before you lose your phone will save you at least some headaches later. First, use the password feature on your phone. According to a Javelin Strategy & Research study, only 38% of cell phone owners use the password feature on their phone. Use it and make the password something difficult to guess. The combination "1234" isn't going to fool many thieves. Also, use password features that are found on finance apps like mint.com. This provides two layers of password protection.

Next, log out of your apps. Your bank app may seem obvious, but how about Facebook? It might not seem like a place where a thief could find important information about you, but they may use it to quickly find your mother's maiden name which is still used as a security feature by many customer service lines. Finally, back up your data regularly. Sync your phone with your laptop or cloud service. If your phone is lost or stolen, being able to quickly recover your data is essential to getting back to a normal life.

The Bottom Line
Losing your phone is more than a simple inconvenience. Smartphones may contain data about your finances as well as other sensitive information. While you still have your phone, take preventative steps to minimize the damage should you lose your phone. If you do lose it, don't wait to see if it turns up. The sooner you instruct your carrier to lock your phone, the better protected you will be from large-scale financial damage.

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