Smartphones contain a huge amount of information - and losing one is not just inconvenient, it puts you at risk of cyber crime, with a huge amount of information that is highly valuable to hi-tech thieves.
But losing a smartphone doesn't need to mean you're helpless - new apps can take pictures of would-be thieves, tell you where the phone is, and lock and delete data remotely.
Better still, some can be downloaded to the phone AFTER it goes missing - offering protection even for absent-minded phone users.
If yours does go missing, it’s essential that you can track your phone down, fast. Because whether you’ve simply dropped it or it’s been freed from your possession by some light-fingered thief, the faster you can track it the more likely you’ll get it back.
It’s worth remembering most of these apps are preventative and so need installing and setting up before your smartphone disappears (although Android does let you remotely install apps to help you find your phone, which is handy), and all will require you to have your location services enabled and GPS on.
Tracing your phone
Modern smartphones feature GPS locators and WiFi connectivity - features that mean your phone is visible to the online world, and as long as you have the right app downloaded and the phone is on and connected (via 3G or WiFi) you’ll be able to see where it is, accurate to a few metres.
Not only will you see it, but many apps will also let you lock it, send messages that display on the lock screen asking it to be returned and even wipe it should you have sensitive data you want to protect.
Remember though, if you do track your phone down and think it may have been pilfered, don’t charge in wildly! You never know who may have it, so it’s worth playing safe.
Apps to protect your Android phone
Android phones have a huge range of apps to choose from on Google Play, offering varying functionality depending on what you need.
Where’s my Droid is the original free Android tracker and boasts a host of features around its core Command feature, which lets you track its location online via Google Maps.
If you’ve just lost it down the sofa you can force the ringtone to sound and help you find it, or if further afield you can password protect apps so they can’t be edited and get notifications if the SIM or phone number is changed. Opt for the Pro version ($3.99/£2.53) and you can wipe any installed SD card or the whole phone and even take pictures using the phones camera - hopefully catching the thief red-handed.
Lookout is another free app that adds a few cool features. Alongside the phone find and map location, it will also email you a picture and the location of anyone who tries to unlock your phone.
There are also antivirus features that scan for and remove viruses and spyware from apps, emails and phone numbers, as well as a backup and restore service for your contacts. Upgrade to the $2.99 (£1.90) a month Premium package to remotely lock and wipe your phone, back up pictures and call history, and block dodgy URLs.
Finally, Plan B is a tracking app with a difference - download it to your phone AFTER it goes missing and it sends the location to the email address associated with your Google account.
Other helpful apps
iOS, PC, Mac
The GadgetTrak app sends its owner updates with its location - and can be instructed to take photos of thieves using an iPhone or laptop's camera. The locator will work via wi-fi and phone network if GPS is turned off.
Kaspersky Mobile Security Lite
Kaspersky's security suite allows users to find their phone via GPS once it's stolen, then wipe its email, text and Calendar data remotely or block it from being used. The paid-for version of Kaspersky's app will even work if the thief has changed the SIM card.
Free (requires subscription)
iOS, Android, PC
Norton's security suite - for Android and iPhone - includes a 'sneak peek' feature that lets users covertly take pictures of someone who has stolen their phone or tablet. Gadgets will also send their owners their current location, along with a list of recent locations.
Gotcha Pro Alarm System
A motion sensor sets off a deafening 30-second alarm if your iPhone is moved unexpectedly, even if it is in Sleep mode or locked - it can only be silenced by entering a PIN. Other such alarms will only work if the phone is 'On'. You can set a delay for the alarm, to save your own ears. If that isn't enough to put off thieves, the phone will also message you with a Google Maps link showing its location if it is stolen.
Find your Blackberry
If you’re about to invest in the shiny new but expensive BlackBerry Z10, you’ll want a piece of Blackberry Protect. Luckily it’s already built into the Blackberry 10 OS (and is available as a free app if you’re running Blackberry 7 or earlier).
Protect splits into four categories covering familiar territory. Just log in with your BBID to protect.blackberry.com site and you can remotely lock and wipe your phone and SD card; locate it on a map and send a message for whoever may find it; back up your contacts, text messages, calendar and bookmarks with automatic updates; and when it’s time for a new phone, auto restore your settings, contacts and calendars to the new model.
Find your iPhone
Apple’s answer to the lost quandary is the free Find My iPhone that works in conjunction with iCloud. Sign in on your phone, iPad or computer using your Apple ID and you can remotely locate any of your registered Apple gadgets – just remember to enable the app and make sure your location services are on.
New features include showing remaining battery life and a new Lock Mode that sends a passcode lock to the missing device and then tracks its every movement so you can see where it’s been and where it’s going.
Find your Windows phone
Perhaps the simplest security solution of all the smartphone brands is the My Windows Phone service. Simply sign up to the Find My Phone service using your Windows account details, make sure your location settings are enabled on your phone and you can find it any time windowsphone.com.
You’ll be able to track it on a map, force it to ring, send it a message to display and of course remotely lock and wipe it should you think it’s not coming back.
What to do if you CAN'T find your phone
Of course being able to find your phone after it’s lost or stolen is great, but apart from simply looking after it well there are other measures worth taking.
Register at Immobilise, the national property register that immediately alerts the police, insurers and second hand traders and makes it simpler to claim on your insurance. It’s free too.
If the worst does happen and your phone is stolen, report it to the police immediately and tell your network provider and insurer. Without that police report and crime number, you won’t be able to make a claim and insurers often require the report to be made within 24 or 48 hours.