Losing your cell phone is a bummer, period. Unfortunately for Floridians, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa rank among the top 20 metropolitan areas when it comes to lost or stolen cell phones, according to a new market-research survey.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area topped the list with more than half of respondents - 52 percent - of the Norton Mobile Survey, indicating they have either misplaced a cell phone or had one taken.
New York and Los Angeles ranked second and third with 49 percent and 44 percent, respectively; Tampa-St. Petersberg and Orlando-Daytona Beach ranked 10th and 14th, with 36 percent and 34 percent. Nationally, more than one and three people - 36 percent - lose contact with their mobile device.
A lot of hassle, worry and emotional pain comes with losing a cell phone, along with addresses, phone numbers, photos, banking information and other personal data many people pack into these ubiquitous devices. And for more advanced cell phone-atics, a lost device could mean someone finding and accessing your Facebook, Twitter and PayPal accounts.
The good news is there is plenty you can do to prevent cell phone loss and to deal with it when the worst happens. Oh, the humanity.
"When someone loses their cell phone there is this visceral experience. When their device is missing, they leave it in a cab or someone steals it, the level of panic is unusual compared to other things we may lose," said Mark Kanok, group product manager for Silicon Valley-based Symantec, which paid for the Norton Mobile Survey.
Symantec, the maker of Norton antivirus, anti-spyware and phishing protection software, is the largest maker of computer security software. The company commissioned the survey of 3,017 respondents, which was conducted in September.
"People get frustrated, they feel a sense of helplessness, confusion," Kanok said. "Most people don't know they have options."
Although Symantec has an interest in spreading the word about its survey and tech security, its findings – and the advice of Kanok and other security experts -- should be heeded.
What you can do:
Use the PIN or password feature of your phone to keep personal information, well…personal. Just about every cell phone offers a basic lockdown feature that blocks anyone from using the phone without knowing the PIN number or password. Some Android phones even allow you to set up a pattern - like anX - you draw on the touch screen to unlock the phone and access its data.
Beware free and/or strange apps. App designers must get approval from Apple before they offer apps to iPhone users. But nobody vets Android apps, which means they can be laden with malware, spyware and worse. Google yanked 21 free popular apps from the Android Market earlier this month because they secretly stole available data on users' smart phones and allowed for more malware to be downloaded. The list of titles included Falling Down, Super Guitar Solo, Chess, Photo Editor, Super History Eraser, Hot Sexy Videos, Falling Ball Dodge, Dice Roller, Funny Paint and Spider Man.
Kanok warns about using apps that request information about your location or permission to use your cell phone's camera or microphone. "Giving permission would be opportune if I want to spy on you," he said.
fonefindr.com is free and works very well. Lose your phone, find a computer and go to http://www.fonefindr.com. Type in your phone number and it will automatically call your phone; you can even set it to ring immediately or in 30 seconds or 1 minute, buying you time to walk around and search while you listen for the ring tone.
Consider software protection: Some of it is free, some it will cost you, but usually not much considering what is at stake here. Here are some options:
Norton Mobile Security 1.5 app for Android users is free in beta version. But don't count on it being available forever. Sorry, no version yet for iPhone, Blackberry. Available: Android Market at https://market.android.com/. Among its features is the ability for a remote wipe, which deletes the following data: contacts, SMS, call history, browser bookmarks, browser history, and SD card.
Lookout app for Android, Blackerry users, free. The Find My Phone feature helps locate your phone on a map and also sets off a loud alarm to help you find it when you're nearby. Available: Android Market, Blackberry App World.
McAfee WaveSecure -- for Blackberry, Android, Windows Phone, Java and Symbian OS users -- costs about $20 for one year. Check out the free 7-day trial. Features allow you to lock your phone remotely from another device or computer - or wipe your personal data so nobody can access it. It also backs up your data remotely online and allows you to restore in on another device. Available: https://www.wavesecure.com/. (Note the "s" secure Web designation in the URL address.)
MobileMe service is offered by Apple for $99 per year to iPhone users. It allows you to locate your phone on a map using another mobile device with a browser or a computer. I checked it out and was able to locate my phone down to the correct street name. This won't help you find an iPhone in a closet or sofa cushion, but at least you can determine whether it is at home, the office of the restaurant you just left. Avaialble: http://www.apple.com/mobileme or call 800-MY-APPLE.
email@example.com or 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686. Daniel Vasquez' condo column runs Wednesdays in Your Money and at SunSentinel.com/condos. Check out Daniel's Condos & HOAs blog for news, information and tips related to life in community associations at SunSentinel.com/condoblog. You can also read his consumer column Mondays in Your Money and at sunsentinel.com/vasquez.