Lost your phone lately? You're not alone. In 2011 a phone-finder app company called Lookout located nine million misplaced smartphones worldwide. That's about one device every 3.5 seconds -- and that's just one company.

A lost or stolen phone could cost you more than a replacement fee, however. If you bank online or shop with your smartphone, or use it for business, then a misplaced mobile becomes a potential data breach.

Recently, technology security company Symantec did a study wherein 50 smartphones were intentionally "lost" in five major cities in the U.S. and Canada. Almost everyone (96 per cent) who found a phone accessed that phone, and 43 per cent tried to access the (phony) online banking, too.

It's essential that you protect your information and make a missing phone findable. Fortunately, these are simple fixes. They're probably even free.

* Bing: Cool things you didn't know your smartphone could do

Leaving your phone unprotected is asking for trouble. The 50 phones in the study contained fake information about online banking, social networking and corporate data. Here's what some of the finders did:

  • 83 per cent checked out corporate data.
  • 70 per cent accessed both corporate and personal information.
  • 43 per cent tried to access online banking.
  • 50 per cent contacted the "owners" to say they'd found the phones, but only 25 per cent offered outright to return them.

"The consequences of having no control over that device -- for example, to remotely lock or wipe it -- can be devastating," the study authors noted.

2 ways to protect yourself
The first step is to set up password protection on your phone. Sound elementary? You'd be surprised. Symantec spokesman Francis deSouza told Bloomberg Businessweek that many consumers use the same security on their smartphones as on their laptops -- that is, none at all.

A woman I met last year told me her iPhone had been taken at gunpoint. It was password-protected, which was probably why the teenaged thieves threw it away. Because the device had a phone-finder app, the victim's husband was able to track it to a clump of bushes not far from where it was stolen.

You need a phone-finder app, too. At least one, Find My iPhone, is included in the mobile's settings. Others can be downloaded, many for free.

Android users can download free apps like Where's My Droid? or Prey Anti-Theft. Features on both the Android and iPhone apps vary widely, from simply letting you know where the phone is (the apps use GPS) to allowing you to display a message on the screen so that whoever has the device knows you're looking for it. One app, Plan B, is a retrofit: You can download it after the phone goes missing.

My personal favorite is the chance to play a sound to locate the phone or to call attention to the thief. Of course, you may wind up startling that honest guy who's handing your phone to the coffeehouse manager.

Where, oh where, has my cellphone gone?
As noted earlier, some apps can remotely lock a phone or wipe out any data it contains. If your phone goes missing, lock it immediately.

What to do next depends on your situation. That robbery victim didn't have to erase the data because the phone was found so quickly. But if your device is at an unfamiliar address or even in a different city by the time you look, you might want to clean house.

Once you have an address you can also notify the police. "Somebody's got my phone" might be a low-priority complaint in a busy city, however.

Best-case scenario: The phone is actually behind the nightstand or wedged in between two couch cushions. You'll know as soon as the music starts or the car-alarm sound goes off.