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Happy ‘Data Privacy Day,’ Now Lock Your Cellphone

No one plans to lose their cellphone, but if it happens and the phone isn't locked, the consequences can be devastating.

Consumer Reports estimates that about 4.5 million cellphones were lost or stolen last year. The magazine's national survey of smartphone owners found that one-third did not take any precautions to protect their phone and the data on it.

Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center, says leaving your phone unlocked increases the odds that bad things will happen if someone gets a hold of that device.

"If there's a banking app on that phone, a thief now knows where you bank. If there are shopping apps, they can use it to make purchases on your credit card," she explained.

Privacy advocates are alarmed by the lack of concern for cellphone security. On this Data Privacy Day, Jan. 28, they are urging people to lock their phones and reduce their chances of becoming a victim.

"It's really not that much of an inconvenience to lock your phone, especially when you think of the damage that could be done if somebody got a hold of it and could access everything on it," said Beth Givens, executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

While a 4-digit PIN code is a good start, Consumer Reports notes that a longer code will "buy you lots more protection" because it takes much longer to crack.

Another smart step is to install software that can locate that phone and remotely erase its contents. The iPhone comes with Find My iPhone. There are a variety of free security apps for Android phones. Many come with anti-virus protection.

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit The ConsumerMan website.