Here’s the bad news: at some point, your smartphone is likely to go missing. Whether it falls out of your pocket in a cab or you leave it unattended in a public place for a few seconds, only to have it swiped by someone with sticky fingers, your phone is vulnerable.

And misplacing your gear or having it stolen is more than just a hassle or a financial loss. Given the amount of information that people store on mobile computing devices, losing a gadget may very well mean not only losing your files, contacts and photos, but also seeing your identity stolen.

So what can you do? Start by following these simple steps before your smartphone goes AWOL. Although we can’t guarantee that you’ll get your missing phone, laptop or tablet back, we can at least help you ensure that no unauthorised person starts peeking at your most personal details, and we can help you increase the odds that your gadget will return to you.

Preventive protection

Security apps such as Find My iPhone can show you the whereabouts of a mislaid device, allowing you to hunt it down, or give it up for dead

Use a password Needing to enter a password whenever you use your phone may seem inconvenient, but you’ll appreciate having taken the precaution should the device fall into the wrong hands.

On iOS, you can assign a four-digit PIN to keep your iPad or iPhone from being unlocked easily. Go to the ‘Settings’ app. You’ll find the option to set a PIN under ‘General’, then ‘Passcode Lock’.

Remember not to choose an excessively simple PIN like 0000 or 1234.

Use security software Even though PINs, patterns and passwords are a good first line of defence, you’ll need much more to keep your data safe. In fact, one of the first things you should do when you purchase a new phone is to install a mobile security suite.

Security apps for iOS are a bit limited, but they are out there. Firstly, we recommend that you install the Find My iPhone app on all of your iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches. After installing the app, you can use your Apple ID to sign in to Me.com, which will open to a map showing your iOS device’s approximate location, as well as options for displaying a message on the lost hardware, remotely locking it or remotely wiping it. Find My iPhone does require a little setup, but operation is straightforward once you have it working.

The only drawback to Find My iPhone is that it’s easy to disable. Your best bet is to follow our earlier advice and set up a PIN on your device to prevent people from getting into it and uninstalling the security app.

Label your device If you’re feeling optimistic that your smartphone will fall into the hands of a person with a conscience, you can use a service such as TagBak (www.tagbak.co.uk), BoomerangIt (www.boomerangit.com) or StuffBak (www.stuffbak.com). With these services, you attach a coded label to your device; this encourages anyone who finds it to go to the website and follow the instructions to report the recovered item. You can also stipulate a monetary reward on the label, which should improve the odds.

Back up your data frequently Every time you sync your iPhone or iPad to iTunes, you create a backup of your device on your computer. The backups contain all of your app data, as well as your settings, pictures, music, movies and books.

Consequently, restoring an iDevice is as easy as plugging it in and selecting Restore. If you’ve downloaded iOS 5, it should automatically sync your phone or tablet via iCloud, Apple’s personal online storage service.

Recovering a lost iPhone

Registering your device with a website such as TagBak increases the chances of it being returned to you if lost, especially if you offer a cash reward

If the worst does happen and you lose your phone or tablet, don’t panic. Just take a deep breath, then follow these steps to hunt it down and protect yourself.

Change all of your passwords This is the very first thing you should do after losing any device containing valuable data. Start with your email password – once thieves have access to your email, they can easily break into all of your other online accounts by resetting your various website passwords.

File a police report Once you have changed your account passwords, file a police report for your missing tech. Be sure to mention any identifying features (engravings or other customisations), as they will help other people recognise your device. You might also want to alert any local pawnshops in case someone tries to sell it, though this step will be time-consuming.

Track your gadget If you have installed recovery software on your gear, activate it and use it to determine your device’s location. For most tracking products, this means logging on at the service’s website and tracking your wayward smartphone via the control panel. At this point, it’s entirely up to you whether to pursue your device or just give it up for lost and wipe it remotely. On iOS, a remote wipe will erase all content on the device.

Giving up and starting again with a new phone

Tapping in a passcode can be a hassle, but if you lose your iPhone, you’ll be glad you set one

If, despite following our suggestions, you’ve lost your valuable mobile tech and you’re resigned to the fact that the device will never come back to you, then it’s time to start all over again from scratch.

Fortunately, securing a new smartphone will be a relatively quick and painless affair. But even before you begin setting up your new device and installing the apps we recommend elsewhere in this article, consider taking two actions.

Contact your carrier Make sure that your wireless carrier has deactivated or locked your SIM card. This move will prevent other people from simply pulling the card out of your locked device, inserting it into their own, and then shamelessly racking up charges to your account. Be sure to explain to your carrier that your device was stolen; it may be helpful to supply a copy of the police report you filed, in case you need to dispute any charges.

Keep an eye on your financial statements If evil-doers succeeded in rummaging through your data before you could wipe or lock your device, they may have snagged some of your personal financial information. If you did any online banking or shopping on the lost device, change the passwords for those accounts immediately. Check your credit reports by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, and be ready to put out a fraud alert at the first sign of trouble. You might also wish to cancel any credit cards that you used on the device, as they may have been compromised.

So get to it!  Something as simple as downloading and installing a basic security program or locking your phone doesn’t take much effort. And you never know: a cheap app could end up saving you thousands in the long run.