A global survey of 900 taxi drivers shows thousands of mobile devices - phones, Pocket PCs and laptops - are forgotten in taxis every day. However, most do get them back.

In the last six months in London alone, a staggering 63,135 mobile phones (that's an average of three phones per taxi), 5,838 Pocket PCs and 4,973 laptops have been left in licensed taxi cabs.

As a result, businesses and individuals are being urged to use the password and encryption facilities available on the recent crop of high memory capacity mobile smartphones, in order to protect the sensitive information held on them. In addition to the loss of the hardware, much time and money is spent retrieving them.

These figures are, said Pointsec, alarming because there has been a sharp increase in the number of powerful, executive-focused mobile devices being forgotten in London taxis in the three and half years since the survey was first carried out. Seventy-one per cent more laptops and 350 per cent more Pocket PCs are being left than in 2001.

In the wrong hands, these could cause the owner and their company immeasurable damage. In fact, Pointsec reckons mobile users are in a worse position now because they are far more reliant on using their mobile devices to store massive amounts of sensitive information, with very few concerned about backing it up or protecting it.

Magnus Ahlberg MD of Pointsec said, "It is alarming to see that the problem of losing mobile devices has accelerated so dramatically since 2001, with more people than ever losing their mobile devices in transit.

The company advises mobile users to talk to their IT department about taking responsibility for security, this way responsibility can be taken by enterprise systems. Legislation is becoming more specific in this area, said Pointsec, and the Data Protection Act may apply, so there is a good chance we will soon see legal action taken against individuals and organisations that do not protect information that they store on other people.

However, an average of 80 per cent of passengers were reunited with their mobile phones and 96 per cent with their Pocket PCs and laptops - with the cab drivers in almost all cases tracking down their owners.

Survey details
The survey in London was conducted by TAXI, the taxi drivers' association magazine, and mobile security company Pointsec. Licensed taxi drivers were asked to gauge the frequency and ease with which small mobile devices are lost in transit, with the aim of highlighting the need to secure sensitive, valuable or compromising information with encryption and access control.

A warning message to the business community and individuals to be vigilant when travelling with their mobile devices has never been more relevant, especially as more people than every before are using the latest mobile smartphones to store sensitive personal and business information.

Many of these devices now have a standard memory capacity of 80MB, enabling users to store 6,000 word documents, 720,000 emails, 360,000 contact details or a staggering 7,200 pictures.

Long gone are the days when it was just inconvenient to lose your phone and embarrassing if your friends got an odd call from a stranger. These newer devices can give a thief access to every detail of your personal life and compromise the security of your employer's IT security or give access to their commercial data.

The unscrupulous can steal this information and assume the identity of the user both in their personal or business life; according to the Home Office, identity theft is now the fastest growing crime and costs the UK in excess of £1.3 billion a year.

Global problem
Losing mobile devices is not a problem unique to London travellers, but a worldwide phenomenon.

The survey has been carried out in nine major cities around the world amongst 900 licensed taxi drivers, including London, Helsinki, Oslo, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Chicago and Sydney and has shown that mobile devices are left at the back of taxis everywhere.

Londoners did, however, top the charts when it came to forgetting their laptops, with more than double the number of laptops being left in the back of London taxis compared with other cities.

The Danes were the most forgetful when it came to forgetting their mobile phones, in fact seven times more likely than the Germans, Norwegians and Swedes.

In Chicago, USA, the mobile device most likely to be left behind were Pocket PCs, with one taxi driver reporting finding 40 in his taxi in the past six months!

However, the case was very different in Australia, with only 46 per cent of laid-back passengers bothering to reclaim their mobiles and only 18 per cent ever retrieving their laptops.