Carrying memory sticks around in pockets can lead to data loss, according to results of a survey that found 4,500 of the USB devices were absentmindedly left in clothing sent to the cleaners last year in the UK.

Results of the survey of 100 dry cleaners across the country indicated that just half as many of the storage devices were left in 2009 than in 2008, but that doesn't mean people are getting better about remembering them.

Instead, it indicates that people are using other devices, notebooks, smartphones or other handhelds, to carry data around with them, says Credant Technologies, the security firm that commissioned the study.

The numbers in this survey pale compared to those the company came up with in earlier studies about laptops, smartphones and memory sticks left in taxis, 12,500 every six months.

Despite the dropping cost of these sticks, leaving them in dirty laundry for the cleaner to find could be costly, at least in the United Kingdom, which has an Information Commissioner who can fine companies if these losses run afoul of the country's Data Protection Act. Starting in April, the penalty can be as much as £500 if the data loss amounts to a major security breach.

Credant recommends enforcement of data policies to limit the amount of data removed from corporate networks, and encryption of data that is allowed to leave.