NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — When it comes to cell phones in America, the numbers tell the story.

Around 78 percent of adults say they own a cell phone, and use them for everything from texting to banking, shopping and everything in between, CBS2’s Chris Wragge reported.

Collectively, Americans use up to 9.6 trillion megabytes of data, spend 2.9 million minutes talking on the phone, and send up to 1.9 trillion text messages.

“The current phone of today is more powerful than the laptop of eight years ago,” Dr. Anthony Serapiglia, Asst. Professor of Computing and Information Systems at St. Vincent College, said.

But when you give away your old cell phone, you may be handing over a lot of your personal information — even if you think you’ve cleared your phone.

“It is a treasure trove for identity theft,” Serapiglia said.

At St. Vincent College, Serapiglia and his students examined old cell phones to see if they could uncover any information left behind.

“We found a lot of text messages, conversations, personal items, even Snapchat — things that you think are going to be gone,” Serapiglia said.

One damaged iPhone turned out to be filled with illegal activity.

“It had text messages of drug deals, prostitution and gambling,” Serapiglia said, “It was as plain as day and clear as a bell, even including pictures.”

Serapiglia was also able to extract data from another old cell phone that revealed photos from the previous user. With a simple Google and Facebook search, Serapiglia was able to piece together the previous owner’s name, birthday, address and even the previous owner’s wife’s name.

“Thieves are trying to build a story around you so that they can impersonate you, so they can open accounts in your name,” Serapiglia said.

Using software available to anyone, Serapiglia and his students scanned phones purchased from Goodwill. All of the phones were sold in bulk online. Of the 80 phones they purchased, 47 of them had useful information.

So before you ever give your phone away or trade it in, there are steps you can take to try to wipe it clean.

“For most people, a simple factory reset will take care of the problem,” Serapiglia said.

And before you do that, be sure to remove your phone’s SIM or SD card and encrypt your data.

Clearing your phone of information should take you around five minutes.