⇑Your phone likely knows more about you than your closest friends, so why would you be careless with its security? How can you prepare for a lost or stolen phone? What can you do to track a missing device? How can you prevent a thief from stealing your information or reselling your phone? Find out in this step-by-step guide to preventing and surviving a lost phone.
Losing a phone isn’t just a monetary loss—it’s a huge headache that can lead to theft of your private information.
“I’ll Just Buy Another One”
Sure, you could just shell out money for another phone. What model do you use? Buying a phone out of contract (which you will almost certainly have to do without loss or theft insurance) can mean forking over close to a grand. Or, you could try out a great flip phone.
If you happen to have an emergency cell phone fund and hate paying monthly insurance, consider instead all of the personal information stored on your phone, including your:
- Financial information
Your phone is basically the passport to your life. With it, anyone can access the vast amount of information handily stored in one location.
Plus, if you’re one of those people who uses their phone to keep track of appointments and remember your grocery list, you’re going to lose out on a ton of productivity when it goes missing.
So, what can you do to prepare?
Preemptive Measures—The Best Defense
Thankfully, there’s a ton of ways you can protect your phone and its valuable contents.
Right off the bat: are you one of those people who still doesn’t use a password to secure your phone? If so, don’t come back to this article until you’ve locked down your device, whether it’s with a true password, a PIN, or a fingerprint scan. Most phones’ lock settings are found in Settings, then Security.
In fact, add another layer of security and password-protect any apps that you use to make purchases; most should have similar settings in their respective menus.
Plan ahead for a worst-case scenario and download an app like Lockwatch for Android, or Big Brother Cam Security for the iPhone. These programs will take a “theftie” pic of anyone who incorrectly guesses your password, which you can access from another computer.
We’ve already covered data backup here and here, but it bears repeating—better to be safe than sorry.
Turn on cloud storage through either Apple’s iCloud or Google Drive, or use a third-party service like Dropbox. If your phone is the primary place where you store files, especially pictures, you could lose out on countless memories if you aren’t careful.
Most phones will prompt you to activate automatic cloud uploads for pictures when using their remote storage services, but if you’re turned off by the possibility of cloud security breaches, you’ll have to decide whether your data is safer on your phone or stored remotely.
Thankfully, modern smart phones all possess advanced GPS capabilities that can be used in the event of a lost phone.
In addition, third-party apps can offer additional lock screen protection, allowing you to totally prevent thieves from powering off your device when enabled.
Almost done. Make sure your phone insurance covers more than just cracks and drops in the toilet. If it doesn’t also cover loss and theft, is it really worth it?
Also, make sure to write down your device’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI, used with AT&T and T-Mobile) or Mobile Device Identifier (MEID, used with Verizon and Sprint). This number has two purposes:
- Identify your phone
- Blacklist your phone
We’ll go into more detail in a bit, but for now, write down your IMEI/MEID number.
For iPhone users, you can dial * # 0 6 #, and the number will pop up on your screen. Starting with the iPhone 5, the IMEI can be found engraved on the back of your phone. For earlier models, the number is located on the SIM card tray.
As for Android phones, navigate to Settings, About phone, and Status, where the number will be listed.
Alternately, power down your device and remove the battery. The IMEI/MEID will be printed here, as well.
After The Loss—Plan of Attack
Your phone is really gone. Not just stuck in the couch, but gone. Act fast, and you may be able to retrieve it.
Now it’s time to engage your operating system’s lock and locate services (Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager). You can view where your phone is (as long as it’s on) and prevent anyone from unlocking it.
In addition, you may also display a phone number or message on your lock screen for people to contact you if they find the phone.
Remember, though, thieves can easily power down the device to prevent tracking. That’s where the additional lock screen measures come into play. Engage this line of defense to stop anyone from turning off the phone, so tracking can remain active until it loses power.
Contact the authorities, and give them information about your phone. Do not attempt to retrieve it yourself.
During the tracking process, it can also be easy to identify amateur thieves if they manage to unlock your phone and use it to upload pictures. If automatic picture uploads are enabled to your cloud storage drive, these careless pics can help locate the thief.
If the police are unable to help you, or the phone has already died, wipe your device remotely—but remember, this will make tracking impossible, so only use this option if you have little hope of retrieving the phone.
After making the decision to erase your data, it’s time to add your phone to the IMEI/MEID blacklist.
When placed on your carrier’s blacklist, your phone will immediately become completely useless to the thief, as it cannot be activated on the same mobile network. In addition, your carrier will soon extend the blacklist to every network.
If you somehow manage to recover your device after both wiping and blacklisting it, a quick data backup and verification with your mobile carrier can restore its settings and remove the network ban.
It’s worth mentioning that all mobile carriers are capable of tracking phones using the IMEI/MEID numbers—but good luck trying to get them to do so. Part of their business model relies on people buying more cell phones, and it’s not worth the time or effort to track your phone when, odds are, you’ll just buy another one.
You can probably see that it’s a whole lot easier to stop thefts from happening than it is to recover a lost or stolen phone. The easiest way to avoid this huge headache is to be aware of your surroundings. Keeping your eyes glued to the screen 24/7 makes you an easy target for thieves, and all of the apps in the world can’t stop you from carelessly leaving your phone at the checkout counter.