What To Do if Your Phone is Stolen
A reader asks: 'Yesterday I lost my smartphone in a taxi cab, and have not been able to recover it. Before I get a new one, are there any tricks I can try to locate a stolen phone? And for the future, what options do I have BEFORE a phone is lost, that will help me get it back?'
Help, I Lost My Phone!
If you came looking for an article like this you probably want the answer right now. So I will save the why’s and wherefore’s until later; here is what to do when your phone is lost or stolen:
If it’s an Android phone, immediately try to locate the phone using the built-in Android Device Manager. Is some cases this will work even if you have not previously set up your phone to use Device Manager. You can access Device Manager via Google’s web interface and locate a phone you own via its GPS location data.
If your device is turned on and can be reached via cellular or wifi signal, its location will appear on a Google map. You can also make it ring, lock the device, or remotely wipe all data with a factory reset. Use the latter option as a last resort, because it can't be undone, and it will permanently erase all your apps, photos, music, settings, etc.
If you have an Apple iPhone, you can use the Find My iPhone service via a Web browser, if you have configured the Find My iPhone app on your device. Find My iPhone will display the current location of your iPhone on a map, and also where it's been. You can optionally lock your phone and make it display a contact number that can be called from the Lock Screen. The remote erase feature wipes everything, but you can restore from an iCloud backup.
You should know up front that if your phone is turned off, if the battery has died, or if you lost your phone while hiking in a remote area, your chances of recovery are slim to none. Your phone must be able to receive both cellular and GPS signals, in order for these phone locator services to work.
Hey, Are You the Guy That Stole My Phone?
Yes, it's low-tech, but you can try calling the phone. Texting a plea for the phone's return, along with a financial incentive, is another tactic you can try. This may attract a Good Samaritan who will return a lost phone, or it may get the thief on the line. The latter situation can be dangerous.
Never agree to meet a thief to exchange money for phone at your home or in an unsafe location. Perhaps you could persuade a police officer that's a friend to come along in plain clothes. At the very least, arrange such a meeting in a very public place where there are obvious security cameras. Do not let impatience lead you into a potentially dangerous situation. You might get hurt; you might even go to jail instead of the thief.
If you have insurance against theft, the better course would be to avoid a risky meetup, contact your mobile carrier or insurance agent, and get a new phone. See my related article: SCAM ALERT: Mobile Device Insurance and Extended Warranties.
If you're sure your phone is gone for good, contact your phone carrier and deactivate the phone’s access to the network, preventing calls to Ukraine and other expensive use of your lost or stolen property. Ask your carrier if it can remotely deactivate or “brick” your phone so that a thief can’t just slap in a new SIM card and continue using it. Not all carriers will do this and a given phone model may not support it.
File a police report. Documenting the theft is important in case the phone turns up in someone else’s hand later. Make sure the report includes unique identifying information such as the phone’s serial number or its phone number.
An Ounce of Prevention
That’s the emergency advice. Before your phone is lost or stolen there are steps you can take to make recovering it or rendering it useless to a thief easier.
First, set a screen password or short PIN. It’s a pain but so is pausing to unlock the front door of your home. The Lock Screen is a friend for which you'll instantly be grateful, the moment you realize your phone is missing.
Another free option for lost phones, laptops and tablets is Prey, a tiny software agent that silently waits for a remote signal via the Internet or text message. When Prey activates, it will gather info on the location and status of your device, and optionally trigger certain actions on it. You can remotely sound a loud alarm, snap a picture, lock down the device, or monitor what the stolen phone is doing online.
Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint all offer optional paid services to locate lost phones, but why bother paying an extra $5-$10 per month when you can get the same thing for free?
Your thoughts on dealing with lost or stolen mobile phones are welcome! Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 4 Dec 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- What To Do if Your Phone is Stolen (Posted: 4 Dec 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved