How to Make Your Phone (mostly) Worthless to a Thief

BY Beth Williams

What steps should you take if your smartphone gets lost or stolen? Report the theft to police and immediately contact the wireless provider to suspend service, experts and carrier company reps said. A number of apps can be downloaded to find lost phones or activate the remote wipe feature to clear the phone of all important personal information. Those tracking services have to be set up before the phone is lost or stolen. For example, Apple’s MobileMe customers can use the Find My iPhone feature to find the phone on a map on a computer, send a message that will appear on the screen or play an audio alert.

The phone can be programmed by the user who set the passcode to erase data and disable itself after a certain number of incorrect attempts at the passcode.

Cell phone owners can get their smartphone blacklisted, which will stop the phone from connecting to a network.  If you get your phone blacklisted, then that phone will no longer work with the carrier no matter how hard that thief tries. To do that, contact the carrier, which has a unique identification number for every phone on its system. In advance, cell phone owners should keep track of the that number–called an IMEI number on AT&T and T-Mobile phones, or the ESN or MEID numbers with Sprint, Verizon and U.S. Cellular phones.

Blacklisting only affects connectivity to one network. It does not make the hardware inoperable. The phone’s other features, such as the camera, could still work if it is blacklisted.  Therefore, it’s important to remotely wipe the phone before blacklisting it. The phone has to be connected to the network to have the data wiped. Even if the phone is blacklisted, the thief could still see your contacts, read old e-mails and look at pictures if it is not wiped. The new user could put in a new SIM card, but the phone won’t work if the SIM connects to a blacklisted network.

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