What to Do When You Lose Your Cell Phone

BY Ellen

Having your cell phone stolen or simply losing it is quickly becoming a very common issue, and we have all been there.  You know the drill, you go to reach for your phone, and it’s not where it usually is. You look for it all over and you can’t find it.  That’s when you get that sudden heart-stopping realization that we don’t know where our cell phone is and quickly start to think about all of the problems you are going to have to deal with because it’s not just the loss of a communications device, which in itself is a mere annoyance and inconvenience.   It’s knowing that someone else has access to all of your data, passwords, and other information that can significantly impact your digital life if the thief even starts to consider identity theft with the info they now have access to.

You also have to keep this in mind, that if you lost your phone, you have a lot better chance of getting it back, where alternately, if it’s stolen, the chances can go down significantly – but on the flip side, If your phone did indeed get stolen and was not simply lost, your chances of getting it back are, frankly, not very good. However, with the advent of the new smartphone tracking software, your chances may be better if you take some quick, decisive and intelligent action, you may be able to recover your phone or help the police find it.  You should also keep in mind that if your phone is stolen, you may not get it back, but at least you have tried something, which may result in its return.

A missing or stolen cell phone can be a big security risk, and the loss of data can expose you to significant financial risk as well as the theft of your identity.  To give you an idea how much risk your personal information may be at risk, consider the following.  Security software provider Symantec recently did some research on how finders of lost smartphones handle them and how much information people can successfully access when they get their hands on an unprotected device. The company ran a test in which they intentionally “lost” 50 Android phones in five different cities to see what happened to them.  None of these “purposely” lost cell phones were secured by a pass code or lock pattern so Symantec could track remotely what the “finders” did with the phones they found.2348875

Sure, typing in a pass code every time you use your smartphone can get annoying, but if there’s any chance at all that you might lose it, then it’s worth it.   At the conclusion of the test, Symantec found that more than 95 percent of the people who found the “missing” cell phones tried to hack into the owner’s personal information or online services like banking or e-mail.  Those statistics should speak for themselves on why you should give extra care to your cell phone.

But if you’ve lost your cell phone, rest assured this has happened to countless people before you, so you can learn from their experience on things that you should do if your cell phone is lost or stolen.  Keep in mind that when someone has decided to take your phone, there is little that you can do.  However, there are some steps that you can take that will can help your odds of getting your phone back if it is simply lost and found by a kind-hearted person.  These tips are divided into two section, what to do before your phone is lost or stolen and what to do after.

Tips to consider before you lose your smartphone

  1. As soon as you buy your phone, write down all of the phone’s important numbers that you would need to help report it lost or stolen to the police.  The actual “printed” serial number which is under the battery is critical to law enforcement so they can place the phone’s serial number into the national NCIC stolen property database. This is critical so that if someone finds your phone and the battery is dead, law enforcement will run the serial number on the back of the phone in the NCIC stolen property database.  If you don’t give them this number, it will never be entered into the nationwide law enforcement database, decreasing your chances of getting it back if they found someone with it or it was turned in by an honest person.
  2. Label your mobile phone.  This means that you should make a label that instructs the finder of your phone on how to contact you and return it.  Typical details include a phone number where to call, and maybe an email – especially of you are traveling overseas. Another version of this idea is to place a small note on the back of your phone that says “If found, look under case.”  That way you can have instructions written on a card you place under your cell phone case that once removed, will provide instructions who to call.  Make sure the phone number is someone who’s available all the time so they have a better chance of contacting someone off hours. This will also help if your phone is lost for a period of time and the battery dies.  If the phone can’t power up, and someone does not have access to a power cord, how else would they try and return the phone to you.
  3. Set a start-up and wake up pass code. Bear in mind this can be easily broken and just provides a very small defense and will be a little bit of an inconvenience for you everyday, but it might just buy you the most valuable extra time to act when your phone gets lost. Moreover, a pass code is a good idea anyway to keep your phone away from prying eyes! Put as password on your phone.  Other password considerations include making your password strong so it is not easy to break.
  4. Set the number of password attempts.   On some phone’s like the blackberry, you can set your phone’s software so that if someone steals your phone and enters a password incorrectly ten times, all of the phone’s information is automatically deleted as a security feature.  If your phone has an automatic back-up feature, you will never lose your data just because your phone was lost or stolen.
  5. Set your phone software to lock your phone automatically after a certain amount of time.  You should set the Security Timeout feature to automatically lock your phone after a set amount of inactivity (maximum is one hour). For lost or stolen smartphones, this is a critical security block.

  6. If you can set your phone’s welcome screen, add your name and a phone number to call if found.

  7. Se

    et your phone’s profile as your contact details.  Your profile is the message seen on your phone when it sits idle.

  8. Set your profile as “$$ if found” or “Reward if Found” or any similar saying to possibly increase the chances of someone returning your phone to you.
  9. Add cell phone tracking software which will help you find your phone if it is lost or stolen – and make sure you have your phone’s location feature turned on.   This software allows you to activate remote mobile access and location of your phone if it goes missing. iPhone’s comes with free locate my iPhone service, which should be activated as soon as you buy it. It is free for all iPhone models running iOS 4.2 or above. This will also give you the ability to remotely access your iPhone, send a message to it and even remotely erase all of its memory!  Similar features are also now available on certain Android phones.  Motorola phones which are MOTOBLUR enabled, HTC Android handsets and Samsung handsets featuring Mobile Tracker.
  10. You should also note that if a thief steals your phone and then wipes it with a factory reset, they cannot activate it without having your email and password that YOU activated it with.
  11. Backup your data. I know you know this, but have you done this? I am sure most of us learn the hard way, but it is very important. Backup your phone at least once a week. The majority of the phones offer an automatic free sync with Google servers and few like iPhone automatically get fully backed up when syncing via iTunes.

Here are a few things to consider after your phone has been stolen or lost:

If your phone is lost or stolen, unless it falls into the hands of a good samaritan, getting a phone back can be difficult – but depending on who stole it, their level of criminal sophistication, the chance can go down greatly. While you should always attempt you use all your resources to find the phone, and you would be surprised in the times when a thief stole a phone and the owner was able to get it back. In reality, the below information is designed to help you mitigate the issues of your phone’s loss. You should also keep in mind that to truly increase your odds of getting your phone back, most of the things you need to do must have been done before it was lost or stolen.

But don’t give up all hope, as when first activated your phone the store or a family member may have activated the feature without you knowing, or you may have done it yourself, but just forgot.  You should still check to see if the security software is activated.

Here are a few things to you should start doing once you discover your phone is lost or stolen:

  1. This may be hard to do, but if you take a few minutes to quietly reflect on where you last remember having your cell phone, you might have a good result. Try to retrace your steps, back to that place, all the while looking around you for your phone. Often you’ll find your cell phone by taking the time to relax and reflect.

Call or Text Your Phone

  1. It sounds simple, but we all know that’s simple.  After you call and no one answers, text a message that may show up on the screen, depending if you have your pass code set up. The only caveat to this is if a thief has stolen your phone, they may not answer, and would do a better job of making sure the phone is hidden from view if they are still close by – that’s where you have to make a decision if you should try to do a remote locate first (discussed below).  If you don’t have another phone handy, ask a friend to make the call for you. It’s critical to do this as soon as you can after you realize that your cell phone is missing before the battery runs out.
  2. If your ringer is turned off, or you can’t find your cell phone after calling it, contact every place you’ve been between the time you last had your cell phone and the time that you realized that your cell phone was lost. It doesn’t matter whether or not you actually used your cell phone there; it may have fallen out of your pocket, or you may have placed it on the table or counter during a meeting or a meal.
  3. Keep in mind there are now cell phone apps and programs which will turn your ringer on, and to the highest ring tone, remotely for you, so that you can try to find your cell phone by calling it even if it was set to mute when you lost it. They do this by having you text a PIN to your cell phone, which tells the phone to set the ringer to high. You may want to call your wireless carrier to see if they can do this remotely for you.
  4. At this point, you need to make a decision to either notify your phone carrier or begin to use your phone’s tracking abilities to help find your phone. If you elect to contact your phone company, read the next section.

Notify your Wireless Phone Provider

  1. If you don’t find your lost cell phone within a few hours, call your carrier and have them turn off all services and deactivate your account ASAP – including suspending all incoming and outgoing calls, texts and data! This is the most critical step for two main reasons. If your cell phone falls into the hands of the wrong person, the information you have stored on it can be used to steal your identity – and you sure don’t want the thief to see your new personal messages.  Additionally, you need to remember that you are responsible for the phone bill, all calls made, and don’t forget even the data used.  Data usage on a cell phone stolen overseas.

    Having a phone stolen while traveling internationally can have extra headaches, so call your cell phone carrier and ask what you should do before you leave on your trip, so you know what to do before you call them.When you feel its best, notify your phone’s provider, as this can also be a very important task, even as you try to recover your device. Deactivating the phone with your wireless provider stops the thief from running up a lot of charges on your bill.

    Keep in mind that some wireless providers will deactivate your device on their network, which prevents a thief from just resetting the device and replacing a new SIM card. Also keep in mind that once you deactivate service, you won’t be able to communicate with your Android via Android Device Manager. That’s why you should consider this as a last resort items.

  2. If you have the IMEI number, you can even ask them to block the phone itself.

    Below are links to the top cell phone carriers lost/stolen phone support guides that may provide additional help.

AT&T       Sprint       T-Mobile       Verizon

If you have an Office-Issued Cell Phone – Important Notifications

  1. If it’s an office-issued cell phone, or if you use it for work and it contains sensitive information, you’ll need to report it to your IT department as well. Many offices use encryption programs to protect company information and can remotely erase office-issued phone.

Change Your Passwords and Access to your Mobile Accounts

  1. Change the passwords for any financial, banking accounts, email, social media, or other programs that your phone may have had access to, or ones that you may have had stored inside your phone.  Many people leave several apps logged in all the time so we can access them on the go, but that can make you [vulnerable to ID theft] if your phone gets taken.
  2. After having them turn off all services, buy a new cell phone from your carrier’s local store, and have all the data you have access to restored to your new phone. This may be very quick – in some situations, you may be back up and running within a few minutes. But even if it takes a while, the inconvenience of having to set up a new phone is absolutely nothing like the inconvenience you’ll face if someone pretends to be you, drains your bank accounts, harasses your friends, posts your pictures on the Internet, and more.

Contact the Police

  1. Make a police report and make sure you give them the phones serial number that is under the battery.  This is critical so that if someone finds your phone and the battery is dead, law enforcement will run the serial number on the back of the phone in the NCIC stolen property database.  If you don’t give them this number, it will never be entered into the nationwide law enforcement database, decreasing your chances of getting it back if they found someone with it or it was turned in by an honest person.

If you elect not to shut down your phone – limit your log in’s to your accounts

If you elect not to shut down your phone with your wireless career, you should also begin taking steps to prevent the thief from accessing your personal information on your phone. Begin by visiting the web presence for all of the apps and services on your phone. Check to see if they have an option to logout other devices, revoke tokens, or de-register mobile devices. This will prevent the thief from simply firing up an app or a website and using your saved login information. If you can’t find an option to prevent mobile logins, simply reset your passwords.

 

Track Your Phone – If you have phone tracking installed and activated

  • Whenever your cell phone is missing, the first thing you should do is try to track it electronically to see if it was stolen, or just misplaced, as we know many times we set it down somewhere, but just forgot where. If you’re just looking up how to do this for the first time and you have not activated your phone’s ability to do this, it may be too late, but should be the first thing you do when you get your replacement phone.  But don’t give up all hope as maybe when first activated your phone the store or a family member activated the software without you knowing, or you may have done it yourself originally, but just forgot.  You should still check to see if the security software is activated.
  • Depending on the type of phone you have, the following will provide more information that will help you.

Android

Android Phones use their software tool called Android Device Manager. Once you log into Google’s easy to use security tool, you will be able to access and track your phone remotely. You access the Android Device manager through Google’s Web portal. The large map should indicate the last known position of your device. If you don’t see it, try hitting the Locate This Device button on the white inset window. Remember that the location is approximate, usually within 80 to 100 feet (25 meters).

iPhone

iPhone’s iOS platform tracking and security software is called Find My iPhone, and also allows you to access your phone’s security options remotely.

  • Both Android, as well as iPhone’s, both have easy to use and understand remote security and tracking tools that can help locate your phone, or if needed, wipe your phone’s data and contents so it does not fall into the wrong hands.
  • With both Android and iPhone, both versions of their respective security and tracking software programs will allow you do several things, all you need to do it get to a computer or another smartphone for that matter and log into your account. Once logged in, you can tell your phone to ring loudly, display a message, lock its screen with a new password,  as a last resort, erase all of your phone’s data completely. But one important thing to keep in mind is that the phone MUST be set up to do this BEFORE the phone goes missing. That’s why this section is listed second so hopefully you already have this in place.
  • Besides having the tracking software installed, the second most important thing to keep in mind if your phone is stolen and in a thief’s possession, is to remember that confronting a thief, or going into an area you don’t know can be very dangerous, and a stolen phone is not worth getting assaulted, or worse case, getting killed over a phone.  Don’t take the law into your own hands. You want to use your phone tracking software in conjunction with law enforcement.

If You’ve Tracked Your Phone Remotely

If you can see where your phone is, three things could have occurred.  You lost it and it is right where you left it. You lost it and a good samaritan or someone in a business found it, or lastly, it’s in the hands of a thief. Here’s what to do:

  1. Call and text your phone to see if it’s in the hands of someone who found it and will return it to you. If that’s the case, set up a safe plan to go pick it up or return it to you.  You should also keep in mind that the person you are talking to may not be an upstanding individual, and is just setting you up to victimize you again.  This may be an unlikely event, but do consider it.  When possible, always go with someone else and meet in a public place and keep in mind that you don’t want to risk facing down a thief on your own. Calling the police is aways the better answer.
  2. If you call your phone and no one answers, lock the phone remotely with the security software. You should only consider doing a remote erase if you’re sure you won’t get your phone back.

You’ve Tracked Your Phone Remotely and it in an Unknown Location

If you’ve tracked your phone to a location you’re unfamiliar with, here’s a few things to consider:

  • Call the Police.  Don’t take the law into your own hands – call the police and ask for help.  The response you get from law enforcement will vary widely, depending on the size of the city/county, as well as how busy law enforcement is. In some major cities, you may not get anyone to come to your location and help you because they have so many other more pressing crime issues to respond to.If they won’t come to your location, as to complete a police report, but you should demand to have a police report completed. Keep in mind that depending on your phone’s or home, car, rental, or travel insurance policy requirements. All insurance policies require that a police report be completed in order to make a claim for a replacement payout. This requirement also applies to phones stolen internationally.

    Another reason to have a police report completed is for potential identity theft documentation. If a thief who stole your phone, or the person the thief sold it to, uses your phone’s shopping apps to make purchases, or begins to assume your financial and/or personal identity, having a police report on file is a must have document when you’ll end up dealing with banks, credit-card companies, and others who your identity was used to harm or steal from.

    If you still insist in trying to locate your phone without law enforcement’s help

    • Drive or walk to the location where your phone is. Do not go the location directly, but watch the location from a visual distance so you can check out the area and see what’s going on.  Law enforcement does this all the time, just don’t rush in. Be a little bit of a spy and check things out for a few minutes. See if you can see a person with your phone. You need to keep calm during these situations, and by keeping cool and make a huge difference.
    • If you can see someone with your phone, try to get a good look at the “potential” thief, but keep in mind the person may be a good samaritan as mentioned before. If the person is a thief, getting a good look at him/her may be helpful for law enforcement if they run off, but putting the “potential” thief on alert may destroy any chance you have of recovering your phone.
  1. This may be hard to do, but if you take a few minutes to quietly reflect on where you last remember having your cell phone, you might have a good result. Try to retrace your steps, back to that place, all the while looking around you for your phone. Often you’ll find your cell phone by taking the time to relax and reflect.
  2. Call your cell phone so that you can hear it ring. If you don’t have another phone handy, ask a friend to make the call for you. It’s critical to do this as soon as you can after you realize that your cell phone is missing before the battery runs out.
  3. If your ringer is turned off, or you can’t find your cell phone after calling it, contact every place you’ve been between the time you last had your cell phone and the time that you realized that your cell phone was lost. It doesn’t matter whether or not you actually used your cell phone there; it may have fallen out of your pocket, or you may have placed it on the table or counter during a meeting or a meal.
  4. If you don’t find your lost cell phone within a few hours, call your carrier and have them turn off all services and deactivate your account ASAP – including suspending all incoming and outgoing calls, texts and data! This is the most critical step for two main reasons. If your cell phone falls into the hands of the wrong person, the information you have stored on it can be used to steal your identity – and you sure don’t want the thief to see your new personal messages.  Additionally, you need to remember that you are responsible for the phone bill, all calls made, and don’t forget even the data used.  Data usage on a cell phone stolen overseas.  Having a phone stolen while traveling internationally can have extra headaches, so call your cell phone carrier and ask what you should do before you leave on your trip, so you know what to do before you call them.
  5. If you have the IMEI number, you can even ask them to block the phone itself.
  6. If it’s an office-issued cell phone, or if you use it for work and it contains sensitive information, you’ll need to report it to your IT department as well. Many offices use encryption programs to protect company information and can remotely erase office-issued phone.

  7. Change the passwords for any financial, banking accounts, email, social media, or other programs that your phone may have had access to, or ones that you may have had stored inside your phone.  Many people leave several apps logged in all the time so we can access them on the go, but that can make you [vulnerable to ID theft] if your phone gets taken.
  8. After having them turn off all services, buy a new cell phone from your carrier’s local store, and have all the data you have access to restored to your new phone. This may be very quick – in some situations, you may be back up and running within a few minutes. But even if it takes a while, the inconvenience of having to set up a new phone is absolutely nothing like the inconvenience you’ll face if someone pretends to be you, drains your bank accounts, harasses your friends, posts your pictures on the Internet, and more. By the way, there are now programs for some smart phones which will turn your ringer on remotely for you, so that you can try to find your cell phone by calling it even if it was set to mute when you lost it. They do this by having you text a PIN to your cell phone, which tells the phone to set the ringer to high.
  9. Make a police report and make sure you give them the phones serial number that is under the battery.  This is critical so that if someone finds your phone and the battery is dead, law enforcement will run the serial number on the back of the phone in the NCIC stolen property database.  If you don’t give them this number, it will never be entered into the nationwide law enforcement database, decreasing your chances of getting it back if they found someone with it or it was turned in by an honest person.
Remember, your phone may contain more info than your wallet, and maybe even more money with upcoming NFC chip-enabled devices, so be very careful with it!