“Where Did I Leave My Phone?” Protecting Your Phone from Loss and Theft

Maybe you know that sinking feeling all too well. “Where did I leave my phone?” 

The minutes pass as you search around the house, then you head into the garage to look between the driver’s seat and console of your car. No luck. So it’s back into the house where you turn over every couch cushion. Still nothing. Maybe panic is too strong a word, but you’re starting to get a little worried. 

Then comes the relief. You found it. 

But what if your smartphone really was lost? Or worse yet, stolen? 

Not a pretty thought. But you can put protections in place that can help you recover your phone—or remotely erase it if it indeed gets lost for good. A few up-front steps is all it takes. 

Before your phone gets lost or stolen, protect yourself with the basics.  

Preparation is everything. If your phone gets lost or stolen, you’ll want to act quickly. You’ll also want the reassurance that you have measures in place that can help you find it, recover it, or even erase it as needed. These steps can get you set up so you exactly that. 

Lock your phone. 

Locking your phone is one of the most basic smartphone security measures you can take. Trouble is, few of us do it. 

Our recent global research showed that only 56% of adults said that they protect their smartphone with a password, passcode, or other form of lock. In effect, an unlocked phone is an open book to anyone who finds or steals a phone. It gives them unfettered access to everything on it.  

And that likely includes: 

  • Personal data, such as photos, emails, texts, voicemails, and contact information. 
  • Location data, possibly for family members who share their location with you.  
  • Financial apps, for banks, credit cards, and other accounts. 
  • Payment apps, for transferring money to friends and making payments online. 
  • Social media apps, which make up a big part of a person’s online identity. 
  • Medical and wellness apps, each loaded with personal health data and information. 

Now, imagine that into the wrong hands. That might lead to financial fraud, identity theft, and even more egregious crimes like stalking and extortion. Not to mention doxing, which involves maliciously posting someone else’s photos, files, and information online for all to see. 

Setting up a lock screen is easy. It’s a simple feature found on iOS and Android devices. iPhones and Androids have an auto-lock feature that will lock your phone after a certain period of inactivity. Keep this time on the low end, one minute or less, to help prevent unauthorized access. 

We suggest using a PIN or passcode rather than using a gesture to unlock your phone. They’re more complex and secure. Researchers proved as much with a little “shoulder surfing” test. They looked at how well one group of subjects could unlock a phone after observing the way another group of subjects unlocked it. 

They found that that “Six-digit PINs are the most elusive attacking surface where a single observation leads to only 10.8% successful attacks, improving to 26.5% with multiple observations. As a comparison, six-length Android patterns, with one observation, suffered 64.2% attack rate and 79.9% with multiple observations.” 

Biometric locks like fingerprints and facial IDs are a practical option as well. Yet they present some security issues. With effort, fingerprints can get copied, such as by lifting them off a pane of glass or other things you touch. Facial ID can open a phone even when the owner’s eyes are closed. Again with some effort, a thief or bad actor can open the phone by placing it by the sleeping owner’s face. Note that these are more extreme cases, yet you should be aware of them when determining how you lock your phone.  

Turn on “Find My Phone.” 

Another powerful tool you have at your disposal is the find my phone feature made possible thanks to GPS technology. The “find my” feature can help you pinpoint your phone if your lost or stolen phone has an active data or Wi-Fi connection and has its GPS location services enabled. Even if the phone gets powered down or loses its connection, it can guide you to its last known location. 

Setting up this feature is easy. Apple offers a comprehensive web page on how to enable and use their “Find My” feature for phones (and other devices too). Android users can get a step-by-step walkthrough on Google’s Android support page as well. 

Back up your stuff in the cloud. 

Thanks to cloud storage, you might be able to recover your photos, files, apps, notes, contact information, and more if your phone is lost or stolen. Android owners can learn how to set up cloud backup with Google Drive here, and iPhone users can learn the same for iCloud here 

Write down your phone’s unique ID number. 

Here come a couple of acronyms. IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) or MEID (Mobile Equipment Identifier) are two types of unique ID numbers assigned to smartphones. Find yours and write it down. In case of loss or theft, your mobile carrier, police department, or insurance provider might ask for the information to assist in its return or reimbursement for loss. 

  • For Android phones, you can find it in Settings à About Phone. 
  • On iPhones, you can find it in Settings à General à About. 

More ways to protect your smartphone from loss or theft. 

Beyond digital security measures, plenty of loss and theft prevention falls on you. Treat your phone like the desirable item it is. That’s a big step when it comes to preventing theft. 

Keep your phone close. 

And by close, we mean on your person. It’s easy to leave your phone on the table at a coffeeshop, on a desk in a shared workspace, or on a counter when you’re shopping. Thieves might jump on any of these opportunities for a quick snatch-and-grab. You’re better off with your phone in your pocket or zipped up in a bag that you keep close. 

Secure your bags and the devices you carry in them. 

Enterprising thieves will find a way. They’ll snatch your bag while you’re not looking. Or they might even slice into it with a knife to get at what’s inside, like your phone.  

Keep your bag or backpack close. If you’re stopping to grab a bite to eat, sling the handles through a chair leg. If you have a strong metal carabiner, you can use that too. Securing your bag like that can make it much tougher for a thief to walk by and swipe it. For extra security, look into a slash-resistant bag. 

Stay aware. 

Thieves will also look for an easy mark. People who appear a little distracted, lost, or even dozing off. Aside from securing your bags, keep an eye on your surroundings. Look at people and smile, walk with purpose, and generally put across an air of confidence. Behavior like this sends a clear signal to thieves—you’re aware. That might be enough for them to pass you up. 

Consider what you’re carrying—and where you carry it. 

If you have a credit card and ID holder attached to the back of your phone, you might want to remove your cards from it. That way, if your phone gets snatched, those important cards won’t get snatched as well. Take a pass on keeping things in your back pocket. Use your front pocket where it’s much more difficult for a thief to pick your pocket.  

And if the unfortunate happens, know how to remotely, track, lock or erase your phone. 

In the event of your phone getting lost or stolen, a combination of device tracking, device locking, and remote erasing can help protect your phone and the data on it.  

Different device manufacturers have different ways of going about it. But the result is the same—you can prevent others from using your phone, and even erase it if you’re truly worried that it’s in the wrong hands or gone for good. Apple provides iOS users with a step-by-step guide, and Google offers up a guide for Android users as well.  

Apple’s Find My app takes things a step further. Beyond locating a lost phone or wiping it, Find My can also mark the item as lost, notify you if you’ve left it behind, or trigger a sound to help you locate it. (A huge boon in that couch cushion scenario!) Drop by Apple’s page dedicated to the Find My app for more details on what you can do on what devices, along with instructions how. 

Take these steps as well if your phone gets lost or stolen. 

  1. Contact your mobile provider. They can suspend service to your phone if needed. 
  2. File a police report. Theft is theft. Report it. I could help get your phone back if it’s found. Also, insurance companies may require a police report number if you file a claim. 
  3. Change your passwords. Mail, social media, payment, and other apps may be accessible to anyone who can open your phone. Change the passwords to any important accounts or apps you have on your phone right away.   

All is not lost. 

With preparation and prevention, you can give yourself reassurance if your phone gets lost or stolen. You have plenty of recovery options, in addition to plenty of ways to prevent bad actors from getting their hands on the sensitive info you keep on it. 

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