Technology

What To Do When Your Cell Phone is Lost or Stolen

In my life I’ve misplaced my wallet twice and on both occasions been graced by good Samaritans, both of whom left all the cash intact.

But when my road bike was stolen from my front yard a few years ago I ran down the street, scared an innocent kid, drove through the areas of ill-repute describing it to no avail, called the police, then visited yard sales and pawn shops for several days. I finally settled into to the grim reality that it was gone and I was 99.999999% sure of never seeing it again.

So when a good friend emailed me (notice he didn’t call) to vent some angst over losing a cell phone, I almost advised him to just accept it, but I was haunted by the fact that this was a piece of technology, and my admiration of the free market’s spurring of innovation encouraged me.

By the time I got back to him with the cool information that follows, his situation was handled and a new phone was in the express lane of packages to his house.

“Screws fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.” – John Bender, The Breakfast Club

Storage

For simple starters, put some thought into how you will carry your device around. Lots of people keep them loose in a pocket or purse, or affix a holster to their belts. This is fine of course if you develop a habit of making sure it’s there when you get up from a place, and you can reduce your odds of loss.

I can tell when my Samsung Galaxy is in my front right jeans pocket and also when it’s not without using my hands. Ladies have more creative stashes like in their bras. I knew a woman who kept her small phone – when small was all the rage – on a lanyard around her neck. She never lost her phone.

Just consider your comfort, access, likeliness of dropping it, and likelihood of loss, theft, or misplacement and put some thought into your bodily storage method. In New York City, you never keep your wallet in your back pocket – too easy to lift.

Also consider storage when commuting. Phones often get left in unattended cars which might not be so bad if it’s not in plain view.

Prevention

If you’re prepared for something it cannot, by definition, be called a catastrophe. That means fill your pantry with canned food, bottled water and batteries; donate blood; and prepare your smartphone or device to be lost or stolen.

Fortunately there is a growing list of things you can do nowadays to not only prepare for the loss but to prevent it as well. The old, If found please return to… stickers found on luggage and dollar-bills seem caveman-like when you get a load of your options for your cell phone!

Locks

Everyone should lock their phones to prevent unauthorized access and to reduce the risk of butt calls. In all seriousness, calls made inadvertently while wiggling in your car seat are the source of many a heartache and many hours of explanation!

Almost all phones are now password or PIN enabled and you can set your own up rather easily. It can be a code, PIN, or pattern you draw with your finger. If lost or stolen, it will be answerable but not otherwise usable unless the thief cracks the code.

Insurance

When you bought your phone you were undoubtedly offered an insurance plan at an extra monthly expanse. Fees can range from very low to over $10 per month, but they might still be a good idea with a more expensive device.

Keep in mind the plans are designed to increase profits for the carriers and look into the commitment you might be making. With a new phone and lots of travel planned the policy might make sense.

I would not recommend paying on them as you near your renewal period when your contract expires because your carrier will likely make you eligible for cheap or free replacement phones to encourage your loyalty at those intervals anyway.

If you have insurance of course, if lost or stolen you can file a mobile insurance claim for replacement.

Blacklist

Many cell phone carriers band together and share a blacklist of stolen phones. Dealers are supposed to check before they unlock a used phone for service. Be careful when buying a second-hand phone off of eBay or Craigslist.

Backup

Simple backup options are available with a little learning using your computer, a USB, or an online cloud service.

Mozy and Mobyko among many others now offer cloud backup services so you can safely save and later restore your files and information if needed. The mobile app might be included if you are a pc or Mac subscriber already. Soocial offers an online backup of mobile phone contacts for Blackberry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Android.

Before you shell out any cash unnecessarily, though, check with your provider. Sprint Mobile Sync will backup your contacts online and give you step-by-step directions on how to do it.

Even Walmart has jumped in, offering their free Walmart Wireless Mobile Backup with 2 gigs of free storage, regardless of carrier. In fact, by placing your backup on a third party rather than with your current carrier you might have an easier time of downloading your files if you switch services.

The Walmart service is also wireless and performed over your mobile network. Technology is really getting somewhere when functions are user-friendly and easy to use.

Contact

If you lose or misplace your phone, the first human instinct is usually to call it. How many phones are saved by this simple method when dealing with honest people who return them is unknown. If your phone was on silent or vibrate, you’ll be thankful if you had installed a remote alarm available as a free or paid app.

Notify

Of course once you’re fairly convinced your phone may be adrift at sea, you’ll want to notify your carrier or service provider so they can suspend or disconnect the service.

Services & Apps

Services such as Lookout and Norton for Android devices and those offered by Apple like Find My iPhone available on iTunes for Apple devices let you backup:

  • Call history
  • Contacts
  • Emails
  • Photos and
  • Videos

You can also remotely lock and erase your device if stolen or lost. Lookout lets you display a custom message or set off an alarm on your lost or stolen device to increase the odds of getting it back. Lookout and other free and paid apps are available from the Android/Google Play Store.

In fact, entering “theft” in the search bar of your apps store will bring up a long list of free and paid apps for your device. Read about them and read the reviews.

With these apps that are being constantly invented and approved you can also (some mentioned already):

  • control the actions of the device via text messages
  • locate the device via GPS, even obtaining a residential address of where it is
  • set off an alarm
  • erase all the personal information on it
  • lock the device
  • disable the device
  • record chip-change information
  • and even take a picture of the thief!

The cell phone carrier industry is constantly developing new ways to be able not just to suspend service but disable your lost or stolen device altogether. With “remote wipe” you can delete all info once lost. Some carriers offer it free other carriers charge a fee.

Technology advances at an amazing pace. There are even designer alarms you can set up and set off, such as a Halloween themed angry pumpkin face. Now they’re just showing off!

Replace

And finally, you will need a new phone of course, if you did not get yours back. Most people need them pretty quick. While even the suggestion of going through arranging a replacement phone make many people cringe, perhaps services are improving. The friend I mentioned was pleasantly surprised, in fact, by his carrier’s response (paraphrase):

“It was a very bizarre conversation. They were nice and polite! They waved early upgrade fees of hundreds of dollars, showed me a better plan with a lower rate, upgraded my wife’s phone for free, and it will be here in two days!”

It’s starting to sound like carriers are more prepared to avoid catastrophes on their end, too.

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