In the wrong hands, our smartphones are a portal to more than just data on a cellular network; they are hosts for all of our personal data: contacts, conversations, emails and the hundreds of apps that store personal information—all easily accessible with a few swipes. When stolen, they transform from being our sidekicks with amazing technological advances, to the No. 1 threat against our personal security.
This, of course, can all be avoided by protecting our devices with a strong password and backing up regularly (and as much as we may hate it, devices without removable storage are much more secure than those with removable storage). But for the purpose of this exercise, were going to assume no such passwords exist, or the thieves in question have cracked those passwords.
Three Steps to Follow When Your Device is Presumed to Be Stolen
We’ll save the Android vs. iPhone debate for another blog post. In this situation, they are equals. Here are three things we should do without hesitation when our phones go missing.
Contact your service provider: It doesn’t matter which provider you use; they all have procedures in place, such as locking down data and voice calling, when the device is reported as stolen. Note that you may lose the ability to track your phone via location services once your provider locks down the device.
Contact the authorities: Sure, the chances of them recovering your phone are slim-to-none, but you never know. One thing is for certain, if you don’t file a report, you will most likely never see that device again. (and obviously don’t call 911 to report a missing cell phone)
Change all of your passwords: Start with your banking info and work your way down to social media and every possible link your phone might have to personal data. This process is tedious and takes time, which is all the more reason to install a password manager.
This is, in Fact, the Android You Are Looking For
Newer Androids with an updated OS give users the ability to locate their phones and lock them (or erase them completely) via the Android Device Manager. Simply log in using the Google credentials associated with your phone and you will now have complete control.
If you have location services turned on, and the thief is dumb enough to leave it on, you will be able to locate your device within about 25 meters. Obviously, if your phone’s location is moving around, it’s a clear confirmation that someone, indeed, has stolen your device. If it’s stationary, it’s possible it just fell out of your pocket or purse and no one has picked it up. In either case, do not be a hero and try to retrieve the phone, especially if it means confronting someone. Instead, inform law enforcement and await further instructions.
Android Device Manager also gives you the ability to lock your phone remotely. Remember, in this scenario we’re assuming the lock screen was disabled (newer devices force you to password protect your phone but it’s still possible to deactivate this feature. Furthermore, a smart thief could nab your device while it’s temporarily unlocked and change the password). The remote lock feature allows you to reset the password, effectively rendering the phone useless to our thief.
Finally, in a worst case scenario, the Android Device Manager allows us to completely erase our device. Doing so resets the phone back to factory default and deletes all apps and the subsequent personal information. It most cases, it’s highly unlikely your device is retrievable, so this option is a great way to protect ourselves from the No. 1 threat.
Help Me, Find My iPhone: You’re My Only Hope
Similar to the Android Device Manger, Apple devices have a feature called Find My iPhone. When enabled, Find My iPhone helps you find your iPhone. Pretty sweet, eh?
Even better, Find My iPhone gives you the ability to track your device, ping it to ring (Android Device Manger also has a ring option) and/or erase the phone as necessary. One of the strongest features is Lost Mode. Described directly from Apple’s website:
Using Lost Mode, you can remotely lock your device with a four-digit passcode, display a custom message with your phone number on your missing device’s Lock screen, and keep track of your device’s location. If you added credit or debit cards to Apple Pay, the ability to make payments using Apple Pay on the device will be suspended when you put your device in Lost Mode.
Lost Mode works even if the device is off or offline. As soon as it comes back on, all of the features of Lost Mode become active and your device will be locked.
If you don’t have Find My iPhone activated, immediately log into your iCloud account and change your password. Then begin the tedious process of changing all of your other passwords. It’s highly recommended that Find My iPhone be activated at all times.
What about BlackBerry?
If you own a BlackBerry you are one of the few people out there who are not at risk, as no thief will have interest in your phone.
In all seriousness, follow the first three steps just as you would regardless of your preferred device. Windows phone users can take advantage of the “Find My Phone” feature that has the same locate, lock and erase functions as Android and Apple. But no matter the brand, security awareness starts with us, the human, being aware of our surroundings. These personal devices make things convenient for us in our everyday lives. But they also make things convenient for criminals.
Most likely, someone that steals a phone is looking to sell that phone and less interested in your Twitter account or your text messages. But by implementing the security features provided by the manufacturers, we can at least prevent thieves from using our phones against us.