There are a great many articles out there that offer advice on how to recover a lost or stolen device. Unfortunately, many of them focus on what you can do after you’ve lost your device. Generally at that point, it’s too late, because you didn’t have the right apps or tracking systems set up, didn’t copy down important information, or just weren’t aware of the options in advance. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This is doubly true of mobile phones, as their loss is more than just financial. It’s all of your personal data, images, and even email and SMS chats. Worse, those who keep banking information or other account passwords on their devices in plain text, like a note editor, can find their bank accounts compromised. This can create a domino effect that could take months to solve – especially if the credit reporting agencies get involved.
The credit reporting agencies will want to see a police report to freeze your credit file, so contact the police as soon as you know your phone has been stolen, file a report, and get copies of it (you’ll need them). Keep in mind that when you report your phone as stolen, the police will do their best to get it back, but there are some steps you should follow to recover your lost phone first. This should be done before you involve the police. Then, once you’re sure it’s actually been stolen, file your report. Finding out that you just left your mobile tucked down the couch, and then forgetting to notify the police, well… that can be messy.
So, how can you protect your phone from theft?
1) Use the phone operating system’s tracking application. Every OS has one, and while some are better than others, you should at least start with what your phone has out of the box.
Android: Visit the Android Device Manager. Sign in with your Google Account login, and set up your phone so you can later track or remotely wipe it if needed. A better option is Cerberus, discussed in Step Five of this guide, but you can have both, which offers added protection.
BlackBerry: Visit the BlackBerry Protect Site. Make sure your device is registered, and set up so you can wipe or track it if you need to. There are other third party apps you can use too.
iOS: Visit Apple’s Find My iPhone site. Read about the function, and then set it up so you can locate, or remotely wipe your device. Also, make sure it’s registered to iCloud. Any thieves won’t be able to access iCloud services with a stolen device – even if they wipe it.
Windows: Visit the Windows Find My Phone link. Read about how it works, and then set your phone up so it’s secure. If you feel this is not enough, there are other apps you can download to further secure your Windows Phone device.
2) Write down your phone’s model number, serial number, and the IMEI number (*60# from the dial pad for your IMEI). Then store them in a safe place. We recommend putting them in the box your phone came in, but you can put them anywhere safe. Just remember to keep them somewhere you can find them, should you ever need to.
3) Put your contact details in a location that’s easy to find. We recommend creating a contact that always displays first in your phone, which is your details, and one or two other obvious ones. Examples include things like ‘Lost Phone’ and ‘Reward if Found’. If you have a custom system that lets you set a passcode reminder, you can put in your details there, so that any good Samaritan who finds it will return the device to you. Novice phone thieves will also usually go for a guaranteed £100 reward from you rather than try to sell the phone. In cases like that, you might be able to get your device back more easily. Just don’t assume they’re a thief. Sometimes a decent person will find and return your device. While a hundred quid might hurt a little, it hurts a lot less than losing your device.
4) You can get a proximity alarm. There is a neat little product called the Hip Key, which is basically a key ring that causes your iPhone to make an alarm if you get too far away from the keyring. However, the device works both ways, because the key also beeps. It works by having you select an alarm range from 2-5 meters, all the way up to 30-35 meters, which will trigger if your phone moves out of that radius. As the alarm is 90bd, if you’re in a bar or out somewhere, and your phone is set to the 2-5 meter range, you’ll get an audible alarm the moment your phone is more than a few steps away from you. That way you can catch a phone thief before your phone is gone. As an added plus, you can use the device to find your phone at home or in the office too if you misplace it. Since the system works both ways, if you forget where your keys are, you can trigger the alarm from your phone and find them. There are other programs that do this too. Shop around, and you can find some interesting ways to protect your phone from loss.
5) Last, and quite possibly best – use Cerberus. This is the best application in the world for tracking and recovering a lost phone. You can flash it to the system memory, or ROM. What that means is that even if a thief performs a factory reset or wipes the device, you’ll still have access to Cerberus. In fact, once a phone is wiped, Cerberus remains there, but is invisible. That’s because you it resides in the phone’s boot memory, rather than having it stored in regular memory. You can then control it over the Internet, or through SMS commands if the phone thief disables your Internet connectivity. Because these command messages remain invisible, the thief won’t even know that you’re tracking them. You can take photos, video, or get GPS updates too, all of which are secretly uploaded by the app. In truth, there’s no better app to protect yourself from would be thieves than this one, and nothing more helpful to the police in recovering your stolen device.
Often, losing your phone is worse than losing a purse or wallet. Credit cards are easily blocked, and few of us carry around as much cash as a new phone would cost. Add in the lost time for police reports, headaches of setting up a new phone (and getting a SIM replaced), and you can lose out on a day or more of your free time in addition to the out of pocket costs. Protect yourself and your phone. You’ll be glad you did.