Tech. Safety Guide: What to Do If Your Phone Gets Lost or Stolen
This article is just one in a series of guest posts written on internet safety, you can read the rest here.
For many of us, it’s as if our whole lives are on our phones. Our phones contain our contacts, our photos, and the apps we use to navigate, keep up with the news, organize our work and personal schedules, and stay connected with friends and family; it’s a lot of personal information we don’t want in the hands of some stranger.
Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself if your phone gets lost or stolen.
4 Ways to Protect the Contents of Your Phone
1. Password Protect Your Phone
In order to keep someone from immediately gaining access to the contents of your phone once it’s in their possession, it’s best to already have a password set.
The exact way to set a password will vary depending on your device, but for an Android, you’ll probably have to go to Settings>Security>Screen lock type. Here you can choose to unlock your phone by using a pattern, pin, or password.
A password is the most secure option, but it’s also the most annoying to have to input every time you want to glance at your Facebook notifications. You might also have the option to set your phone so it will only open with your fingerprint.
Another cool feature is the smart lock. If you use this, your lock function won’t kick in while your phone is on you, if you’re at certain locations (e.g. your home), or if you’re near other trusted devices. Some phones will even give you voice and facial recognition options.
2. Locate Your Phone
One of the great things about having a GPS on your phone is that if it goes missing, you can track where it is. However, in order for this feature to work, you need to set it up in advance.
If you have an Android, you have a couple of options. Some devices, like Samsung, have this feature built in – although in order to access it you have to create a Samsung account. By enabling the feature, you’ll be able to locate your phone by going to https://findmymobile.samsung.com/ from a different device and logging in. Another option is to download the Find My Device app from the Google Play Store. This app works the same way as Samsung’s and only requires you to have a Google account. Plus, if you’ve just misplaced your phone somewhere around the house, it has the ability to make it ring, even if your phone is set to silent. Just go to https://myaccount.google.com/intro/find-your-phone, sign in, and you’ll be able to see your phone’s location on a map. From there you’ll also be able to reset your phone’s password.
Bear in mind, however, that if you have an Android, you’ll only be able to locate your device if your location services are enabled and you’re connected to the internet. A smart thief will know to disable those functions so you can’t track where he – and your phone – are.
If you have an iPhone, you’ll need to download the Find My iPhone app. Once it’s installed, you’ll be able to locate your device on a map by going to https://www.icloud.com/#find and signing into the iCloud.
There you can also put your phone into Lost Mode, which will lock it. Lost Model also lets you set a message to the locked screen, so if your phone is simply lost, you can write something like, “Lost phone. Please call 212-555-1234 to return.” Or, if you know your phone has been stolen, you can write something like, “You suck.”
3. Erase Your Data
This is the nuclear option. If you’re sure you’re not getting your phone back, you can use the Find My Device/Find My iPhone apps to remotely erase all the data on your phone, so even if the thief manages to break through your password protections, they won’t be able to access your personal information.
Bear in mind that when you do this, since all your personal accounts will be deleted, you lose your ability to track your phone remotely.
That said, your phone could still be getting service from your wireless carrier, meaning whoever has it could be making calls from your number and using your data plan. To cut them off, call your service provider and let them know your phone has been stolen.
Knowing you might have to one day erase your phone data is another great reason to backup your phone’s contents (which you should really be doing anyway). If you have an Android, the easiest way to backup your data is to use the Google cloud. If you have an iPhone, use the iCloud.
But what if you didn’t have the foresight to install the Find My Device/Find My iPhone apps, and now you can’t change your passwords, lock your phone, or erase your data remotely? In that case you should…
4. Change the Passwords for All Your Apps
Make a list of all the apps you have on your phone that require passwords, get onto another device, and start changing your passwords. This will likely include your email, social media accounts, bank accounts, and app stores.