Mobile phones are prized possessions nowadays but their portability and huge price tag makes them highly coveted by increasingly sneaky thieves. We take a look at the best ways to keep your phone safe, and what to do to protect your data if it goes AWOL.
Always be prepared
Before going out into the world and getting your phone stolen, there are multiple steps you can take to protect it and the messages, photos and data on it. First, set a passcode for your phone – this is essential to stop thieves accessing your data, or turning it off to stop you tracing it. Many phones come with a fingerprint scanner now – much less effort than that cumbersome four-digit PIN – and often you can set your phone to erase your data after a number of unsuccessful attempts at access. If you have this option, you should definitely turn it on.
Next, you should take down your phone’s IMEI number and serial number, usually found on the box your phone came in, or in your phone’s settings. These are usually needed for reporting your phone stolen and making an insurance claim. The IMEI number in particular is often etched into phone parts, where it is difficult to remove, so knowing it can help local police match your phone to you if it is found or handed in.
Both iPhones and Androids come with built-in apps that can help you locate your phone, even if it’s just down the back of your sofa. If you have an iPhone, make sure you’ve set up and signed into the Find My iPhone app, and that your location settings are on – you’ll be able to track where your phone has gone if it is stolen, but perhaps more importantly, protect your data. Similarly, if you have an Android phone, use Android Device Manager to make sure Find My Device is activated.
Out and about
Of course, prevention is better than the cure, and there are lots of things you can do to make sure you’ll never need the measures above. Keep your phone out of sight as much as possible, and (as tempting as it is) try not to keep it out of your pocket and in the open for too long. Thieves have been known to snatch phones from people’s hands, sometimes even while riding bikes! If you go to a café, bar or restaurant, or to the library, try to keep it on your person rather than on the table – thieves can pounce the moment you take your eyes off it.
Be extra careful on public transport and in busy cities – these are prime hunting grounds for pickpockets. Keeping your phone in a zipped pocket or making sure your bag is in sight at all times (and especially not on your back) can help reduce your chances of getting your phone nabbed. While they sure look good, expensive headphones (particularly Apple EarPods) can attract unwanted attention, giving thieves an idea of other expensive devices you might have on you.
So your phone has gone – either you saw it get swiped, were forced to give it up, or it has simply vanished. Please remember that your safety is the most important thing and avoid confronting thieves. You can fight back with technology instead.
You need to act fast, as any phone thief worth their salt will be quick to remove your SIM card or take it somewhere with no signal where it can’t be tracked. Get to a device like a laptop, desktop computer or a friend’s phone and use the Find My iPhone/Find my Device website to remotely lock your phone, sign out of your Google account or iCloud and erase all data. If you’ve jumped to conclusions and you find your phone is in fact in your house, you can also get it to play a sound or ring from this app, even if it is on silent!
If you think your iPhone may have just been lost, you can activate lost mode through Find My iPhone. Gone are the days when, upon finding your phone, a good Samaritan would have to go through your messages and call your mum, your boss and your ex-girlfriend to try and reunite you and your phone. This feature instead displays a message and a phone number on your lock screen for them to ring. Of course you have to set this up beforehand and have faith in strangers.
Once you’ve deleted your data, you should change your passwords for online shopping and social media, just in case the thieves try to make purchases in your name. You should then report the theft to your local police – it might be unlikely you’ll get it back but you often need a police number to make an insurance claim. The IMEI number you took down earlier will come in handy here.