If you're reading this article, it might be because you've been the unfortunate victim of smartphone theft, or you've simply lost your phone. Whether it's the dollar value of the phone or all the personal data it holds that has you worried, having a missing phone is always bad news. Nevertheless, it's important to act quickly if you want to get it back. Here are the first steps you should take if your phone is stolen or lost.
Here's what to do if your phone has been stolen:
- Dangerous spots
- Locate your device
- Erase everything remotely
- Report your smartphone as stolen
- Disable your cell phone service
- Protect your phone
According to a survey by IDG it seems that bars and restaurants are hot spots for smartphone thieves. One of the most common tricks is to put a map or newspaper on the table over your phone and slip it out underneath whilst distracting you by chatting or with a contrived story about being lost or similar. Of course, you are more likely to be targeted in big cities like London and New York.
Keep an eye out if you insist on getting your smartphone out in a bar or restaurant.
Another hunting spot for smartphone thieves is public transport. Taking your smartphone out of your pockets on the bus or on the subway just before the doors close is a common practice. A friend of mine living in Beijing, for example, shared stories of her friends suddenly finding themselves on the subway with earphones in their ears but no sound... The reason? Their smartphone had been stolen from their pocket. Not to mention stories of a skillful thief who used chopsticks to take smartphones off of unfortunate commuters!
After spending a large chunk of money on a Samsung Galaxy S10 or a Huawei P30 Pro, any negative reaction is understandable. However, what should worry you most is not the loss of valuable hardware, but rather the data contained on it. Emails, contacts, photos, business documents, bank account details: it is important to immediately destroy the sensitive data saved on your device if it gets stolen.
Android offers several ways to find your lost or stolen smartphone. The best-known one is Google's Find My Device, which you can access from the Android website on your computer or the app from the Google Play Store. Here are more details on how to use the service, which used to be called Android Device Manager:
However, one of the easiest ways is typing "Where is my phone" into Google search. If you are logged into the same Google account on both your PC and your smartphone, you can easily track your phone from there. You will be able to see the Wi-Fi network the phone is connected to, as well as its battery percentage. You are also able to make the phone ring at full volume (even if it was previously on silent) or wipe your data remotely.
As someone who has had to recently use this feature after misplacing my phone, I have to say that your Location has to be set to high accuracy for the best results. When I had left it on battery saving mode, I only figured out my phone was at my friend's apartment because I recognized their Wi-Fi name, which the device was connected to. The location itself was not very accurate - a couple of blocks away from their place.
Other apps and solutions exist to help you find your smartphone via too. Although it hasn't always had the best reputation (thanks to revoking free lifetime subscriptions), Cerberus Phone Security provides a ton of options such as remote control, taking photos of the thief, recording audio, and on a rooted device, it can even survive a factory reset. If you are prone to misplacing your phone and getting it stolen as a result, it might be worth checking out.
Yet, if you're able to find your phone with any of these services, it's best not to approach a thief yourself. Instead, leave it up to the police. However, if you have simply misplaced your phone, this will help you figure out where it is.
Locate your smartphone with your smartwatch
A useful tool to find your smartphone again is a smartwatch. Wear OS' on-board tools make it easy to locate the paired phone. Just activate the Google Assistant and say "Find my smartphone". The watch then searches for the paired phone and lets it sound an alarm, even if it is actually set to silent. The location can also be triggered via the Wear OS menu without a voice command.
With Bluetooth connectivity, this option is hardly useful in the event of theft, unless the thief is still nearby. The smartwatch feature is designed to locate a lost smartphone without having to turn your whole apartment upside down looking for it.
If you've lost your phone on public transportation, it's also a good idea to contact the local transit authority to see if it's been found. The local police may also be holding it for you if a good citizen has turned it in.
If you're unable to recover your smartphone, Android gives you the option to erase the data on the phone remotely using the Find My Device service mentioned above. If only takes a few seconds to reset the phone (and the thief won't be able to stop it once it's started), but it's irreversible, so consider this option carefully before doing it.
This is why recommend to always do regular backups of important documents, photos and more. Here's a guide on how to do it effectively:
If your phone is stolen, it is important to report the theft to the police as soon as possible (within 48 hours at most). This is especially important if your phone is covered by insurance. The police report will allow the authorities to block the phone from being used on other networks.
To report your phone as stolen to the police, you'll need the following information:
- The IMEI number of the smartphone, which can be found on the box or in the About section of the phone's settings menu. It is like a 15-digit license plate for your smartphone. Keep it written down somewhere.
- The model of your smartphone and any stolen accessories. Note the brand, version and color.
- Your phone number and the name of your mobile network.
- The circumstances of the theft, specifying the date, time and location of the theft.
It is very important to know the IMEI number of your smartphone.
If your phone is covered against theft by an insurance policy, it's necessary to notify the company as soon as possible so you stay aware of the procedure to follow and the benefits you're entitled to. Pay close attention to what you tell them, as it could mean the difference between seeing the benefits of your policy or being left with no recourse.
Whoever stole your cell phone might like to rack up a large phone bill on your behalf by calling paid 1-900 numbers with your phone. To avoid this, you need to notify your service provider that your phone has been lost or stolen as soon as possible. Then, your mobile provider can shut off your phone service. You can suspend service to your number through your carrier's website, in their shops or by calling customer service.
Here are the customer service numbers for the four main mobile carriers in the US:
- AT&T: 1 (800) 331-0500 or online
- Verizon: 1 (800) 922-0204 or online
- Sprint: 1 (888) 211-4727
- T-Mobile: 1 (877) 746-0909 or online
If you suspend your service, it will stop working instantly, thus avoiding fraudulent use. In most cases, you'll still be able to call your voicemail from another phone without incurring any additional costs. You'll be billed for the month as usual, and you can get a new phone or activate a new SIM card from your carrier later if you don't recover your missing phone.
To protect your phone in case it gets stolen, or at least mitigate the damage, you should take basic precautions like setting up Find My Device (also known as Android Device Manager), a lock screen passcode and/or the fingerprint scanner if you have one. For more tips, check out these articles:
- The best way to secure your phone
- How to keep your phone from getting stolen
- Three tips: encryption, two-factor authentication and encrypted messaging
Have you ever been a victim of smartphone theft? Were you able to recover your phone? Share your tips in the comments.