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What to do if your phone is lost or stolen

by Cyberguy | Last Updated | July 19, 2022
CyberSecurity - Consumer|CyberSecurity Insights

If you don’t move quickly after losing your phone, it can create more than a headache.

When your phone is lost or stolen, it is more than just a relatively pricey handheld that is lost. Our phones keep track of our lives. They’re not only for messaging and calling. They’re mini-computers that store our images, passwords, financial and medical data, and more.

The expensive phones we carry with us at all times are easy targets for burglars. Cyber thieves are always on the lookout for them in subway cars or on coffee shop tables. Given how much we rely on our smartphones, losing or misplacing one might feel like the end of the world.

The Numbers Tell a Story

The true cost of a misplaced mobile device is much more than the replacement cost. Lost productivity, downtime, required support, and management time all have added costs, but the risk of being compromised is even higher.

A recent study done by Kensington reveal the following:

The Mobile Theft and Loss Report – 2021/2021 Edition done by Prey Project also found that the majority of lost devices were misplaced.

Types of theft from stolen phones

Most losses happen in private places like homes and private cars.

Where are phones stolen most often

Most frequently stolen devices were mobile.

Which types of mobile devices are stolen

It’s no laughing stock that tens of millions of mobile phones are lost every year. What about those that were not reported? They could add up to tens of millions more.

What Thieves Can Do with Your Stolen Phone

A phone thief can do much more harm than the loss of your device. Have you considered what can happen if your phone is stolen, the reason for why you should even bother safeguarding it? Well, here are some things that could happen:

Sell your phone as whole or parts of it

Some thieves are able to manage the password of stolen phones to factory-reset with the help of social engineering. They could then sell the phone as a whole more lucratively than they could for parts. 

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If the goal was simply to steal a phone and not to harm you, the thief is unlikely to try to hack it on purpose. Tinkering a powered-on and connected gadget in any way raises the danger of being caught. So they would rather sell it as whole or for parts.

Steps to prevent fraud from your phone

Steal money

For unlocked phones, such as one snatched physically by a thief from the owner or found unattended and a bank app is open, the phone thief could withdraw money within moments. 

Some banks allow customers to send money electronically. This makes it considerably easy to steal money because any verification codes will be delivered to the stolen phone.

Use personal information for extortion or blackmail

If thieves discover sensitive documents on your smartphone, they may demand a ransom. They may even threaten to delete or forward your messages to your contacts. They can do the same for personal files that could compromise you or someone else.

A thief can also try to breach your Facebook or Instagram accounts and start asking your friends and acquaintances for money.

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What to Do If your Phone is Lost or Stolen

If you’ve lost your phone, there are things you can do to track, locate, and recover it depending on the type of phone you have. In a worst case scenario where you can’t really find your device, it’s critical to minimize any potential damage that may be done to your private information.

After the loss or theft of your phone, stay vigilant. Some thieves are only interested in the financial value of phones they steal because there’s a market for them. However, many crooks are more attracted to your information with which they can make much more money.

Be very suspicious of all texts and calls related to a stolen phone, and do not enter or reveal your Google account or Apple ID credentials. They can trick you into revealing your password and credentials for your other online accounts. 

How to find your stolen phone

Try to track your phone

If you plan to locate your phone, do it quick and fast. You never know what the bad guy will do with your information.

Using an alternate phone, send a short message with a return request. Set a time frame for a possible return. If the return doesn’t happen within a time you’re comfortable with, start locating your phone.

If the phone owner is logged into their Google or iCloud account, both iOS and Android devices switch on the Find My Phone feature by default. It’s a built-in security function that allows you to locate, lock, or erase data on your device if it’s stolen or lost.

On Android, Find My Device can display a Google Map with your device’s precise GPS position. 

On iOS, type Find My Phone into Google and see the current location right on the search result page.

On Apple, the Find My iPhone function allows you to track the position of your iPhone. For this to work you must have location services turned on and access to your iCloud account from a computer.

What to do if recovery of your phone is impossible

If your phone falls into the wrong hands, go to work quickly, especially if it’s not protected. Follow the following steps to recover your data:

1. Call your carrier

Your initial call should be to your service provider. Tell the customer (Image service representative that you’ve misplaced your SIM card and that you’d like it blocked. The thief will be unable to impersonate you once the SIM card has been disabled.

1. Block your phone

To block your stolen smartphone, you’ll need Internet connectivity. Do it on a secure device because you’ll be inputting your password.

Log in to your Google or Apple ID account. Find your missing phone in the device list under Security for Android phones and Find My iPhone app for iPhones. Then select Lost Mode. The system will prompt you to enter a lock screen message as well as a backup contact phone number. That message will now be the only thing displayed on your smartphone. 

Keep an eye out for phishing emails and phone calls. Fraudsters may pose as support  representatives and contact you in an attempt to obtain your account password.

3. Lock and/or wipe your phone remotely

If you’re sure your phone has been stolen, lock it or wipe it clean as soon as possible. Please keep in mind that this choice is irreversible. You’ll also lose the ability to track your phone remotely.

For Android phones: Go to Find My Device and click Secure Device. You’ll be asked to enter a password and click Next. To delete all your content, click Erase Device twice on the Find My Device page. Log in to your Google Account to authenticate your account. If your device is currently offline, the wipe process will begin when it reconnects.

For iOS phones: Go to icloud.com/find and select the Find My iPhone function. Follow the instructions on the screen to set the lock and erase data.

4. Block your phone’s IMEI number

IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. It’s a phone‘s fingerprint composed of 15 digits and is unique to each device. Phone manufacturers and carriers share IMEI numbers to enable tracking of smartphones that may be stolen or compromised. 

Even with a different SIM card, the stolen phone will not be able to connect to the mobile network if the carrier adds the IMEI on the blocklist. This service is available in the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Latvia, and some Latin American nations.

Call your carrier and give the IMEI number of your lost phone

If you use Android, go to Find My Device and click on the encircled “i” next to the image of your phone. Here, the IMEI number will pop up.

If you use an iPhone, go to appleid.apple.com feature. Sign in with the Apple ID used on your stolen phone, scroll down to Devices and select the iPhone to find its IMEI.

How to protect your Iphone

5. Change passwords

To avoid unauthorized access and use, change the passwords for all the critical services you use on your smartphone, such as email, online banking, shopping applications, and password managers

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Also consider checking your other accounts and apps to make sure no one is accessing them without your consent. If there is any strange activity or you recognize your stolen phone in the list, click the three dots on the upper right portion, then select and click Log Out. You may also choose Log Out of All Sessions to remove any other devices connected to your accounts.

6. Alert your bank

You should contact your bank to inform them that your phone has been taken and to check any recent card activity.

In the days and weeks after your phone goes stolen, keep an eye on your statements for any questionable activity. Check your cards, social media accounts, and anything else that could be accessed from your phone for any fraudulent activity.

7. Restore your data

You will be able to restore any information, including text messages, on your new smartphone if you enabled backup on the device when it was still in your possession. You can find the steps to do this for Android and iPhone here.

8. Go to the police

File a police report about your stolen or missing phone. It might help you build a case against the thief who stole your phone to commit fraudulent transactions. And if you have phone insurance, your claim will be processed only if you provide a police report.

Our final thoughts. In the event that you misplace or lose your phone, planning ahead can save you a lot of headaches. To summarize, lock your phone, back up all your info, use strong passwords, and enable the ‘find my phone‘ feature. If your device is stolen or lost, you may rest assured that you did everything necessary to safeguard it and make its return as simple as possible.

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