Every day, 113 phones get lost or stolen in the United States. That’s about over 41,000 phones every year!
What’s more, many of these are pricey smartphones, considering that 78% of U.S. folks own one of these devices. In fact, some of them own more than one smartphone!
Losing your phone doesn’t only mean a waste of your dollars (their average 2017 price was $363). It also means potential security threats, including exposure of your personal details. That includes all sensitive info like bank accounts and your social security number.
All that is good enough reason to exclaim “I want my phone back!” after it does get lost or swiped. Good news is, there are ways to retrieve your phone and keep your private info, private.
Read on to learn what you should do when your phone’s gone (plus what do to prevent losing it in the first place).
Confirm Your Phone is Actually Missing/Lost
Before you start panicking, confirm whether your phone was actually stolen. These devices, after all, are the second most common misplaced items — 33% of us lose or misplace them every week.
Your phone may have only slid out of your pocket and is now resting under one of your couch cushions. Or, it got stuck inside one of the bigger items inside your bag. What’s important is to look through the most common areas where you often leave your phone.
Track Your Phone
If you can’t really find it, now is the time to take advantage of the built-in tracking app on your phone. iOS has the “Find My iPhone” app, while Android has “Find My Device”. These apps are comprehensive tracking tools built for such cases.
This is assuming you’ve set up either when you first got your phone. If not, then it may be a little too late and you need to start shopping for a new device. But whether you retrieve your phone or get a new one, setting this up should be the first thing to do.
If you did set this up, you have remote access to your device’s security options. Using a computer, you can ring up your phone with the volume level set to max or set a new password to lock it up. You can also send a message to it asking the person who has it to give it back.
Google Your Phone’s Location
If you’re on Google (as in you have a Google account), you can use that to track your phone too. You need an Internet-connected device though, like another smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
Open a Google Chrome browser and then type in “Where’s my phone”. The top-most result is an option to “Find your phone”, under which is a link that says “Trying to help a friend?” Click on that and it’ll take you to Google Account Help with all the instructions to find your phone.
You need to sign in to your Google Account and access the “Security” options. Scroll down and you’ll find a list of all your devices. Click the link for “Find a lost or stolen phone”.
This is where it gets a bit tricky though. If you have two-factor authentication set up on your (lost) phone, it may prompt you to put in a code. But Google will send that code to your phone, which in this case, is the one you lost or got swiped.
If you’re lucky, you can have Google give you other options for the added authentication. Or, the device you’re using to find your phone is already authenticated. Either way, once you pass this stage, you’ll be able to locate your phone through GPS.
For a lost iPhone, Google will take you to your iCloud account. Log onto it, and the portal will locate your phone to show you where exactly it is. Android has a different interface, but almost the same steps.
If all else fails, you can use these apps to completely delete all the data and info you have on your phone.
Call Your Service Provider
Depending on your provider, you may have its own tracking app on your phone. These programs are available on both iOS and Android devices.
For instance, the Lookout app is T-Mobile’s “Find My Phone” version. If you have this, you can find your stolen or swiped device through GPS. You can use its “Scream” feature to sound a loud alarm (even if your phone’s in silent mode) if the GPS tells you it’s nearby.
AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon also have tools for tracking and reporting lost/stolen phones. File a report if you’re 100% sure you can no longer retrieve your device.
Let’s say you find your phone through its GPS, but it’s not nearby or you aren’t familiar with the area. Don’t go straight to where it is — try calling the phone first to see what kind of person has it. Lady Luck may be on your side and a good Samaritan has picked up your device.
If so, then set a meet-up with the person, but be sure it’s in a familiar place and bring someone with you. If you think you’re dealing with a crook, don’t face them off! See if there’s a law enforcer around and ask for help.
If the GPS shows your phone is in a public establishment, the staff there may have it in their “Lost and Found” items. Go and talk to them. If it’s not with them, try sounding the alarm on your phone again using the “Find my Phone” apps discussed above.
If Your Phone’s Long Gone
The truth is, you’ve only got a very small chance of finding a lost or swiped phone. But, let’s face it. Accidents can happen to anyone, and one property crime takes place every 4.1 seconds.
If you’re sure and have resigned yourself to the fact you can’t get your phone back, be sure to do the following:
Disconnect Your Phone from All Accounts
Remove your lost or stolen phone from all accounts you have it synced with. You likely have Google, so sign in to your account and delete it from the “Device Activity” list. This will prevent your phone from further sharing and syncing data.
Delete All the Data
Next up: delete all stored data on your device. Again, iOS and Android let you do this remotely. But unless you do regular data backups, you can’t recover everything from your lost phone.
Change All Your Passwords
Safeguard personal and business data on your phone by changing all account passwords! You may have deleted all the data on the device, but you still want to do this for further protection.
Securing Your New Phone
As soon as you get a new phone, secure it with hard-to-crack screen and fingerprint locks. If possible, go for facial recognition. And please, make sure you have a strong password on all your accounts!
Also, turn on your phone’s built-in GPS tracking feature as soon as you get your brand new device. Sign up for your provider’s tracking service too. The more tracking apps you have, the higher the chances you’ll have of recovering your phone in the future.
Schedule regular data backups on your phone to the cloud. Use these data sharing tips to make data backups even safer. This way, you don’t have to worry about losing all the data in case your phone gets lost or swiped again.
Set up your Gmail account’s multi-factor authentication too. Input a second contact number, so that Chrome can send you the code (the one we mentioned above) there. You can also enter other contact options, like another Gmail account.
Leaving a message on your phone’s lock screen can also boost your chances of getting it back if you lose it. Better yet, leave another contact number there. Your likelihood of recovering your phone may be up to three times higher.
Consider investing in a lockable faraday cage and EMP bag, especially if you’re always on the go. Its lock keeps thieves from getting access into the bag’s content. The EMP protection keeps it safe from hackers who can remotely steal your phone’s data.
Don’t forget to treat your phone like you would your jewelry and other prized valuables. Whether you work off-site or overseas in a public area, keep your phone on you at all times. With your eyes on your computer screen, you won’t notice if someone swipes your phone off the table.
Prevent the Need for Saying “I Want My Phone Back!”
The most common reason people shout “I want my phone back!” in panic is because they’ve got little to no security on it. Or because they know they won’t be able to retrieve the data that the lost or swiped phone contains.
But if you follow our security tips, you’ll be less likely to worry if you lose your phone. So, as soon as you get a new phone, set up all the locks you can and have regular data backups on it.
Want even more ways to increase your phone’s security? Then check out this comprehensive cybersecurity guide we have! It applies to all your devices, smartphones included.