Phone Theft: Some Precautions You Can Take

If you have ever had your phone stolen then you know how crushed and distraught you feel when you realise someone else has one of your favourite gadgets — not to mention all the data stored on there.

Though it will always be an awful experience, there are a few techniques available to help keep the information thieves could gain to a minimum, as well as giving some extra hope of catching them, or finding your phone.

Applications

There are some great applications available to Android users to help protect their phone in the event that it is stolen or misplaced.

Lookout Mobile Security

This is a fantastic application which has two very useful features if your phone is stolen: GPS Location and Backup & Restore. The GPS feature works even if you had the GPS on your phone disabled when it was stolen. When installing, you grant Lookout the ability to enable your GPS from a remote location. To actually get the location on a map, sign into Lookout’s website (you make an account when you run the application), and click ‘Find My Phone’. It may take a minute or two, but your phone will be contacted and a precise location established on a Google Maps overlay. That is probably the most useful function anyone can have at their disposal if their phone was stolen. It even regularly updates so you can watch the phone move around.

The Lookout Menu as it appears on the phone.

The other useful function is its contacts backup. If you use Google Apps or another form of contact synchronisation then you probably won’t need this, but for those who don’t already back up contacts, Lookout can do weekly (or more regular) backups of your contacts database to their servers. That way if your phone gets stolen, at least you won’t have the hassle of asking around for numbers, you can just re-synchronise them from Lookout’s server to your new phone.

If you ever get as far or lucky as being with the police at the house where Lookout leads you to, you can activate a siren from the same page as the map. An increasingly loud siren is pretty damning evidence if you are looking around the house.

Read our full review of Lookout.

ZDBox

ZDBox has many functions: Data allowance checker, Mass App Uninstaller/Remover, Battery time calculator and Task Killer. Another useful feature in that bundle is Applock.

Applock is a simple additional security layer you can add on to some of your personal applications like PayPal and eBay. The settings are about halfway down the main menu in ZDBox. From the list of applications presented, just double-tap the ones you want to protect. When you go to launch them, a password input box appears with a similar style to a chip & pin pad. Type in the correct code to be able to use the application. Just make sure you don’t forget the code!

This is the password entry you have to clear before using locked applications.

Read our full review of ZDBox.

Google Latitude

Google Latitude is a program which shares people’s locations with one another. It can be set to automatically update using your phone’s GPS. If you get access to a computer or a friend’s phone, then you can see where yours was in the last fifteen minutes or so.

If the thieves turn off the GPS, the Wi-Fi and mast-location system continues running to give an approximate location. Google Latitude is totally unannounced and silent, so its very useful in a stolen phone situation since the thieves won’t know it is running. Unlike Lookout, Latitude can’t turn on your GPS remotely, so if you do choose to have Latitude as a part of a post-theft system, make sure you leave the GPS on all the time. It may be a battery drain, but it could be worth it; who knows?

This is where my phone last checked in to Google Latitude.

Stored Passwords

If your phone is stolen and you have passwords remembered in critical applications, then the thief now has access to all of those services too. Some services like the PayPal application do not support password remembering for obvious reasons. However other applications like email clients do. If you do lose your phone – whether it was stolen or not – change ALL your passwords immediately.

If you change your eBay password but neglect your email, a thief can just go through eBay’s password recovery which sends a reset link to the compromised email address. By changing every password you can think of, you are ensuring far better security by stopping some applications from unlocking others.

You might want to use an app like LastPass or KeePass to keep track of all these passwords.

Remote Deactivation

Most phone providers offer a service to help stop phone thieves dead in their tracks. This service is a remote deactivation, usually by blacklisting the SIM card in your phone. All the masts and servers of network providers are interlinked, so your SIM card will be useless wherever it goes.

Though this doesn’t stop a thief using your WiFi and applications, it does stop them racking up huge phone bills at your expense. The number you need to call to deactivate your phone should have been made clear by your provider. If it wasn’t, have a flick through your provider’s documents and copy the number to somewhere which is clear and easy to find, like a Post-It on the wall.

If you can’t find the number anywhere, try to find it out now. In an a panic situation ring the standard support line, odds are there will be some kind of redirect feature to get you through to the right person pretty quickly. Some network providers even work hand-in-hand with you and the authorities to locate your phone for you. Using signal triangulation between phone masts, the phone can be pinpointed fairly accurately, at least to the general region (if it is still on of course). Even a rough idea of where your phone is can be of help.

You should write down your phone’s IMEI number too. Each phone in the world has a unique IMEI number, so if a thief has removed your SIM and any identifying marks, you can still prove you own the phone with this number. It is usually located behind the battery on the phone’s body somewhere. Your provider probably has it on file, but you can also find it in Settings > About Phone > Status > IMEI.

Final Thoughts

Keeping a phone and its data safe is an important concern for everyone. When out and about, keep an eye on it, and in a zipped-up pocket if you can. If that pocket is inside your jacket, even better. Occasionally pat your pocket to make sure you still have it.

Hopefully I have given you some precautionary measures and ideas you can use if you ever end up a victim of phone theft.


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