A friend of mine and her husband were shopping at a local store a few days ago. They weren’t going to be in the store for very long, so they left their smartphones in their car out of sight. When they finished shopping and came back to their car, they discovered that thieves had broken into their car and stolen their smartphones. They tried to use the GPS locator, but the thieves had already wiped the phones clean. Hearing about their experience prompted me to do some research on how individuals can protect their smartphones.
In 2011 smartphone and cellphone thefts made up 30% to 40% of all robberies in major U.S. cities. In November 2012 CNBC reported that In the United States, about 113 smartphones go missing each minute (that’s 160,000 a day and about 30 million a year!). Some good news for consumers is that in November 2012 U.S. mobile carriers began implementing a nationwide database to block the use of stolen mobile phones. The database is expected to be fully operational in the U.S. within 6 months and globally within 18 months. Through this system, when consumers call their carrier to report their wireless devices stolen, their carrier will block that device from being used again. Also in the works is a bill introduced in Congress by Senator Charles Schumer from NY to make it illegal for stolen cellphones to be reactivated on other networks in the U.S. and globally. “Our goal is to make a stolen cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet,” said Senator Schumer.
Consumers can protect their smartphones by taking the following steps:
Keep details. Make a record of all your phone information and keep this in a safe place. Include the following elements in the information: your phone number, make and model, color and appearance (take a picture of your phone and keep it in a safe place), the screen lock code or PIN, the IMEI number (on certain phones).
Password protect your smartphone home screen. It might seem like a hassle, but thieves are likely to abandon the phone rather than go to the effort of trying to hack past the lock screen. Some smartphones offer the option of erasing all data if a wrong code is entered more than 10 times.
Install anti phone theft software. This will allow you to remotely track, lock, wipe data off your phone if it’s stolen. Find My iPhone, TheftAware, Android Lost, Prey, LockItTight, and StealthGenie are some of the apps that help you locate your phone and let you erase all data remotely once you’ve decided searching for it is a lost cause.
Add a security mark. Write your street address and/or an alternate contact number onto both your mobile handset and battery with an ultraviolet pen. Reapply every couple months.
Register your phone with your network operator. If your phone is stolen, report the loss to them immediately. They may be able to block your phone from being used again. Some wireless carriers are willing to do this, and some aren’t. If done, this will prevent anyone from using the phone across any network, even if the SIM card is changed. Keep a record of your report.
Have your phone number disabled.
File a police report immediately.
Request an immediate, formal investigation from your carrier.
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