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What to do (Before and) After Your Cell Phone is Stolen

Categories: Hacking Life

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Last week I experienced what can only be described as the shock of having my cell phone stolen. Or so I’d thought. (More on that later.) In that hour or so of panic, I learned some valuable lessons about what to do if your cell phone is, indeed stolen.

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I was doing errands on a beautiful, warm afternoon, and I pulled into a small plaza to pop into a discount dollar store to pick up a couple of gift bags. I left the windows down in my truck about three inches, grabbed my purse, leaving my phone in the center console, and locked the doors behind me.

I went into the dollar store, went directly to the gift bag aisle and retrieved what I needed, paying the cashier before returning to the truck. I was in the store a total of about two or three minutes.

I settled myself back into the driver’s seat and reached for my phone.

My phone wasn’t where I’d left it.

I rummaged hastily through my bag, and the phone wasn’t there, either.

I checked between the seats. I checked under the seats. I checked under the truck.

I asked several people if they’d seen anyone reach into the truck. A kind man on the sidewalk offered to call my phone for me and I accepted. Nothing happened.

I could only assume that someone had watched me leave the truck and was now nearby hiding somewhere, looking at my list of contacts, my photographs, reading my Facebook feed, making long distance calls…I wanted to cry.

I left a business card with the dollar store owner in the rare event the phone turned up, and left. I felt lost. I had many emotions during that drive to meet my mom: sadness, anger, embarrassment, confusion…I cried. I was so angry at myself for leaving the phone in the truck in the first place, for being trusting and naive, for thinking that I could leave something valuable in the vehicle twenty feet away from where I was shopping without it being stolen. I imagined having to tell my husband what had happened and how we’d have to go out of pocket for a new phone.

When I met up with my mom, the friend that was with her called my cell phone. I didn’t hold my breath. Then, miraculously, someone answered.

The plaza where I’d been shopping also had a bank and the person who answered my phone was a bank teller. Someone had picked up my phone off the ground and brought it in. I guess my phone hadn’t been in the console, after all. I had somehow managed to drop it on the ground without realizing it and in the brief time I was in the dollar store, it had been returned. My faith in humanity restored, I went back across town to retrieve the phone from the bank teller.

Is there a moral to this story? Yes, I think there is a whole discussion we could have about when to have faith in your fellow citizens instead of assuming the worst. There is a discussion to be had about where cell phones belong in a vehicle (safely stowed in a bag, for example). There is also a discussion to be had about what to do when your cell phone is stolen.

This experience taught me that some of the things you can and should do after your phone is stolen or lost.

1. Report the loss/theft to your service provider. My provider’s policy, for example, is to suspend the phone and block it from further use so that the owner isn’t liable for the costs associated with usage by the individual who stole it.

2. Change the passwords on your bank accounts and social media applications to prevent someone else from logging into them from your device.

3. File a police report. While this might sound drastic, your insurance company and/or service provider may require it and this could help prevent further fees being incurred. Lysa Myers of The Mac Security Blog writes, “Anything you want to do from this point forward will be best accomplished with a police report in place. So go to the nearest law enforcement office and document the theft. Your cell phone company may require it and your insurance will definitely require it. And if you get information from a Device-Finder app, the police will be better able to help you recover it.”

To help ensure the security of your data and personal information before your phone is lost or stolen:

1. Set the password/lock feature to the highest level possible. My phone is now set to lock, requiring the password, after one minute of inactivity rather than five minutes. After all, I thought it had only taken a couple of minutes for the phone to be lifted from my truck, and in that time the phone would not have become locked.

2. Activate “Find My iPhone” if you’re using an iPhone or install another app that will use the GPS to help track down the location of your lost or stolen phone.

3. Pick a spot to keep your phone when you’re on the go and consistently stick with it. I’m seriously thinking about picking up a belt clip for my phone and making a habit of keeping it there!

Have you ever had your phone lost or stolen? How did you handle it?

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