I have yet to run in to a fellow traveler who has said, “I’m going to leave my phone in a taxi on my next trip.” No one ever plans on losing their phone, but it happens all the time. According to an industry study, Americans lost $30 billion worth of mobile phones in 2011 – and only half of those phones were ever seen again. The information on your phone – your pictures, sensitive information, email, and login credentials – is priceless.
Just because you don’t plan on losing your phone does not mean that you cannot be prepared. In the event you lose your phone, we’re going to take you through the steps to recover your phone, and if that fails, what you need to do to secure you information on the lost phone.
First Things First
What is your phone’s IMEI number? Each phone is assigned a unique number called the IMEI, or International Mobile Equipment Identity. If your phone is lost, this number is very important to recovering it. Take a moment to find out your phone’s IMEI and serial number and write them down somewhere safe and somewhere you can easily access (even without your phone). Have them in a document on your laptop, in an email you send yourself, or written on a post-it on your desk – whatever works for you.
Your IMEI and serial numbers are easy to find. They can be found on the original box your phone came in, in the About section of your phone’s settings, or can be recovered by calling your phone carrier.
Planning To Lose Your Phone
Before you ever leave the house, there are some steps you should take to secure your phone just in case (knock on wood) it grows legs and walks away.
Have a secure lock screen password. The first layer of protection on any phone is the lock screen. If someone finds (or steals) your phone, you’ll want to prevent them from accessing your info with a solid password.
On an iPhone, you can turn off Simple Passcode if you’d like to enter a more complicated password that can include letters and numbers (found in Settings -> Touch ID & Passcode). On Android, set up a complex pin or gesture, and if your device offers the biometric Face Unlock, use it.
If your phone is found by a stranger and they cannot get in it, you also want to make sure they can find you without having to get past the lock screen. On Android, you can set up a lock screen owner message under Settings -> Security -> Owner Info, but be sure not to give too much away. On an iPhone, every one should know that you can hold down the home button and ask Siri, “Who does this phone belong to?” That will pull up your contact info, as long as your phone knows who you are.
Set up your phone’s locator. Every phone maker does it a little differently, but all smart phones today come with a locator to help you find a lost, misplaced, or stolen phone.
Apple uses find my device through iCloud. Google-certified phones can be found with the Android Device Manager. Even Windows has a Find My Phone feature. No matter what device you have, it’s important to have these features set up ASAP. Aside from helping you locate your phone on a map, you can also send your phone a message or make it ring. If you feel your device is gone forever and want to protect your data, you may also remotely wipe your phone for extra security.
(Note: you can also use some of these programs with your other devices. iPads and MacBooks also show up on Apple’s Find My Device, and tablets and Chromebooks registered with Google Play can show up on their Device Manager.)
Use 2-Step Authentication wherever possible. If you are unfamiliar, 2-Step Authentication is an added layer of security that many websites are integrating. If someone tries to log in to your accounts from an unrecognized device (or after you’ve changed your password), you can opt to receive an email or text message to confirm it is you. Every website does it a little differently, but be sure to turn it on if the option is there. You can find a great article that explains what it is and where to use it over at Lifehacker.
After You Lose Your Phone
You’ve prepped and hoped the day would never come, but it finally happened – you’ve lost your phone. This can be frustrating in your hometown, let alone in another state or country, but the steps to recovery are the same no matter where you are. Here’s what you should do:
Try to locate the phone. That may seem broad and a no-brainer, but in your frustration, you may forget a few basics. Retrace your steps from when you last saw your phone. Trying giving it a call from another phone. And after reading this article and having your phone’s locator already set up (right?), login and see where your phone is at. Send the phone a message, such as “Lost Phone. Please contact me at XXXX.”
Call your carrier. This is especially important if you are traveling overseas and don’t want international charges rung up on your account. Get ahold of your phone company and let them know what’s going on. They can deactivate the phone and check for any recent usage. They can also give you your IMEI number of the phone, which will be important for the next step.
Report your lost/stolen phone to the local authorities. If you’ve exhausted the other options and still have no idea where your phone is, make sure to file a police report. Your hotel’s front desk may be able to help you out, but in the end you’ll wind up at a police station filling out paperwork. Your IMEI is imperative here, and will be the first thing referenced if it turns up.
Change Your Passwords. It is always a good idea to change your account passwords whenever a device is compromised. Yes, even if you had a secure lock screen pass code, and you used 2-Step Authentication, and you remotely wiped your phone, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
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