Tip of the Week: What to Do if Your Smartphone Goes Missing
Uh oh—your mobile device is missing.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, time is of the essence… particularly if you have reason to believe that your device was stolen. To help prevent things from getting messy, we’ve put together a checklist for you to run down in case you suddenly can’t find your smartphone or tablet.
Bear in mind that a few of these steps will require some proactive setup on your part, which we’ll make note of.
Step 1: Assume Once a Device is Gone, It’s Gone for Good
While this outlook sounds bleak and very well may not be accurate, it is important that you make the presumption that a lost device will need to be replaced. This way, you’ll be more motivated to—first—protect the data that is stored on it, and—secondly—give yourself a means of recovering this data after the fact.
Consider the ramifications of losing your smartphone. It almost certainly has access to many of your personal accounts, and quite possibly many of your professional ones as well. That means that someone who managed to get into your phone could easily get into just about any account they wished by resetting the password to it and confirming the change through your email (which your phone probably gives them access to, as well). Your bank accounts, social media profiles, anything connected to your phone and email could be made theirs.
Step 2: Remote Lock and Wipe
Both Google and Apple offer utilities within their mobile platforms to assist users in locating a lost mobile device if need be, the former through its Find My Device application and the latter in its settings as Find My iPhone. Be aware: for either to work, the device needs to be turned on with GPS or wireless data active. Utilizing these features is as simple as logging into Google’s Find My Device webpage or into your Apple iCloud account.
Doing this will give you more or less the exact location of your device. If it’s someplace you recognize, like where you picked up lunch or back at the office, remotely lock it and call the location directly so that someone can pick it up before an opportunist spots it. If it’s someplace new, or on the move, it’s time to lock your device and remotely wipe it.
If you didn’t go through these steps, your phone’s carrier or manufacturer may be able to assist you:
- Apple – Find My iPhone Activation Lock: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201365
- Verizon – Lock My Device: https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/knowledge-base-137943/
- Samsung – Find My Mobile: https://findmymobile.samsung.com
- T-Mobile – Lookout Mobile Security: https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-4257
Step 3: Report It
Finally, it is time to swallow your pride.
If you’re working from your own device and not one owned by the company, contact your carrier and report the loss. If your phone has been stolen, they can cut it off from the network, making it that much less convenient for someone trying to steal your data.
Here’s the contact info you may need to do so:
- AT&T: 1-800-331-0500 or www.att.com/suspend
- Sprint: 1-888-211-4727 or https://www.sprint.com/en/support/solutions/device/report-that-your-device-is-lost-or-stolen.html
- T-Mobile: 1-877-746-0909 or https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-1211
- Verizon: 1-800-922-0204 or https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/suspend-service-faqs/#lost-stolen
If you use a device provided by the workplace for anything—checking emails, receiving and sending messages, etc.—you’ll need to report the loss to them as well. A lost device constitutes a serious business liability, as it will likely have access to not only your data, but the company’s data.
Any business that makes use of mobile devices should have the capability to remotely control access permissions to company data and to remove the work profile or fully wipe the device’s storage.
Step 4: Change Your Passwords
If you have these accounts, you need to change your password to them immediately:
Any and all passwords you have protecting your accounts need to be strong, secure, and unique. You should never—ever—use the same password on more than one account. We really can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t do it.
Next, go through your accounts in this order and change the access credentials for each of them:
- Any email accounts you have besides maintained as a part of your Apple, Google, and/or Microsoft accounts.
- Any financial or banking accounts you have, including bank accounts, credit cards, PayPal, and any merchant accounts you maintain.
- Any cloud storage accounts, like Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Amazon Drive.
- Any web hosting or domain-related accounts, like GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Cloudflare, or others.
- Any social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al.
- Any eCommerce platforms, like Amazon, eBay, Walmart, or other such entities.
- Any services and utilities you subscribe to, including your utility providers (like your electric company), your insurance providers, and any streaming services you subscribe to, like Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Max.
This is going to take you some time, and despite this, you shouldn’t rush through it. Be meticulously thorough to replace each password with a unique alternative, keeping track of all your accounts as you go.
What Should I Do If I Think My Phone Was Stolen?
First, you need to keep your expectations at a realistic level. If your phone truly was stolen, your chances of getting it back are slim to none. First, it isn’t as though people aren’t aware that mobile devices can be tracked. It isn’t worth trying to hunt it down, especially in terms of your health and safety.
Instead, contact law enforcement and report the theft. While there’s still no guarantee that they’ll be able to retrieve the phone—or even attempt to, even with the location available—it’s still your best option.
There is also the chance that a do-gooder picked it up to try and return it to its owner. You can’t assume this is the case, of course, but you may carefully consider calling it to see who picks up.
Regardless, locking down the phone and remotely wiping its data is likely best, as is assuming that the device is gone for good.
What If I Find a Lost Phone?
If you happen to come across a misplaced mobile device, the best course of action is to give it to a staff member or other authority figure wherever you are.
Let’s say you were grocery shopping, and found an Apple phone lying next to the other, more edible apples. In that case, you should bring it to customer service. Most people typically backtrack when looking for a lost device, so taking it elsewhere isn’t going to help them find it.
Hopefully, you never have to deal with a lost phone. However, if you do, try to keep this guide in mind.