What to do if your phone is stolen or lost

Authored by a Symantec employee


The loss or theft of a phone can be devastating. Even a few years later, I can still remember the horrible feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I couldn’t find my iPhone.

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I’d met up with a friend at a restaurant to catch up. We sat by one of the fire pits and chatted. A couple hours later, my friend and I said goodnight, and I drove home.

Half an hour later I realized I couldn’t find my cell phone. And then I couldn’t remember putting it in my purse when I left the restaurant. My stomach started to churn as I carefully looked through my purse, jacket, and car — but the phone wasn’t there. My mind raced with thoughts of all the personal information that was on my phone: contact numbers, emails, photos.

After a few deep breaths, I calmed down and used the Find My iPhone app to locate my phone. Thankfully, I had turned on that feature just in case the unthinkable ever happened. And there it was on the map, right where I’d probably left it at the restaurant. Then, although I’d already set my phone to lock when idle, I turned on the Lost Mode so I could display a message to whoever found the phone.

I was lucky. The next day, even before I could return to or call the restaurant, the manager called me at the number displayed on my Lost Mode message and said someone had found my phone and turned it in.

If I had been unlucky I might not have locked my phone with a passcode. And someone could have found the phone and kept it — and stolen all my private information.

Proactively protect your smartphone and yourself

I’m glad I had taken some simple precautions to protect my iPhone in case it was ever lost or stolen. These tips can help you protect your phone and your information if that ever happens to you:

  • Use auto-lock and a passcode. Every device has some kind of locking or password mechanism. But many people simply do not use these functions, leaving their contacts, text messages, emails, and social networking accounts open to anyone who has the phone.
  • Back up information. Making sure you back up your information regularly may be a lifesaver in case you never regain access to your phone. Whether you adopt a low-tech technique, like writing down phone numbers, or something more high-tech like uploading information to the cloud, you’ll be glad to have a backup if your phone is stolen or lost.
  • Consider tracking software. Whether through your carrier or an app, you should be able to track your smartphone if it is ever stolen or lost. Apple’s Find My iPhone service will locate your phone on a map and display a message on its screen.
  • Don’t save passwords to your browser. When you visit password-protected websites, take the time to type in the password. Otherwise, a thief could access sensitive information simply by unlocking your phone. It may seem tiresome to enter your password every time, but the extra effort could help you protect your identity.

What to do if your smartphone is stolen or irretrievably lost

If you’ve determined that your phone isn’t just temporarily misplaced, it’s wise to take more advanced steps to protect your information and identity.

Since 2015, disabling your stolen cell phone has become easier with the introduction of kill switches. Now, most smartphones have built-in kill switches that allow you to remotely deactivate your stolen or lost device and prevent thieves from being able to reset and resell it. Apple offers Activation Lock, Android has Factory Reset Protection, and Samsung has Reactivation Lock, for example.

The implementation of kill switches have led to a decline in smartphone thefts, but if your phone is stolen, here’s what you can do:

  • Remotely lock and wipe your device. Even if your smartphone had a kill-switch activated, you should still remotely lock your phone whenever possible. You can do this on an iPhone by turning on Lost Mode with the Find My iPhone service. If your phone did not have a kill-switch, hopefully you had installed an app such as Norton Mobile Security that offers the ability to lock and wipe your mobile phone if stolen or lost.
  • Change your passwords. Most smartphones companies offer cloud services, so your phone may be connected to your data in the cloud. To prevent the thief from accessing all of your stored information, you’ll want to change your password as soon as possible. You should also change your passwords for any other accounts that you may still be logged in to on your phone, such as social or email accounts.
  • Report the theft immediately. If your phone was stolen, alert your carrier as soon as possible so the phone can be disabled. Let police know even if it’s unlikely the phone will be recovered. It helps authorities track crime patterns. And if you find a phone, turn it in to law enforcement. It may be possible to trace a phone back to its owner.

To learn more about how to protect your smartphones, PCs, Macs, and other devices, be sure to download the How to Protect Your New Device eBook.

For more information on how to deal with lost or stolen phones by manufacturer, see:

Android: Find your device by using Android Device Manager

Apple: If your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch is lost or stolen

Samsung: What should I do if my Samsung device is lost or stolen?

Windows: Find a lost Windows phone

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