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When You Lose Your Smart Phone

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If it hasn't happened to you yet, it's likely it will some time in the future.Here's a few tips that might help.

Right before the end of the year, my daughter lost her cell phone. When she told me, there was a part of me that heard the words in disbelief; despite having owned a cell phone myself for going on 15 years, there still seems to be something odd about “losing” a telephone.

And a pricey one at that. Apple’s iPhone 4s (the model she lost) cost several hundred dollars new, and even replacing it with a used one from eBay runs from $100 to $300. (Tip: buy direct from Apple online and they’re only $99 for 16GB).

Losing a phone can be as complicated as losing a wallet, and sometimes even more so. Today, people use their phones not just for calls, but to pay bills, stay in contact with friends, take photos, do banking... the list is endless. And all of those activities, depending on your security settings, may be freely available to whoever happens to pick up the phone you lost.

So what to do if you lose your cell phone?

If you haven’t found your phone within 24 hours (or if you’re certain it’s not just buried somewhere in your couch or your car seat) call your service provider. Yeah, tough to do without a phone, but borrow one from somewhere and do it. The provider can place your phone on the lost/stolen list, which then prevents anyone else from taking your phone into the store and activating it on their own account.

At this point, you can also choose to have service on the phone suspended, which prevents it from being used to make calls or access any of your private information that’s stored in “the cloud.”

Don’t forget to cancel/change all your passwords and logins, especially if you don’t keep your cell phone in a ‘locked’ status.

Second step: check in with your local police or sheriff’s department. If someone finds your phone and turns it in to a cell phone store, that store will report it and the provider will track you down. Law enforcement is not always as quick to do the same, and your phone may well be languishing in their “found” department, waiting on your call.

If you happen to have the iPhone model 3gS or higher, use Apple’s find my iPhone app right away. To use this feature, you’re going to have to have access to another Apple product (iPad, iPod, computer or a friend’s iPhone). Download the free app, and you can locate your phone using its built-in GPS, lock the phone, lock your data, remotely wipe your data, play a loud sound for two minutes even if the phone is set at silent, put a “call this number” right on the locked screen of the phone, and, if the phone is running iOS6 or later, keep track of location data and allow you to access that information on the web.

All carriers have services you can use after a phone is lost to track via GPS, though all have a monthly fee. If your phone is expensive, however, the cost is likely worthwhile.

For an Android phone, download the Plan B app from the Google Play store. Once it has remotely installed on your phone, it will send its GPS location to your Gmail address for the next ten minutes. Then text “locate” from a friend’s phone to your missing phone to continue the process.

Please note, that if you find your phone using the GPS and the phone is not in a public place, please call your local law enforcement for help in retrieving the phone.

The drawback to these apps?—the phone must actually have battery power and a cell connection to work. Which means you need to use them quickly.

If it happens that your phone was stolen, then a savvy thief will likely pull the SIM card first thing, in which case none of these apps will work.

There are dozens of applications for cell phones you can install prior to a phone going missing that can help you in the future. Once your phone is returned to you (or once you’ve bought a new one), spend a little time searching for the one that’s right for you.

One that I like is FoneHome. But like after-the-fact apps, these only work if the phone has battery life, a cellular connection, and if a thief has not pulled the SIM card.

By the way, if your phone goes missing, and you check online and see that someone has been using it—it is not okay to call those numbers and pretend to be a county sheriff. No, I didn’t do that, I just know it’s illegal to impersonate a police officer.

If your phone is lost, you might take comfort in the fact you are not alone. Asurion, the largest insurer for cell phones, reports that 60 million smart phones are lost, stolen or damaged every year, at a cost of $30 billion!

You might also try remembering that it’s only a phone; no matter what it feels like, you didn’t actually lose your life.

PS - as of this writing, Amy’s phone is still lost. If you happened to be in the Coeur d’Alene area around the evening of December 28, and came across a white iPhone 4s in a rather lovely case featuring a dream catcher on a fetching turquoise and grey background... please give us a call or email. Our contact info is at the front of the magazine.

Web update - Someone found Amy's phone and turned it in to the Verizon store, 13 days after it was lost. So don't give up hope!

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

iPhone, smart phone, FoneHome

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