If you’ve found yourself in the position where your smartphone or tablet is missing, you need to act fast. Time is of the essence, particularly if you have reason to believe your device was stolen. Whether someone absconded with it or you simply forgot it at lunch, here are the critical steps you need to take now—whether you’re an Apple user or on Android.
Step 1: Assume Your Phone is Gone for Good
While the thought of not getting your device back is unpleasant, it is safer to assume that you will need to replace it and the steps you are taking from this point on is to ensure your identity, privacy, and data remain secure. If you do get your phone back, great, but these steps are simply intended to protect you.
Think about it for a moment: your phone has access to so many of your most important online accounts, doesn’t it? This likely includes your email, which the thief could easily use to reset the passwords on you, logging in and locking you out of everything from your social media to your bank account to your web hosting.
So, it is better to cut your losses, assume the phone is gone, and do what you can to avoid this outcome.
Step 2: Remotely Lock and Wipe Your Device
By using Apple’s Find My iPhone setting, or Google’s Find My Device application, you give yourself the means to accomplish a lot—including tracking the device, so long as it is still on with GPS/Wireless data active.
Apple users will need to log into their iCloud account, while Android users will need to navigate to Google’s Find My Device page. Either will give you the device’s exact location, which itself can help give you important contextual information. If it’s at the restaurant where the company had lunch, it looks like you left it on the table. If it’s in some strange house or in motion, it’s probably time to wipe its data and lock it down.
If you don’t have these tools set up, you may be able to ask your wireless carrier or the phone’s manufacturer for assistance. Here’s the information you’ll need to get in touch with the bigger players:
- 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
Now that you’ve either confirmed your phone’s location or confirmed the worst has happened, it’s time to let someone know. If it's your device (and not one supplied by your place of work) reach out to your mobile carrier and let them know what has happened. They can block your phone from accessing the network and help make it harder for your information to be stolen.
For your convenience, here is some carriers’ contact information:
- AT&T: 1-800-331-0500 or 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 your phone was given to you by your workplace, you definitely need to report it to them as well so they can take the steps to protect their company data. This goes for any device used for your work in any way. A lost device is a clear liability, with both your data and company data at real risk. Businesses need to have the capability to revoke access to company data and email remotely, or at least remove the device’s work profile.
Step 4 - Change Your Passwords
You will want to change your credentials on these three accounts ASAP:
Log into these three accounts (if you have them) and update your passwords.
Every password needs to be unique and complex. You shouldn’t EVER use the same password twice. Ever, ever. We cannot stress this enough.
Next up, you will want to swap out your passwords in this order:
- Email accounts (if you have others besides your main Apple/Google/Microsoft accounts)
- Banking/financial accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, Paypal, merchant accounts, etc.)
- Cloud storage accounts (e.g. Dropbox, Amazon, Box, iCloud, Google Drive, Onedrive, etc.)
- Hosting/Domain-related accounts (e.g. GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Cloudflare, etc.)
- Social media (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- eCommerce stores (e.g. Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, ebay, etc.)
- Services/utilities (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, your electric company, insurance companies, etc.)
This is going to take you some time. Possibly a lot, depending on how many passwords you need to update. Be sure to be diligent and take your time.
If You Suspect Your Phone Has Been Stolen, Report It to Authorities
Once you’ve changed all your important passwords, you will absolutely want to report it. It may not help to get your stolen phone back, but getting it on a police record is a good practice. More often than not, people aren’t going to steal your phone; you just probably left it somewhere. If you notice that your phone is gone, and you know where you left it (like on the table at the restaurant you were just eating at), borrow someone else’s phone and have them hold it for you.
If your phone was stolen, however, and appears to be on the move when you start tracking it, let it go.
By now most people know that you can track a phone. If they want it bad enough, you’re better off driving to the Apple Store or Verizon than you are trying to chase it down. Don’t take the risk.
As mentioned earlier, report it to the police. It still is a crime, even if nothing comes of it.
If You Find a Lost Phone
If you come across a phone in a public place, the best thing you can do is to try and find the manager or an administrator and give them the lost phone. Since most people will instinctively retrace their steps, you might just be a hero by taking a few minutes and give it to someone that will be at that location longer than you will.
We sincerely hope you never have to go through the experience of losing your phone, but if you have, we hope this guide helps.