May 13, 2013

Lookout Looks to Curb Phone Theft

Phone theft is a problem on the rise. The FCC reports that upwards of 40 percent of theft in major US cities involves cell phones. A recent Lookout survey (January 2013) found that nearly one in ten people in the US have had a phone stolen. The San Francisco District Attorney and New York Attorney General are two parties that have called on us to help advise on how to solve the problem. Our team of engineers and researchers are taking a close look at what can be done.

The phone theft trend is putting both people and their most sensitive data at risk. Since the beginning of the company, we have developed software that helps people locate their lost or stolen devices, giving them the best chance at getting them back. Last year, users initiated over 9 million locates on their phones using Lookout. There is no silver bullet to solve the stolen phone problem, but we believe there are many ways to address it by involving both the industry and people with smartphones.

Part of solving the phone theft problem will be rooted in technology. A few ways we can begin to tackle the problem include:

  • Marry technology with law enforcement. A mobile phone’s desirability for theft hinges on its value, the ease with which it can be resold and the low risk of prosecution. By working with law enforcement to make stolen phones easier to find and identify, the industry can increase the risk for thieves.
  • Make phones harder to resell. We can make phones harder to resell and increase the risk of getting caught selling stolen phones by making stolen phones easier to identify. Some good work is already being done in this area — the FCC mandated in April 2012 that all major US carriers set up a stolen phone database last year, and the database is slated to roll out November 2013.
  • Prevent re-use of stolen phones. We can prevent stolen phones from being reused or resold, striking at the heart of the demand that drives their resale. 

Technology alone won’t end phone theft. The industry must also raise awareness about how people can stay safe and protect themselves and their devices. A few tips we recommend:

  • Set a password to protect your data. A password is the first line of defense for your privacy, and it protects your personal info if your phone falls into the wrong hands.
  • Be alert. A distracted person is a prime target for thieves. Put your device in your pocket or your handbag while you’re out in public places or riding public transit.
  • Download a mobile security app like Lookout with the ability to: Remotely locate a lost or stolen phone on a Google Map, or make it Scream a loud sound
  • Remotely lock and wipe your data (before a thief has a chance to access sensitive info)
  • Snap a photo with Lock Cam, which uses your phone’s front-facing camera to snap a picture if someone incorrectly enters your password three times and sends the photo to your email
  • Do not pursue a phone thief. If your phone is stolen, immediately report the incident to police and provide them with as much information about the event as possible. Next, contact your mobile carrier to file a report or insurance claim
One comment
  1. ken says:

    Sensible suggestions on remedies.

    My questions are:

    Is the industry (by company) doing enough to have a technological fix to this problem? You suggest rendering the phone inoperable would ‘strike at the heart’ the demand for stealing.

    Are there any technical hitches to accomplishing that now? If so, how far off is this solution? What would it cost the industry to implement? If not, what are manufacturers not doing this already?

    What’s the value of a stolen database? People want to quash the rampant theft mainly so I am not sure how this database helps.

    thanks, ken

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