Smartphone loss affects millions every year. Theft specifically leaves the device owner in a lurch, rushing to protect themselves from things like identity fraud, recover their device, or work with insurance companies to get a new one.
Maybe you’re the victim of pickpocketing, or you’re like 45% of phone theft victims who had a phone swiped after leaving it behind somewhere. For any of us, these scenarios feel all too similar.
By 2020, Ericsson predicts that 6.1 billion people globally will be walking around with upwards of $350 - $800 devices in their pockets. Our smartphones go where we go, making them easily accessible. This means our purses and pockets become an even bigger target for thieves.
What do thieves do with stolen smartphones?
Sell the phone
The physical device alone has a high resale value. A quick search on popular resale websites shows that used phones — depending on the model, storage space, and condition of the phone — sell between $150 - $650. While the large majority of these transactions are legitimate, criminals can likely make similar money on the black market.
What happens to the phone? Some stolen phones end up part of large-scale overseas trafficking schemes, like the one that led to a crazy connection between a Chinese man dubbed “Brother Orange” and a writer for Buzzfeed. In cases like that, your phone could yield up to $2,000 in countries like China, Peru, or Mexico.
Don’t assume you’re not a target just because your phone is a slightly older model or physically damaged. While these phones may have less allure, they can still turn a profit for parts.
Make use of the phone’s personal data
If you don’t have any preventative security measures set before your phone gets stolen, you wind up leaving the doors to your data open if it is. Actions like setting up a pin or passcode, or downloading a security app can go a long way.
The value of a smartphone can far exceed the physical cost of the device. These mini computers attached at our hips have transcended the idea of a traditional phone. Yes, you can still make a call or send an SMS, but they now also serve as our password vaults, personal planners, and a main connection to our working lives.
A recent Lookout study revealed that you value the contents of your phone -- emails, account credentials, contact information -- at a whopping $14,000.
Use the phone
In some instances, a smartphone thief may decide to steal your phone for personal use.
If your phone is unlocked or left without protection, a new SIM card is often all that’s required to make it a fully-functioning phone.
A more tech-savvy thief, may go the distance and unlock a stolen phone that’s tethered to a mobile carrier. This is a more difficult task and requires some personal information from the account holder, like their full name, social security number, and the device’s IMEI, but it’s achievable. If this information lives on your phone, you can imagine how easy it would be for an intruder to obtain it.
Unlocked or not, the phone is still a computer and can connect to Wi-Fi, allowing some use of the phone if it’s unprotected.
Safeguarding your phone against loss and theft
Believe it or not, all the above scenarios can be avoided with the implementation of a few simple security measures.
Set a pin/passcode
You’ve heard it hundreds of times, yet 40% of people fail to do so. If your phone falls into the wrong hands, a passcode is the only thing standing between your data and an intruder. Avoid simple passcodes like “1234” or your birthday and instead opt for a strong passcode that uses more numbers than the preset character length.
Know your IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) Think of this as your device’s unique ID number. You may notice the 14-16 digit number on the box when you first purchase the device, but if you’re like 40% of people, it’s probably gone unnoticed. Jot this number down for safe keeping. You can use it to notify your service provider and file a police report if your phone is lost or stolen.
Make sure you activate a mobile security app, like Lookout
Installing software designed to deter theft puts the power back into your hands. Most mobile security apps have functionality that allows you to remotely locate, lock, or wipe the device if it goes missing.
Lookout’s latest app for the Apple Watch also alerts you immediately when your smartphone goes out of range, preventing loss and potentially stopping thieves in their tracks.
Be aware of your surroundings
It seems like common sense, but 1 in 10 phone theft victims report their phones being stolen out of their hands, pockets, or personal bags. We understand that your smartphone allows you to be both entertained and productive, but a distracted person could be a prime target for thieves. Remember, your phone and its contents are valuable so be cautious of when and where you’re using your it.
If your phone is stolen
Take advantage of that security software!
We can’t stress this enough. If the worst happens, you can still take action to protect your phone and personal information by using that security software. First, attempt to locate and lock the phone. If you’re unsuccessful, resort to wiping the phone so your private data stays that way.
If you have Lookout Premium, make sure to check your inbox for a Theft Alerts email. Theft Alerts goes one step further, intelligently recognizing common actions thieves take immediately after a phone is stolen. If an action is triggered, Lookout snaps a front-facing photo and sends you an email with the phone’s location, your IMEI, and your wireless service provider’s customer support phone number.
If your phone is missing, login to your Lookout account by visiting https://my.lookout.com/user/login.
To locate your phone: Find My Device > Locate
To make your phone ‘scream’: Find My Device > Scream
To lock (premium feature) your phone: Find My Device > Enter 4-digit lock code > Lock
To wipe (premium feature) your phone: Find My Device > Wipe
Notify appropriate parties
File a police report with the local police department immediately. Have your IMEI handy and any other information you can provide. Next, contact your mobile provider and disable service or file an insurance claim.
Change your passwords
Think about all of the amazing apps you use on your smartphone: Facebook, Gmail, iCloud, the list goes on. Do you remember logging into these apps each time you launch them? Probably not. Our smartphones store data, like login credentials, providing us convenience and a seamless user experience. If a thief bypasses your lock screen, the downside is that they now have access to your accounts. Resetting your passwords, however, means a thief will only be met with a login screen when they attempt to open your apps.
If you understand how thieves operate and profit from stolen phones, you have the power to outsmart them and cut them off. Follow these steps today and get protected.