What to do before your mobile phone is lost, damaged, or stolen

What to do before your mobile phone is lost, damaged, or stolen

smartphone thief

Mobile phones are growing in popularity everyday, especially smartphones. Up until recently, I never spent much time thinking about what to do before your mobile phone is lost, damaged, or stolen. However, this all changed a couple of weeks ago when my wife’s wallet and iPhone were stolen out of her purse.

After getting over the initial shock, I quickly checked the tracking software I had installed on her iPhone to get the GPS coordinates of the thief. Unfortunately, today’s thieves are much smarter than in the past and they had disconnected the software from the device before I got the chance to check. At this point, the credit cards, money, driver’s licence and iPhone were gone for good.

Although it is irritating canceling and getting your credit cards reissued, it was a relatively easy process. The few charges the criminals had made on the cards were quickly reversed by the bank. The driver’s licence was reissued and we bought a credit check report for a year to keep an eye out for identity theft. However, the biggest problem was my wife’s iPhone.

Being self-employed, my wife uses her phone to take credit card payments using a special attachment. Without the phone, she would no longer be able to accept credit card payments at her work. Also, my wife has been busy and had not connected the iPhone to the desktop for syncing purposes, so the photos, contacts and notes were last backed up by iTunes a year ago when I had upgraded the iPhone operating system. At that time I had turned on some of the automatic back up features of the phone, so her contacts and notes were saved, but her favourite pictures she had taken were lost for good.

No one expects to wake up and lose their phone that day, but there are some easy steps you can take to make it easier to backup your content on your phone, and find your device it if it gets stolen.

Backup Your Phone

The worst part of losing a your mobile phone is the information on it. If this phone is used for personal use, it might be photos of your children or a great trip you had as well as all your friends’ contact details. Especially with many people going paperless, losing contact information can be a horrible experience if you don’t have the phone numbers memorized or written down on paper somewhere.

Depending on your device, iPhone and Android all offer backup features.

How to backup an iPhone

Apple introduced iCloud in June 6, 2011 for iPhone, iPad and iPod users on OS5 to backup their content. Everyone that signs up automatically gets 5 Gigs of storage.

iCloud will automatically backup the following (if you enable this on your device, it is off by default):

  • Apps, books, music, movies, and TV shows purchased through iTunes
  • Photos and videos you have taken
  • Contacts
  • Settings of your device
  • Application data
  • Application organization on your device
  • iMessage, text (SMS), and MMS messages

Read more about iCloud and how to configure your device.

How to backup an Android Phone

With Android devices, it depends on the manufacturer. The Samsung Galaxy S4 enables the customer to select the backup provider under their settings. If you have this device, go to Settings/Accounts/Backup Options/Cloud and you can select the provider that you want to use. This may be different for other manufacturers or versions of Android.

Samsung backups will include the following:

  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • text (SMS), and MMS messages
  • Photos and videos you have taken

Currently Samsung is offering 50 Gigs of free cloud storage at Dropbox for 2 years (at least for Canadian customers).

Android offers many other apps that will connect to other cloud storage. You can even setup your Google+ account to backup your photos. When you have setup your phone, Google+ will upload any pictures you take automatically over Wifi.

Track Your Phone

If you lose or have your iPhone or Android smartphone stolen, tracking applications will enable you to know where your device is. Many of these applications will show you the location, play sounds when the volume is off and wipe the device of personal information (when stolen).

How to track an iPhone

If you want to have the ability to track your iDevice (iPhone, iPad or iPod), you need to download the  Find Your Phone App. This app along with iCloud being enabled, allows you to:

  • See the location of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch on a map
  • Play a sound for two minutes at full volume (this overrides the silent mode)
  • Remotely lock the device
  • Remotely wipe the device, which will erase your personal data
  • Display a custom message on the screen

With Find My iPhone turned on for iOS 7, the Apple ID and password will always be required before anyone can:

  • Turn off the “Find My iPhone” app on your device.
  • Erase your device.
  • Reactivate and use your device at Apple

If my wife had her iPhone on iOS 7 instead of iOS 6 (it wasn’t released at the time), the thief would not have been able to delete the tracking software off her iPhone so easily and we would have had a chance to find out where the phone was. This improvement alone, is a great reason why all Apple users should upgrade their devices as soon as possible to iOS 7.

How to track an Android Phone

There is no Google app that can be used for tracking your phone, like there is with Apple. However, many third party companies have provided applications.  I personally recommend Lookout. Lookout is very popular, it has a number of great security features such as virus scan, backup of contacts only service (image and call history is paid only) and the most important “missing device”. It is even available for iPhone. It has the following features:

  • My favourite is the “Scream” feature, it sounds a loud alarm even if the phone is on silent, great if you lose the phone at your home and had it on silent
  • The “locate” tells you where the phone is if the phone is on
  • The “signal flare” automatically saves the location where it is before the battery dies
  • The “lock cam” takes a picture of the thief trying to access the phone and the GPS location after 3 failed attempts to unlock the phone.
  • The remote lock and remove wipe features are available to the paid version.

I know the lock cam works as I have received a couple of emails with photos of my children trying to access my phone when I am not around. I’ve also used the scream features when I misplaced my phone in my house with the ringer turned off. Both of these features have been a huge help for me personally.

Lock Your Phone

If you accidentally leave your iPhone or Android device on public transit or if the device is taken from you, don’t make it easy for anyone to access your personal data. With many applications (excluding most banking software), your username and password will be saved on your device for your convenience. However, if you lose you phone and someone picks it up without it being locked, they can then view all your contacts, log into your personal accounts (social media, retail, etc) and read your personal emails. Many retail apps, like popular coffee shops, will store your gift card value easily accessible via your mobile phone. So, instead of “Leaving the keys in the ignition of your car, take them with you”. Always lock your device, so only you can access your personal data.

When you lock your phone, you can use a password or PIN. Just make sure you limit the password attempts to a fairly low number (most phones don’t allow more than 10 times). Also, make sure that you set the “inactivity time out” limit to a fairly short time so that if the mobile device is left idle for 5 minutes or less, the screen is automatically locked. Don’t forget to choose a difficult to guess password with at least 6 characters with mix of symbols, letters, numbers as it makes it more difficult and time consuming for a thief to hack in.

I do not recommend using one of the top 10 most common PINS (use one not in the list as a thief will easily gain access using this):

  1. 1234
  2. 1111
  3. 0000
  4. 1212
  5. 7777
  6. 1004
  7. 2000
  8. 4444
  9. 2222
  10. 6969

How to lock an iPhone

In order to lock your iPhone, you can turn on the PIN feature or password feature that must be typed in every time the phone is left idle for x minutes or the screen is turned off. View the Apple Support guide for the complete step by step instructions.

How to lock an Android Phone

As with all Android devices, the lock feature depends on the phone manufacturer and the Android version. In the case of a Samsung Galaxy S4, go to Settings/My Device/Lock Screen and you can enable the lock screen features from there.

Document Your Phone

No matter how prepared you try to be to know what to do before your mobile phone is lost, damaged, or stolen, there is a possibility you might not get your device back right away. Therefore, when you contact your local police department to report the lost device, you will need to know your IMEI number. The IMEI is the International Mobile Equipment Identity and it is a unique number that identifies your mobile device. If a phone, tablet, or other mobile device is stolen, most carriers in Canada can blacklist the IMEI so a thief can’t use the device even if the SIM card is replaced.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) and Canada’s wireless carriers announced in 2012 that they have a plan of action to help law enforcement agencies with their efforts to combat the theft of wireless devices.

By September 30, 2013, the authorization of any GSM or LTE wireless device on any Canadian network will include verification that the IMEI number of the device has not been reported lost or stolen on any Canadian network.

How to get your IMEI number

To find your IMEI number go to the dial screen of your device and type *#06# and your IMEI will be displayed. Alternatively, open up your phone, take the battery out and you will see the IMEI code listed on your phone.


I hope no one ever goes through the experience of getting their mobile phone wet, or leaving it accidentally at a busy restaurant or being the victim of theft. However, if you take these precautions listed above, you will minimize on the amount of personal data you lose and increase the chance of you getting your phone back.


Posted in: