Smartphones are becoming smaller, more expensive and generally more awesome - and because of this, cell phone theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country. As attractive as these devices are to consumers, they’re equally as alluring to thieves, and surprisingly easy to steal.
Approximately 96% of the US population use a cell phone, 113 cell phones are stolen every minute in the US, and $7 million worth of phones disappear every day. Currently, robberies involving cell phones comprise between 30% - 40% of all robberies in each major city.
So it's not an exaggeration to say that anyone who owns a smartphone is at risk - so read on for tips on how to keep your gadgets out of harm's way.
Secure your phone
Record the details of your phone in order to easily identify it if it ever does go missing. Write down the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, your phone number (obviously), the make and model, color and general appearance (any phone cases, scratches and marks, or personalisation), and the phone’s PIN or security lock. To find the IMEI, you can dial *#06# and the 15-digit number will appear on your screen. Or, lift the back cover; it should be written behind the battery.
Mark your phone
Marking your phone and its battery with an ultra-violet pen is another way to prove ownership if it goes missing. We don’t recommend writing a name or address; instead, try your email or phone number. Writing your driver’s licence number and state will also make it easy for you to be tracked down by police if your device is recovered.
Keep it locked
Make use of your phone’s option to lock the home screen with a PIN or code; shockingly, around 54% of smartphone owners don't password protect their device. And on the subject of setting a PIN or passcode – you may not need reminding, but don’t make it easily guessable. So no birthdays, ‘1234’ or ‘6969’.
Get better security
Install security software, such as Cerberus for Android or Find my iPhone for iOS, which will allow you to track and locate your missing phone and protect your personal data.
Security applications for your phone
There are a number of applications available for smartphones across all platforms, designed to track and recover your phone if it’s lost or stolen and protect your personal information. Most of these use GPS in order to pinpoint a missing device’s location and track its movements.
For iPhones, Apple’s official Find my iPhone app will show users their phone’s location on a map, allows owners to send and display a message on the phone’s locked screen, remotely lock or wipe their device, and can set off a loud alarm that will ring even with the sound switched off.
For Android users, the Cerberus app does all of the above, although it isn’t free to download like Find my iPhone. Windows Phone users can go to the ‘My Phone’ section of windowsphone.com and from there are able to track, locate, remotely lock or wipe their phone and set off a loud ringing alarm.
Keep safe in public
Common sense: when not in use, keep your phone stored securely in a zippered bag or front pocket and on you at all times. Guys: don’t put it in your back jeans pocket. Ladies: if you keep your phone in your handbag, try to keep it in a zippered internal compartment, and always keep your bag closed even when carrying it with you.
Know where the risks are
Be extra cautious at high-risk events such as nightclubs, concerts and festivals, where close contact with people is unavoidable. These types of places are also usually dark, noisy and full of intoxicated patrons – so ideal places for opportunistic thieves to look for easy targets.
If you’re engrossed in your phone and holding it in your hands when you walk, it’s easy for someone to grab it as they run or cycle past. If you must use your phone in public, do it in a busy, well-lit place and be aware of the people around you. Place it immediately back in a bag or pocket when you’re done, and be careful at bus stops and train stations - these are theft hotspots.
Don't give away the brand
iPhones are as popular with thieves as they are with consumers, and those trademark white headphones are a dead giveaway as to the brand of phone in your hand or pocket. Switching the earbuds for a less recognizable set of headphones could reduce your risk.
And while we’re on the subject, listening to music in public makes you distracted, unable to hear people coming up behind you and generally makes you a much easier target. So if you can't go without iTunes, keep the volume low.
Take it with you
Avoid leaving your phone in a vehicle, even when the car is locked – if you have to do it, stash it in the glove box or somewhere it can’t be seen. Never leave it sitting on the seat in full view of passers-by.
Help! I've lost my phone!
If you know for sure that your phone has been stolen, inform the police immediately and file a report. This makes it much less likely you’ll be held accountable for any fraudulent calls made, and insurance companies will also normally request a police report before you can claim for a stolen phone.
Call your carrier
Next step – report the loss or theft to your network operator. Make sure you record details of the person/people you speak to when informing your cell company of the theft, as well as the date and time and what was done for you, so you can confirm you gave your carrier notice in the event that fraudulent calls are made.
Use your apps
If you’ve installed an app to locate your missing phone, use it! Likewise, any other apps that can remotely lock or wipe your phone should be used if you're worried about security.
Lock down your accounts
If you use your phone to access email, online banking, social networking, or anything else that you don’t want strangers being able to access, go online and change all of your passwords immediately. We also recommend not keeping your login details recorded in your phone (as many people are prone to do).
And if you use apps such as Facebook that don’t require you to login each time you access it, consider logging out whenever you’ve finished using it - yes, it's inconvenient, but it may protect your info from prying eyes.