We’ve all been there. You leave your phone in the bathroom during a night out or reach for it in your pocket while traveling, only to find it’s gone. Now don’t panic (yet), it’s just a phone and it is replaceable. But unfortunately, the data on your phone is not.
There are a few precautions you can right now take to assure that your data is safe if your phone ever goes missing or gets stolen. First and foremost, always have a lock on your phone and make sure your app downloads are password protected. You should also regularly back-up your phone to assure you don’t lose any precious photos, contacts, or files. It might also be a good idea to have insurance on your phone, so you're covered in case it gets stolen, lost, or damaged.
But if your phone does get stolen (heaven forbid), here are five things you can do to prevent any further problems or potentially get it back.
1. Call your phone
If you’re lucky, your phone wasn’t actually stolen—just forgotten or left behind. The first thing you should do is call it and hope a good Samaritan will pick up. This is by far the easiest way to get your phone back. But if no one picks up, or worse if someone finds it and shuts it off, you’ll have to put matters into your own hand.
2. Track it
Make sure you turn on the tracking app on your phone. Android phones can use the Android Device Manager whereas iOS users have Find My iPhone. You can then access your phone’s security preferences using a computer. From there you can ping your phone so it makes a loud noise, displays a message (like another number to contact), locks the home screen with a new password, or even erases all its data—which should only be a last resort.
You can also track the phone’s location to see if it’s in an area you know or if it’s on the move, and you can try to go after it. These apps do need to be activated ahead of time, so if you haven’t done so already, you may be out of luck.
3. Notify your provider
Every wireless carrier should have a service to contact them if your phone has been lost or stolen. (Here are links for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon’s support pages.) From these pages (and a possible phone call) you may be able to find additional ways to track your phone or at least learn how to start getting a replacement. When you contact your wireless provider, you should also suspend your service in order to avoid any unauthorized usage charges.
4. Call the police
There's no guarantee that the authorities can actually help you get your phone back, but it’s worth a shot, and having an official police report will come in handy as well. The report should include the physical description of the device as well as the make and serial number. For iPhones, you can find this information in iTunes, and Samsung users may need to check the box their phones came in, or register their devices with Samsung to retrieve this info. It's also a good idea to write down the serial number, also known as the IMEI/MEID number, and keep it somewhere safe at home. This information could help authorities track your phone down down in a pawnshop, on eBay, or even in a bust.
Even if the police are unable to help you locate your phone, that police report has some secondary benefits. You might need it to cash in your insurance policy or when dealing with credit card companies if the thief gained access to financial information or shopping apps on your phone.
5. Wipe your phone remotely
Although it may be heartbreaking to delete recent photos or any process made in a mobile game, this step is important if you’re absolutely certain you won’t be getting your phone back. This is definitely a last resort, but if someone’s able to crack your phone, you don’t want to give them any chances to steal your data. This is especially true if you have any personal information, credit cards, important files, or sensitive work data on your device. You’ll be able to remotely wipe your phone using the tracking apps mentioned earlier, as long as you activated them, or you may be able to complete this task with the help of your wireless carrier.