What to do if your phone gets stolen

If your phone falls into the hands of criminals, do not panic. Here is how to protect your data.

If your phone falls into the hands of criminals, do not panic. Here is how to protect your data

If you can’t find your phone, don’t panic. Exhaust your good options — maybe you misplaced it or lent it to someone, or buried it under some papers — and then, unfortunately, assume it was stolen. If you read our post on how to theft-proof your smartphone and data and followed the tips, then you’ve safeguarded your information and can restore it on a new phone. But even if you didn’t prepare in advance, you can reduce the damage.

Best-case scenario

Your phone’s screen was locked when it went missing, the data on it is encrypted, and the SIM card is PIN-protected. In that case:

  • Use the Find My Device (Android) or Find My (iOS) feature to mark the phone as lost and have the device display an on-screen message with the number of a friend or relative who can contact you in case someone honest finds the device;
  • After waiting as long as you’re comfortable on the first step, remotely delete all data on the device and contact your operator to block the SIM card;
  • Buy a new smartphone and restore your data from a backup copy.

We also recommend staying vigilant after the theft. Thieves often take advantage of that contact information, especially with more expensive devices, and use social engineering to trick the owner of the stolen device into revealing the password for their Google or Apple ID account. If successful, they can unlink the device from the account and make more money by selling the phone whole than by disassembling it and selling the parts.

In short, treat all texts and calls related to a stolen phone with the utmost suspicion, and do not enter or reveal your Google account or Apple ID credentials.

Worst-case scenario

If the smartphone landed in the wrong hands and it is not protected, possibly not even by a screen lock, then time is of the essence. The first thing you need is another phone from which to make several calls. Ask store or restaurant staff to use their phone, or flag down a cab and borrow the driver’s phone.

Block your SIM card

Your first call is to your carrier. Tell the support rep that you lost your SIM card and ask them to block it. Once the SIM card is blocked, the thief will no longer be able to impersonate you (call from your number or receive a text message with a verification code for changing a password or confirming a transaction, for example).

Warn relatives and friends

Your second call should be to a friend or relative. Explain that your phone was stolen, and ask them to warn mutual contacts that they might get calls or messages from your number with requests for money or maybe some questions, all of which they should ignore. You might want to ask them to post a warning on social media if you share many friends there.

Block smartphone

You will need access to the Internet to block your stolen smartphone. If at all possible, do so on a secure device; you will be entering your password.

First, log in to your Google or Apple ID account. If you are logging in from someone else’s device, and you have two-factor authentication set up, that may be difficult. Obviously, you can’t get a verification text or open a mobile authenticator app; your phone is gone. Android users can change the password without text message verification. If that applies to you, you will need to enter one of the backup codes you received when setting up two-factor authentication. iPhone users can recover account access by having a verification code sent to a trusted phone number or device.

Once you have logged in to your Google or Apple ID account, here’s what to do:

  • Find your missing smartphone in the device list under Security (for Android phones) or the Find My iPhone app (for iPhones) and find the missing smartphone in the list of devices;
  • Note the location of the smartphone on the map. If the phone is on and geolocation is active, its location icon should appear. However, even if the thief’s path is clear, do not try to chase them. Rather, ask the police for help;
  • Select Lost Mode. The system will offer to enter a message for the lock screen and a backup number to contact you. Your smartphone will now display that message, and nothing else. If the phone was simply misplaced, not stolen, the finder will be able to call you. Watch out for phishing messages and calls; criminals may pose as support reps and contact you to try to get the account password;
  • If your device contains important and sensitive information, consider the drastic measure of erasing it remotely. However, keep in mind that option is irrevocable — and also means giving up the ability to locate the phone remotely.

Unlink bank cards

When you block your smartphone with Find My or Find My Device, respectively, Apple or Google may suggest unlinking any associated cards, but in case it doesn’t, unlink bank cards from your device manually in the account settings. Unless they were stolen along with the phone, you don’t need to block the cards.

For Android devices:

  • Sign in to your Google account;
  • In the Payments & subscriptions section, select Payment settings;
  • Remove your cards.

For iPhone:

  • Sign in to your Apple ID account;
  • In the Devices section, find the missing iPhone and select Remove all cards.

Block the smartphone’s IMEI number

In some countries, in addition to having the SIM card blocked, you can add a stolen phone’s identification number (IMEI) to the carrier’s blocklist. To do that, you need to give the carrier this number. If you have the box in which the phone came, you can find the number on it.

Android lets you use the Find your phone feature to find the IMEI: Click on the encircled “i” next to the image of your phone and the IMEI code will pop up.

iPhone users can find theirs at appleid.apple.com by signing in with the Apple ID used on the stolen device, scrolling down to Devices, and selecting the iPhone to see its IMEI.

In theory, once the carrier adds the IMEI to the blocklist, the smartphone will not be able to connect to the mobile network even with a different SIM card. This feature works in the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Latvia and certain Latin American countries.

What’s next?

Once you’ve taken prudent steps to protect yourself and your data, it’s time to get down to mitigating other potential consequences.

Contact the police

Report the theft, giving police details such as carrier and phone number. However slim, there is still a chance to get your smartphone back. Sometimes phones get returned even after being missing for years.

Change your passwords

Change as many passwords as you can in your apps and mobile browser. Once you’ve replaced the passwords, set up two-factor authentication.

Restore your data

If you enabled backup on the device while you still had it, then you will be able to recover all information, down to text messages, on your new smartphone.

Here are the steps to do this on Android and iPhone.

Cheer up

The loss of a smartphone certainly carries serious stress and is a threat to your data. However, if you follow the steps above and back up your data in advance, you can cut your losses. Do not despair because your gadget was lost or stolen — your personal safety is the top priority.