Has your smartphone been stolen? Or are you nervous about possible theft of your tablet or smartphone? While we love our mobile devices, we aren’t enthusiastic about those devices going mobile without us. Yet, protecting them from theft is not as easy as it should be. And when our smart devices ‘go mobile’, they take a lot of personal data along with them — data that could be used in very nasty ways. I offer some handy ways to protect your smartphone and yourself.
Stolen smart mobile devices are a flourishing breed. If you’re under the age of 25, there’s a 50:50 chance you have lost your cell phone or had it stolen at least once. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last April, 45 percent of cell phone users between the ages of 18 and 24 have had a phone lost or stolen. The survey also found that 3 out of 10 cell phone users between the ages of 35 and 54 have misplaced their device or had it stolen, as Kashmir Hill reports on Forbes.com.
There’s nothing new about cell phones being popular targets for thieves, but today’s smartphone is a full-fledged computer that stores all kinds of sensitive personal data: passwords, contacts, documents, Internet history, and more.
One reason smartphones are so popular with thieves is how easy it has been to reprogram and resell the devices. Verizon, Sprint, and (more recently) AT&T make it more difficult to resell a phone that someone has reported to the carriers as stolen. T-Mobile is expected to provide a similar service soon.
Earlier this year, C|net published a number of very useful articles about mobile device theft deterrence and responses.  The articles were a follow-up to the 2012 announcement by wireless carriers that they were going to create a common database for LTE smartphones designed to prevent smartphones that are reported stolen by consumers from being activated or provided service on any LTE network in the U.S. and on appropriate international LTE stolen mobile smartphone databases.
The carriers now share their stolen-phone databases, but the companies’ approach to theft prevention puts a lot of the burden upon its customers. The carriers continue to be resistant to installing “kill switches” or other internal location functionalities into their devices. Until that happens, the only way to deal with the increased trend in smartphone thefts is by taking matters into your own hand. Cnet recommends the following:
BE AWARE
C|net claims that the single most important preventive measure — even more important than using a passcode — is to be aware of your surroundings. People become so focused on their phone’s screen that they tend not to notice trouble approaching. Since thieves consider your smartphone their personal ATM, C|net recommends that you should treat the device like cash. I agree. That mobile device is more expensive than most of your jewelry and likely far more important to you. So you should be making an effort to keep it concealed, out of sight, attended and cared for. Oh, and don’t lend it to strangers who just need to make a quick call to make sure their grandmother is OK. You weren’t born yesterday!
First, don’t leave your phone, tablet, or notebook computer unattended. Prevent snatch-and-run robberies by keeping the device in your pocket, purse, backpack, or otherwise out of sight. Likewise, don’t leave personal electronics in plain view inside a parked car.If you’re going out for a night on the town, leave your expensive electronics at home. Consider buying a cheap, prepaid phone and/or a refurbished/recycled cheap smartphone for those nights out.
PASSWORD PROTECTION
I’ve resisted adding a password to my smartphone……it’s a pain everytime I access it. I may have been wrong! Passwords are an essential protection for you if your phone is ever stolen. In addition to locking the phone with a passcode thinking about backing up its data frequently.
Yet, I’ve always wondered whether the password protection would prevent someone from attempting to return my phone if I accidently misplaced it. There’s no way that they could discern that I owned the phone if it was password protected. So a password will help protect personal data but it may not help you if you misplace the phone and an honest person attempts to return it to you.
To facilitate recovery of a lost phone, you might think about your contact information on the wallpaper so the finder can reach you without having to know the device’s access code. The simplest way to add your contact info to your wallpaper is to write your e-mail address on a piece of paper, use the device to take a picture of the information, open the resulting image, select the “share” icon in the bottom-left corner, and choose Use as Wallpaper.  (If you haven’t activated the passcode on your iPhone or iPad, do so by opening the Settings, choosing General > Passcode Lock, and entering a four-digit code.)
C|net warns against putting your home phone number, home address, or other physical address on your “if found, contact me” wallpaper — unless you work at a police station — because a thief may try to use this information against you. An e-mail address or work phone number should be all a legitimate finder needs to reach you.
AFTER YOUR PHONE IS STOLEN
The moment your phone “goes mobile” you need to find an Internet or cell connection, depending on your wipe method, and activate the phone’s erase feature. If you’re fortunate enough to recover it later, you can restore the device’s most-recent backup.
C|net recommends going to Apple Support’s site provides instructions for backing up an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, as well as for restoring an iOS device via iTunes.
For Android users, you need to install an app that will allow you to locate and/or erase your phone remotely. Check out Lookout and Android Lost.
REPORT A LOST OR STOLEN PHONE
Whether you lock the phone or wipe its data, it is essential that you contact your carrier to report the device as lost or stolen. If the phone was stolen, file a police report. (be aware that the police will likely require the device’s serial number.)
If you’re able to track a stolen phone, C|net advises against confronting the thief directly. I agree. Let the police handle that. Several location-tracking apps let you use the device’s camera to take a picture of the thief that is e-mailed to you automatically. This may help prosecute the thief after he or she is apprehended, but it may not improve the chances of recovering the phone.
It is advisable to record the device’s 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, which can be used to prevent a stolen phone from accessing the cell network. The IMEI number is engraved on the back of some iPhone and iPad models and may be listed on the About screen. Apple’s support site describes how to find the IMEI number on various iPhone, iPad, and iPod models.
You can capture the information on the About screen by pressing the Home button and sleep/wake button simultaneously. Then e-mail the photo to yourself: open the screen in your photo roll, press the “share” icon in the bottom-left corner of the iPhone or top-right corner of the iPad, and choose Email Photo.
If you can erase your personal data on the lost phone and have a recent data backup to restore on your replacement device, all you’ve lost is some expensive hardware…and a few hours of your valuable spare time.
Finally, if you need help contacting your mobile carrier, here are some toll-free phone numbers for reporting lost or stolen phones to the following services:
AT&T: 1-800-331-0500
Verizon Wireless: 1-800-922-0204
Metro PCS: 1-888-863-8768
Sprint Nextel: 1-888-211-4727
T-Mobile USA: 1-800-937-8997
US Cellular: 1-888-944-9400