Can stolen phones still be used?
Nowadays, FRP (Factory Reset Protection) makes it harder to wipe and reset mobile phones if they are stolen. This has helped reduce the risk of theft, as you need to be signed into the owner’s account before authorising a reset.
If you’ve been a victim of phone theft, or simply lost your phone with no way of finding it, remember it’s not the end of the world. Though valuable, these things can be fixed and/or replaced. Just make sure you’re taking sufficient steps to keep your details safe.
Steps to take if your phone is lost or stolen
Check whether it’s actually gone for good
First things first, you should just try to call your phone to check if it’s actually lost or if anyone answers.
Use a friend or family’s device to call your number. If your phone is on silent, you won’t hear it ring, but might be able to hear a vibrating, buzzing noise if you haven’t turned vibration off in the settings.
If you know your phone won’t make any noise, then try some of the other tips below.
Track the handset
For iPhones, you can use the Find My iPhone app, or Android Device Manager on Androids. To do this, you need to access the website for these apps from another device, like a friend’s phone, laptop or tablet.
Then simply enter your details (you must already have an account set up for this to work), and locate your phone on the digital map.
If it has been stolen and you see it moving across the map (that is, if the thief hasn’t turned the device off), call law enforcement rather than seeking it out yourself.
Find My iPhone
On an Apple device, go to:
- Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > Find My iPhone
On the internet, go to:
- iCloud.com > Login to iCloud > Find iPhone > Sign in > All Devices
The app will then allow you to either play a sound aloud (useful for if the phone is somewhere in your house, even on silent), display your number on the lockscreen in the hope someone will return it, or erase the device if you think it has been stolen.
Android Device Manager
On an Android device, go to:
- Google > Settings > Android Device Manager > Login with Google account
Like the iPhone, you can choose to play a sound, display your contact details on the screen, or erase the phone.
You should be aware that erasing your phone means you’ll no longer be able to locate it on any of the finding apps.
Report your phone as missing
Whether your phone goes missing or is actively stolen, you should report your device to your network provider as soon as you know you aren’t going to find it. Your provider can then block your phone to prevent anyone unlocking it and having access to your personal information.
If you don’t inform your network provider, you may end up paying for any texts or calls that occur from your phone while it’s not in your possession. Depending on where it is located, these calls can start to become very expensive.
Once you have told your provider, you can contact the police to inform them of your missing phone too. Make sure to ask your network provider what your phone’s identification number is, as you’ll need to tell the police the IMEI.
You can also register your phone as missing on Immobilise, where traders and the police can identify it if someone attempts to sell it.
If you know for certain that your phone is in the wrong hands, you can remotely wipe your device using the Find My iPhone or Google Device steps above.
Cancel any cards and other financial services
If your phone is lost or has been stolen, but you don’t want to wipe it remotely for any reason, make sure you cancel any financial services attached to your phone. For example, any bank app or mobile wallet you have stored on your phone could lead to an extortionate loss of money in the wrong hands.
Call your bank and ask for them to cancel or freeze all of your debit and credit cards immediately, as your phone has been stolen. This will ensure that you don’t lose any money, even if the culprit manages to hack into your phone.
Change your passwords
Again, if you don’t want to or can’t remotely wipe your phone, it’s important to change all of your passwords as a precaution. Even if you have locked or erased your phone, a thief may have had time to access your data.
You should change any passwords for accounts that are associated with your phone, such as:
- App Store - so no one can make any purchases
- Amazon - again, so no one can make any purchases on your account, though if you freeze your card details, they won’t be able to do this
- Social Media - you don’t want people prying into your social media accounts for clues regarding you or other people, or potentially locking you out by changing your account details
- Subscription Services - like Prime, Netflix and Hulu, as people could login and find your billing information
You should change passwords immediately for any other services on your phone that could be linked to your financial details.
Contact your insurance company
If your mobile phone is lost or stolen and this is covered by an insurance policy, contact your insurer to claim for a new phone - or avoid being charged for excessive use. Check if the phone is covered under your home and/or contents insurance as well.
Can’t remember whether you have insurance? Call your network provider to ask what’s included (assuming you’re still with the same network that sold you the phone).
Steps to take after getting a new phone
Note your device’s IMEI number
Making a note of your International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) number is important in case your phone gets lost or stolen. You will need to quote this when you file a police report.
The IMEI can usually be found in your phone's settings or online account. It may even be physically printed on the phone (near the battery or SIM) or on the original packaging.
Download mobile security apps
Phone finder apps like Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager are great, but it’s important that you add a few extra security measures, too, which give you a better chance of finding your device if it goes missing or is stolen.
Consider installing apps that take selfies after repeated login attempts, such as Lockwatch, Third Eye, and Intruder Selfie. The police will also be thankful for this kind of visual evidence!
Set up two-factor authentication
Designed to prevent unauthorised access to your accounts and personal details, two-factor authentication serves as an extra layer of security and is especially handy if your mobile phone gets lost or stolen.
Ensure this is turned on for all apps across your device to stop thieves from accessing confidential information.
Other ways to protect your phone (and yourself)
Ever heard the phrase ‘prevention is better than the cure’? Well, it applies perfectly to protecting your mobile phone (and the information on it).
Consider the following tips:
- Always choose a strong password that only you can remember
- Make sure you backup your information regularly
- Avoid saving passwords to browsers
- Enable mobile tracking apps
By following these simple steps, you can help keep your phone safe and secure should it go missing or be stolen.
You may also be able to get your number back from a lost or stolen phone, so whatever happens, you shouldn’t feel inconvenienced for long.