How to Deter Smartphone Thefts and Protect Your Data

How to Deter Smartphone Thefts and Protect Your Data

Before It's Gone

Today's average wireless users spend a lot of time texting, talking and browsing the Internet, which usually means smartphones contain their personal information. But what happens to that data if your smartphone is lost or stolen? 

CTIA and its member companies, including multiple carrier, handset manufacturer and operating system developers, have been hard at work over the last year to help law enforcement with its stolen phone problem.

Most recently, CTIA and participating wireless companies announced its "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment," which will continue to protect consumers while recognizing the companies' need to retain flexibility so they may constantly innovate, which is key to stopping smartphone theft.

The industry, with direction from the Federal Communications Commission, law enforcement officials from major cities on the East Coast, and other policymakers have worked collaboratively to develop a proactive, multifaceted approach to dry up the aftermarket for stolen phones. Part of that effort involves the development of an integrated 3G and 4G/LTE database that is designed to prevent stolen phones from being reactivated. As more countries and more carriers around the world participate in the database, criminals will have fewer outlets for their stolen devices.

We are strong supporters of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer's Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act, which would impose tough penalties on those who steal devices or modify them illegally to help dry up the market for those who traffic in stolen devices.

In addition, wireless companies have been individually and collectively educating consumers about passwords, apps and other preventative measures to take so that if their smartphones are ever lost or stolen, their personal information is protected. Most recently, we've sent police stations across the country business card-sized tips to share with their citizensPDF icon.

To help consumers, CTIA and its members developed a public service announcement (PSA) video, which serves as an attention-grabbing reminder to use their smartphones' features and apps to remote lock, track and erase if the devices are lost or stolen.

CTIA and its members remind you that your personal safety, not your smartphone, should always be your number one priority.

FAQ on Lost/Stolen Devices

BEFORE your smartphone is lost or stolen:

  1. Be Aware. Know your surroundings and be cognizant of your smartphone use behavior. Similar to your purse or wallet, it's best to not call attention to your smartphone and create an opportunity for a thief to steal it (e.g., leave it on a restaurant table, allow strangers to "borrow" it for directions, etc.).
  2. Lock It. As soon as you get a new smartphone, set a hard to guess password to protect your device and change it on a regular basis. If you don't know how to set a password for your Android, BlackBerry, iOS (Apple) or Windows smartphones, here are step-by-step instructions.
  3. Add Apps. There are a number of apps available that will remotely track, lock and/or erase personal information on your smartphone. In addition, some apps will remotely trigger an alarm so people know that smartphone is stolen or take a photo of the thief so you can send it to police. By adding these apps now, in the event your smartphone is stolen or lost, your personal information will be protected.
  4. Save It (Again). If you have photos, emails, contacts, videos or anything else that you want to make sure is available if your smartphone is ever lost or stolen, save it somewhere else such as a computer, USB drive or cloud service.
  5. Insure It. You may want to consider insuring your device through your wireless provider or a third party entity so that if it is lost or stolen, your replacement device is covered.

AFTER your smartphone is lost or stolen:

  1. Report It. If you know your smartphone is stolen, immediately notify your wireless provider so you can avoid incurring charges on the usage. You may also report your smartphone stolen to your local police department. Let them know what tracking or other kinds of apps you have installed that may help them locate the thief. If your device is lost, tell your provider to put a "hold" on your account so that if it ends up being stolen, you've prevented unauthorized usage.
  2. Locate it. CTIA and its members remind you that your safety should always be your number one priority so you should never attempt to recover your smartphone on your own. But since you've already installed apps that can remotely track your smartphone, activate the app from a safe location. In addition to tracking, remote lock your smartphone so the thief cannot access your personal information.
  3. Erase It. If you have sensitive information, such as financial, health or work, or you believe your smartphone won't be returned, it's best to remote erase, or "wipe" it. Essentially, wiping your smartphone is similar to resetting it to its default, or factory installed settings. If you stored any passwords on your smartphone, it's a good idea to change them.

Anti-Theft Protection Apps for Wireless Handsets

There are a number of apps that can locate, lock and/or erase your wireless device if it gets lost or stolen. The below links will take you to a list of apps for these operating systems.

Related Videos

How to Set Up a PIN/Password on an Android
Here are step-by-step instructions to set up a PIN/password for your Android device.
How to Set Up a PIN/Password on a BlackBerry
Here are step-by-step instructions to set up a PIN/password for your BlackBerry.
How to Set Up a PIN/Password on an iOS (Apple) Device
Here are step-by-step instructions to set up a PIN/password for your iOS device.
How to Set Up a PIN/Password on a Windows Phone
Here are step-by-step instructions to set up a PIN/password for your Windows phone.

For more information on the participating wireless providers' progress reports on stolen smartphones, please see the quarterly reports submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) below.

Last Update October 2015
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