Step 1: Assume Your Phone is Gone for Good
The first thing you need to be aware of is that you probably won’t be getting your device back. In fact, you should operate like you’ll never see it again. This is unfortunate as you’ll need to fork over hundreds of dollars to replace it, but in order to protect yourself and others and avoid even more cost, you have to take action.
The truth is that your phone has access to a lot of different accounts. Think about how many apps you consistently use, and how many of them have access to your financial and personal information. Now think about how much data is on there from other people. Instant messages, contact info, social media, and your work profile all are exposed if someone is able to access the contents of your phone.
Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Forget about that phone and forge ahead.
Step 2: Remotely Lock and Wipe Your Device
Go ahead and wipe the device. You can do this with Apple’s Find My iPhone setting on iPhone or Google’s Find My Device application on Android. From these hubs you can track the device (if you want) but at this point you should just focus on getting the information off of the device as quickly as possible.
To do this, Apple users will need to log into their iCloud account, while Android users will need to navigate to Google’s Find My Device page. Either one of these methods will give you the device’s exact location, which can be used in context. If it’s at the restaurant you last ate at, you could just go get it, but if it’s some other place you haven’t been, you will want to wipe it and lock the contents of it down.
If you haven’t set the tools up, your wireless carrier or phone’s manufacturer may be able to help. Here are some links to information that you will need to get in touch with them:
- Apple – Find My iPhone Activation Lock: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201365
- Verizon – Lock My Device: https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/knowledge-base-137943/
- Samsung – Find My Mobile: https://findmymobile.samsung.com
- T-Mobile – Lookout Mobile Security: https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-4257
Step 3: Report It
Now that you’ve come to the conclusion that you’ll never see your device again, you need to report it. If you own the device—not had it provided to you through work—you should contact your mobile carrier. They can block your phone from the network and make it much more difficult for people to siphon information off of it.
For your convenience, here is some carriers’ contact information:
- AT&T: 1-800-331-0500 or www.att.com/suspend
- Sprint: 1-888-211-4727 or https://www.sprint.com/en/support/solutions/device/report-that-your-device-is-lost-or-stolen.htm
- T-Mobile: 1-877-746-0909 or https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-121
- Verizon: 1-800-922-0204 or https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/suspend-service-faqs/#lost-stolen
If your phone was given to you by your workplace, you definitely need to report it to them as well so they can take the steps to protect their company data. This goes for any device used for your work in any way. A lost device is a clear liability, with both your data and company data at real risk. Businesses need to have the capability to revoke access to company data and email remotely, or at least remove the device’s work profile.
Step 4: Change Your Passwords
It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, but it’s time to fill a pot of coffee and change all of your passwords. You will have to change your passwords for your mobile account, and to be on the safe side, all of the accounts found on your phone. First start with these three, if you have them.
Obviously, every password needs to be unique and complex. Don’t use the same password twice.
Then you will want to prioritize your next moves. Changing passwords is an extremely lengthy experience. We’ve given you an avenue of attack here, starting with:
- Email accounts (if you have others besides your main Apple/Google/Microsoft accounts)
- Banking/financial accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, PayPal, merchant accounts, etc.)
- Cloud storage accounts (e.g. Dropbox, Amazon, Box, iCloud, Google Drive, Onedrive, etc.)
- Hosting/Domain-related accounts (e.g. GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Cloudflare, etc.)
- Social media (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- eCommerce stores (e.g. Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, ebay, etc.)
- Services/utilities (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, your electric company, insurance companies, etc.)
- Games and other apps
Again, this is going to take a long time. Take your time. You’ll feel better when all of your accounts are newly secured.
If You Suspect Your Phone Has Been Stolen, Report It to Authorities
After you are done with this, if it’s obviously been stolen, report it to the police. Why not? It probably won’t have any effect, but it is good to have a police record of the theft. These days, people don’t often steal phones, but it does happen occasionally. Most people today know that you can track a stolen phone, but those brazen enough to lift a smartphone are probably not the type of people you want to go confront over it.
If You Find a Lost Phone
Now if you come across a phone in your daily jaunt out into the world, you will want to find someone to give it to. Typically if you find a phone it will be on a restaurant or bar room table. Just find the manager and give it over. It won’t take long and it could really help someone else out.
We hope you never have to experience the loss of a phone, but if it does happen, we sincerely hope this guide helps.