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How to Prevent Mobile Theft and Protect Your Data

Senior Editor, TipsHire

How do you protect the data on your phone if you lose it, hand it over, or someone steals it? You hope it won’t happen to you, and you probably even have a password preventing unwanted access to your phone, but is that enough?

When you lose your phone, you may still get it back, if an honest person finds it, you are willing to offer a reward, or the person who finds it can’t crack your passwords and decides to return it. If you decide to sell or give away your phone, you can reset it to factory settings and wipe out all the data regarding your use of it. The steps will depend on whether it is an Android phone, a Windows phone, or an iPhone, but they are easy to find and follow.

Unfortunately, when someone steals your mobile, unless you have a “kill switch” installed, all you can do is pray they have no idea what they are doing, although it is unlikely. Before you start planning your professional and personal life on your smartphone and log into all your email, social media, and online payment systems accounts from it, you should consider the possibility to have it stolen from you. Here is why!

Phone Theft Rates and Implications – Be Aware!

According to a Federal Communications Commission Report, in 2013, over 3 million Americans had their smartphones stolen, and their number had doubled compared to 2012. It seems 10% of smartphone users become victims of theft, and 68% of them never recover their devices.

To put an end to this cruel reality and prevent phone theft, states like California and countries like the U.K. introduced laws and regulations prompting manufacturers to provide their devices with theft-deterring software. This software enables smartphone owners to render their devices useless in case of theft, even from remote.

It worked, and the number of mobile theft reports dropped by 50% in San Francisco and London. While statistics referring to mobile theft levels today are scarce, it is important to be aware of what may happen if someone steals your phone. Please keep in mind that finding and keeping someone else’s possession without making reasonable efforts to return it qualifies as theft as well. In fact, 44% of theft cases begin with the owners losing or forgetting their phone in a public place.

But whether someone steals your phone or you lose it and the finder never returns is less important than what happens to your data and how much your phone is worth to you. The same report cited above states that 50% of phone theft victims are likely to pay $500 to recover their device or retrieve the data on it, and 30% of victims would pay even $1,000 with the same purpose. The most painful statistic is that 68% of phone theft victims would even put themselves in danger to recover their device and prevent access to the data stored on it.

It’s understandable, considering that 78% of adults admit to owning a smartphone and using it for everything they need, from texting to shopping, banking, social media, and more. In 2015, American used 9.6 trillion megabytes of data, sent 1.9 trillion text messages, and talked on the phone for 2.9 million minutes.

All this comes to prove that, if you lose your smartphone or have it stolen, you don’t lose just the device in itself and its associated value. You also lose important data you may have stored on it and not backed up, and you compromise the security of the accounts you have accessed from the respective device.

I doubt you type in your email or username and password every time you access your email, social media, and banking accounts. You most likely have settings that allow your device or operating system to memorize them and log you in automatically. This works great when you are in a hurry or on the go, but what happens when your device ends up in the wrong hands?

You’re exposed, and whoever gets hands on your device, can break into your accounts, shop with your money, steal your identity, and access any personal or work data you stored on your device or shared from your accounts. Of course, that will not happen if you take measures to prevent mobile theft and protect your data.

How to Prevent Mobile Theft

You can’t prevent thieves from trying to rob you, but you can discourage them by being careful how and where you use and store your smartphone. It helps to keep it in an interior, zipped, or buttoned pocket, to discourage pick pocketing. You should avoid leaving it in sight and within reach in public places, as you risk having it stolen or forgetting about it and leaving.

You should also look into new technology, as there are devices and apps you can use to prevent losing your device. They help you track its location, and even alert you when it goes outside a certain distance from another device you track. Check out our reviews of TrackR and Magic Finder for more information!

How to Protect Your Phone and Your Data against Mobile Theft

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, you cannot prevent theft. When it happens, it is important to have an ace up your sleeve, a way to render your phone useless or, at least, protect the data on it. Here are a few tips on how you can do that:

1. Install an Anti-Theft App

Every day, new, better apps become available. When it comes to smartphone protection, most apps will help you do one or more of the following:

  • Locate your device
  • Wipe out the data on your device
  • Lock your device and request a security code to unlock it.

2. Use Several Security Levels

Having to type in a security code whenever you need to use your device can be annoying, so you’ll be tempted to use a simple code or give it up completely. Without a code, your smartphone is a sure target. With a simple code, it is still vulnerable.

The best you can do is use passwords for data-sensitive apps, like your email, social media, and banking accounts. For improved security, never use the same password for all your accounts, and don’t use obvious data, like your name or birth date, as passwords.

If you find it difficult to remember several passwords, consider using a password manager. Your accounts will have automatically generated complex passwords, yet you’ll be able to unlock all of them with the password you’ve set for the manager.

3. Don’t Allow Screen Notifications or Reduce Them to Minimum

It helps to see the envelope when you receive a new email and to see text messages and social media notifications even with your screen locked. However, these notifications give away important data, from contacts to personal data. The person who finds or steals your phone may not be able to unlock your phone, but this data can help them identify you and even steal your identity.

How to Protect Your Phone against Hacking

As mentioned above, the information you store on your phone is more valuable than the device itself. Did you know that someone could steal it or access it without actually stealing your device? It’s called hacking, it is a real danger, and you should learn to protect yourself against it. Here are a few ideas on how to do it:

  • Keep your device up to date. The purpose of software updates is to eliminate vulnerabilities. If you don’t keep up with them, you’ll leave your device vulnerable to various threats, from viruses to hackers.
  • Choose your apps carefully. Yes, Google, Apple, and Microsoft check the apps they allow in their stores, but not as close and as thoroughly as you may think. Malicious apps survived in their stores for months before being reported. The most dangerous ones are free, and they request permission to use your camera, read your files, or access your microphone. You consider them safe, install them, and enable them to use your resources in order to provide the promised services but do you really know what’s going on in the background? Think twice and do your research before downloading, installing, and giving permissions to any app on your smartphone.
  • Check what’s already on your phone. Some of the apps you have installed may have seemed safe when you downloaded them, but later updates may have turned them into real threats. You should take the time to review them and the permissions you have granted every now and then, just to be safe.
  • Don’t give anyone access to your phone. Trusting someone to access your device and the information on it is not a good idea, especially if you can’t supervise them every second. They might trust someone else who is less trustworthy or neglect some of the above precautions. To prevent unwanted physical access to your phone, always keep your screen and your browser locked.
  • Don’t use or disguise your use of open Wi-Fi networks. Sure, free internet access sounds great, especially when you’ve exhausted your traffic data or your connection is too slow. However, it is an open gate for intruders to snoop on your online activity. You should be safe in a bank or a local café but don’t set your device to connect automatically to whatever open Wi-Fi network it finds available.
  • Keep an eye on new sign-up alerts. Most platforms nowadays notify users when their accounts are accessed from new devices or let them see and control which devices have access to their accounts. Always look out for new devices, and change your passwords regularly, especially when you notice suspicious activities.
  • Use cloud storage and back-up your data. If after all the above measures you still become victim of mobile theft, you should be able to retrieve your data, no matter if we’re talking about personal photos, work documents, hobbies, etc. You may want to look into cloud storage platforms for this purpose, as they don’t use too many resources and they are easy to access from any device.

The Bottom Line about Mobile Theft

I hope you’ll never lose or have your mobile stolen, but, if you do, it helps to be prepared. This means taking measures to prevent access to your device and to your personal data (see the above tips and don’t hesitate to look up and try even more). It also means staying calm and acting fast.

Therefore, rather than losing your temper or despairing over the risks, if the unfortunate happens, I recommend locating your device and wiping out the data on it as soon as possible. If that is not an option, change the passwords to all your accounts immediately, and keep a close eye on them, just in case.

I know, all those apps and all that technology are confusing. I still can’t believe I’m using my smartphone for so many things, and there are still many things I’m missing out on. I’m no tech geek, and I never will be. I just follow steps, Google the answers I need, and read all instructions, notifications, and terms and conditions carefully.

Do the same! And if the worst happens, don’t despair and don’t put yourself in danger to reverse it! It is one thing to be willing to spend some money in order to retrieve or protect something you lost, and a completely different thing to jeopardize your safety.

You can always buy a new phone, start new accounts, recover or replace lost files, earn the money you’ve lost, and take measures to eliminate the consequences of any intrusion in your life. Sure, it may take time and effort, it may be annoying, and part of you may wonder if your data is safe. However, all these are preferable to any injury or threat to your health and safety or those of your loved ones, don’t you agree?

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