I’ve lost two phones in recent years, both of which were stolen from under my nose. I didn’t misplace them, I wasn’t careless about leaving them out in the open, and yet: I managed to lose them. That’s exactly why I’m so obsessed with keeping my phone safe now, especially after shelling out for a top notch flagship.
But it hardly matters how much your phone cost when you bought it. It's priceless to you because it’s personal - and that’s what really matters when it comes to phones.
Mobile phones were extremely vulnerable to theft up until a few years ago because they were only truly traceable through their SIM card data, and then only if they’re switched on. Thieves were very aware of this, so they would always unplug phones immediately after stealing them, then remove and destroy their SIM cards as soon as possible.
Luckily, these days there are several ways of protecting your phone before the worst happens to you. Here are the top strategies for making your phone permanently yours and permanently traceable.
The Find My iPhone app is at the core of Apple’s lost-and-found system. All you have to do to benefit from Apple's free anti-theft protection is download this free app and set up your credentials. It’s simple enough that a child could use it without any issue.
Once it’s been set up, you can access all of your devices on the official Apple website and even give them commands. The most important is the “Lost” command, which lets you declare that one of your devices is no longer in your possession. This locks the device entirely, preventing thieves from making any use of it.
There are a few other useful features like displaying a message on the device’s screen, or making it ring loudly. I say devices rather than phones since this software exists for the whole range of Apple products - including iPads and iPods - so you should definitely set up an account and connect them all. If you ever find one missing, immediately declare it as lost. If it’s on, you’ll be able to read its exact location and consult your local police department about retrieving it from the thief (if you’re certain it’s been stolen).
The Android Device Manager links all of your devices to your personal Gmail account, although you need to set this up in advance. Connect to Google Play from your Android, and it immediately requests a Gmail account to link to. All you have to do is log in, and the phone you're using becomes bound to your account.
Afterwards, you can use the simple menu on the official Google sub-site to track all of your devices on the world map, drilled down to minutely precise locations. This software uses a collection of geo-locating methods to pinpoint your phone’s location.
Since most people will have linked a Gmail account to their phones at some point to use the Play Store, this is both an easy and elegant solution. In your darkest hour, you know you'll be able to rely on the Device Manager.
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But there’s a catch: Your phone’s not quite safe
As with most things in life, there's a catch with both Android and Apple's homegrown solutions. This software is only meant to be your first layer of security. You’ll need more protection than that, since your phone has to be online to transmit location data for Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager to work.
These solutions are ineffective if thieves immediately turn off your phone, which is usually the case. Hey, I’m not saying they’re useless, at least, not completely: they’re free and they serve a basic function. But, naturally, you should be looking at coupling them with additional software for the safest bet.
Go out of your way: Use third-party software
There are countless third party solutions to protect your phone. Most of them are exclusively for either Android or iPhone, which I consider a good thing since they’re more likely to cater to that device’s specific security weaknesses.
These apps go out of their way to sink their teeth into your phone, on the lowest level possible, meaning that with some of them, even after formatting the entire device, they remain active (although this would be the highest, most complex level of protection).
For Android: Cerberus
Cerberus gives you complete remote control over your phone. You can even record audio and video from your phone remotely, wipe the memory, reboot the device, and much more. Additionally, if your device has been rooted, you can integrate the software into your device’s ROM, meaning it will remain even after a factory reset. That’s exactly what you need.
And of course, if you want to cover all your bases and make sure the app is invisible to the would-be thief, use the disguised version of Cerberus. It’s the same software, renamed as “System Framework,” making it highly unlikely that the thief will suspect it’s actually security software.
Prey uses a combination of several types of locators to establish a movement pattern for your phone. This means that if your phone disappears, you’ll know exactly where it traveled, what route it took, and where it is now. And if the thief disables the phone afterwards, you’ll still have the initial data to hopefully find the phone.
Prey also offers options to send a message, sound an alarm, and disable the phone - though these features require the cooperation of the person holding the phone, which would be rather unusual.
I would suggest using Prey in conjunction with Find My iPhone for the best results.
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Common sense protection: Keep It Simple, Stupid
You’d be surprised by how much difference personalizing your phone can make - and yes, I mean physically. Write your name or similar credentials on the inside of the phone, under the battery. If you use a strong permanent ink, this will make your phone unsellable too.
You could also attach a complex and even annoying keychain onto your phone, making it much harder for it to get stolen in the first place. If you use a keychain that has a tendency to snag, the potential thief might be discouraged from trying to steal your phone: because prevention is the best solution of all.
Finally, it comes down to discipline. If your phone has been stolen, you need to employ all of these tips immediately, and not dawdle. Activate lost phone options, submit a stolen item report to the police, ask around the last place you saw your phone, and, of course, learn from the experience. If you’ve had a phone stolen from you, figure out how it happened and use that information to prevent it from happening again.
Have you fallen victim to phone theft? What methods do you use to protect your precious device? Share your tips in the Comments!