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Stolen Cell Phones: What to do?
Cell phones disappear daily. They're sometimes merely misplaced but too often they are stolen. For a thief, cell phones are a pretty popular target due to the fact they are small and easier to take and to sell than most items. They can easily bring in $50 or more per phone. Then, of course, most thieves merely take the phone and use it until the owner has the phone disabled.
Find out how to prevent cell phone theft, what the real risks are, and what to do about stolen cell phones in this article.
What Are the Risks?
Here are two important points for anyone who has a stolen cell phone:
- Cell phone owners are responsible for all charges that are incurred prior to the point that the cell phone is reported lost or stolen. Keeping in mind that the "average" thief steals a cell phone to use it rather than sell it, these charges can be significant.
- Cell phone contracts have no liability limitations. Thus, owner's responsibility for paying any charges is not limited, capped, or anything else.
Note: Although the owner is responsible for all calls, if the owner set up and paid for their cell phone service via their credit card, they should contact the credit card company to see if the fraudulent calls could be covered through their service.
Fraudulent Accounts Are Another Risk
As we mentioned above, stolen cell phones are a bigger problem than just the missing device. It's possible of course for others to open a cellular account using your personal information (which they can obtain in a number of ways including via your unprotected cell phone).
For more information about this go to FCC.gov and learn how to protect yourself.
Preventing Cell Phone Theft
There are a few things cell phone owners can do to reduce the possibility of losing the cell phone, having it stolen, or reducing the damage that can occur in either instance:
- Use a clip or leash to keep your cell phone attached to your body.
- Don't leave an unattended phone laying in clear view or in a purse that isn't in a locked compartment.
- Another possibility to reduce the likelihood of phone theft is to use a wearable device; a smartwatch.
Of course, the thing is, it's not just a phone, it's the information inside that makes it even more valuable to you and to some thieves. Identity theft and the loss of other critical information can be devastating.
- It might be a more drastic step, but consider carefully what information you store on your cell phone. If it would create too big of a disaster if it fell into someone else's hands, don't store it. You can store data remotely with a secure online server. Then there is no data on your phone for someone else to access.
- For the information that is on your phone, encrypt it to prevent others from using it. Most smartphones have free software downloads for this.
- Of course one of the most basic first steps is to set up PINs for access to your phone (or pattern lock), to connect to the network, and a SIM card lock with PIN number so anyone taking your phone wouldn't be able to get access to a network.
- Again, security software is the best protection from information being used or sold by a thief if the owner chooses to store such sensitive information on their phone. Most phones have software to help you locate a lost or stolen phone, to wipe information, to reset the passcode, or lock the device remotely. Windows, Apple, and Android devices are among those that have these capabilities.
- Users also want to be sure to update their phone when updates become available. Security vulnerabilities are sometimes remedied via these updates.
- There are a number of mobile security apps available for purchase from companies like Norton, McAfee, TrendMicro, and others.
How to Protect Yourself When Your Phone is Stolen
Report a Stolen Cell Phone
What should you do if you have a stolen cell phone?
- Check the cell phone contract for the specifics, but generally, if a phone is stolen or missing it should be immediately reported it to the police. They will want to know the name of the cellular provider, the make and model of the cell phone, and it's Electronic Serial Number so be sure to keep this information on hand.
- With the case number assigned by the police, call the cellular provider to let them know what has happened. The company can render the phone unusable if given the IMEI number. (Users can get the IMEI number by dialing *#06# on their cell phone and keeping it on hand) Following notification, the owner can no longer be held accountable for any additional calls.
A rapid response is important and the best defense.
Locate and Disable the Phone
Locating and/or disabling stolen cell phones is sometimes possible. As mentioned above many phones have software available to remote wipe, lock, locate, etc. (For instance, Apple has "Find My iPhone" and Android has "Find My Device". ) It's best to have location GPS enabled for these to work.
However, some third party software is also available that can help in protecting a cell phone's information and to locate or disable the phone.
One possibility is GadgetTrak which can be used with many mobile devices including smartphones and laptops. It offers encrypted backup, remote data wipe, location tracking, detection of changes to the SIM card or software, and an alarm on your device.
Consider Cell Phone Insurance Before Your Phone Goes Missing
With millions of cell phones stolen each year, many consumers consider the purchase of cell phone insurance.
Manufacturer's (Apple, Samsung, etc.) often offer insurance when the phone is sold. In addition, cellular providers (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) offer coverage too. Then there are also third-party insurers.
Before deciding to go this route, however, there are a few things to consider:
- What is the monthly expense of insurance over time?
- What is the deductible? (the insurance likely won't cover the entire cost of a new phone)
- Will the replacement phone be the same as the current phone?
- Will the phone be replaced immediately?
- If your phone is stolen and you don't have insurance, what will your cellular provider do to help you out? (compare how much benefit there is to having insurance and not having it)
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2008 Ruth Coffee
Was this page helpful? Let us know!
E L Seaton from Virginia on October 10, 2011:
I shudder when I see Identity theft and phone in the same sentence. Thanks for sharing. I may need to update my lense about identity theft. Great lens
construction-lawyer on May 02, 2011:
My phone got stolen and nothing could be done probably because they change the imei easily.
Sycro on December 08, 2010:
hey, my phone got stolen and i used Phone number scan to see who it was
gogy on November 26, 2010:
You can also check the database of stolen, lost and found mobile phones at
Hopefuly you will not need this page but in case you need it could be useful.
MargoPArrowsmith on November 21, 2010:
My I Phone has a kind of GPS, but I still lose it when I turn it off
PinkyTinky on October 22, 2010:
thanks for the very important info,
linnatilpa on August 21, 2010:
not at all, my cell is stolen at my work place about 2hrs from now and i want to lacate its location, i am ready to give all my personal detail related to my phone and service provider. and i want to know its location. so if you can help me in this reply me currently my first move is to disconnect my mobile gprs connection which is vodafone
VarietyWriter2 on June 08, 2010:
Important info. Well done. Blessed by a SquidAngel :)
anonymous on March 10, 2010:
I know i'm too young but my phone got stolen at school! And i'm in fourth grade!
Ruth Coffee (author) from Zionsville, Indiana on October 23, 2009:
[in reply to Nicholas Peper] That's certainly not good! Have you contacted them and heard nothing back? I have heard only positive feedback until this, I would be interested if you learn more or if others have a similar experience.
anonymous on October 22, 2009:
I sent my old iPhone to CellForCash on 7/1/2009, they received it on 7/6/2009 and verified the iPhone on 7/10/2009. As of today 10/22/2009, I still haven't received payment or any responses to my emails or phone calls. Just thought I'd let you know. I used CellForCash because of an online recommendation by Chris Perillo, thinking that they would be a legit operation. If they were in the past, my present experience is that they are not legit anymore. eBay would have been a better choice in retrospect.
Ruth Coffee (author) from Zionsville, Indiana on September 29, 2009:
[in reply to Ellie] There are services like themobiletracker.com (clicking on the sunsatsatellite link above, under locate or disable your phone will take you there) which MAY be able to help you track your phone. But, the other thing you need to do is report it. At a minimum tell your cellular provider.
anonymous on September 28, 2009:
this is helpful.Today someone stole my phone at forth period, I had forgotten my sweater at my mother's house and didn't have enough time to change out of my sweats from PE.I had left my phone in my back-pack's front pocket.Since I sat in the back of the classroom with only one person next to me.I was told by the teacher to get the back door and leave it open.It wouldn't stay open so I stood there the whole class time, when I came in at the end of class; to put my pencils away..I put my pencils in to find my cell phone gone.My first thought was where did I put it?Then I remembered I had left it there, making the person next to me my only suspect.I would've asked him if he had stolen my phone but it seemed rude to do so.Plus, would he have told the truth?I don't know where it is and I'm scared.....It's a metroPCS SamSung Messager 2, had it only little before school started...Is there someway to track it?...Please help...
lparker3470 on September 15, 2009:
i think you have everything covered in this article!!!
there is a site that helps recover your lost phone htttp://www.itag.com
anonymous on May 28, 2009:
Today my daughter brought home a cell phone that someone handed her and said keep it going, they were passing it around like a toy. They wanted to see where it would stop. Well, my daughter brought this phone home to me and told me what had happened. I found the owner of the phone and come to find out, her aunt is a city cop right here in the town that I live in, they actually live on the same street as I do. Well, I took the phone to her aunt, informed her of what had happened, and no charges were brought agianst my daughter. I do wish we could live in an honest world. But the lady I turned the phone over to, is definitely going to the school to investigate. This just goes to show you, that its not just adults that are doing these things. Parents need to teach their children as well to be honest!
Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on May 27, 2009:
Very useful information and a great lens. 5*****
religions7 on May 10, 2009:
Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)
anonymous on May 08, 2009:
cell phone stolen
anonymous on April 10, 2009:
Once again I see it is all down to the consumer to safeguard themselves.
When will we make it the cell phone company's responsibility to ensure that cellphones are not worth stealing. They need to be permanently disabled, to have mechanisms on demand to trace (on court order). On top of our unreasonably high cell phone costs here we are now expected to pay more to keep track of our phones.
I would like to see a court case where there has been violence in a cell phone mugging, and I would like to see the victim sue the cell phone company for the simple fact that it must be their business policy to do nothing to ensure that cell phone crime becomes unviable. Cell phone theft actually benefits the companies because we are compelled to buy more phones before obsolescence due to theft.
Once again it is the corporates enriching themselves without actually doing anything to ensure their customers safety.
Anyone want to help move this along.
anonymous on February 09, 2009:
[in reply to Mike NY] here is the URL for the article:
anonymous on February 09, 2009:
5 stars! This is a really professional lens. awesome job! I wrote an article on Cellular Family Plans with some advised that might save people money. When you have a chance check it out. Thanks and keep up a good job!
julieannbrady on January 06, 2009:
Yep -- we've been there with the stolen AND lost cell phones -- between hubby and the guys at work, more cell phones than I think I've had in my lifetime! One of the last phones hubby lost was at a Jaguars game -- dropped in the seats where we sit as season ticket holders -- that meant that someone who probably sits in the area found and kept the phone -- calling the ISLANDS until hubby disabled it. A shame that more people don't turn in lost cell phones!
Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on December 07, 2008:
I was just dealing with a lost cell phone today. Thank you for all the useful information.
GrowWear on December 02, 2008:
Excellent comprehensive resource!
nightbear lm on November 19, 2008:
You just can't be too careful. Thanks for this lens.
Debbie from England on November 18, 2008:
Great advice on here! Thank you! Very well put together lens 5*
Mayflowerblood on November 18, 2008:
yes it's very helpful =]
Linda Hoxie from Idaho on November 18, 2008:
Great information, it happens so often!
anonymous on November 13, 2008:
I've lost my iPhone TWICE now, and got it back both times thanks to Rewarding Return (http://www.rewardingreturn.com)
They have recovery labels that you put on your cell phone. So if it's ever lost or stolen, the person has an incentive to return it to you. Check it out - you won't regret it
piedromolinero on October 24, 2008:
I am lucky and it never happened to me that my cell phone was stolen. But it is always good to have such tips handy. :)
Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on October 19, 2008:
This shows me I've been a little careless with my phone. Great information, now I'll know what to do in case this does occur! Thanks!
anonymous on September 18, 2008:
this rely helped me because someone stol my cell phones so i got to be careful now
DavidYarian LM on June 04, 2008:
Great information here. Thanks!
tdove on March 21, 2008:
Great advice. I lost my cell phone once and wish I knew this stuff then. Thanks for visiting me at How to Win Lotteries with Artificial Intelligence!
Margaret Schaut from Detroit on March 20, 2008:
Having your phone swiped IS hell. Great pointers about what to do! Important!
catch-cheating on March 03, 2008:
hi Mulberry, excellent guide, how to take care cellphone
Robin S from USA on February 21, 2008:
Another wonderful, informative lens! Nice work!
rockycha on February 21, 2008:
Once again, outstanding info! Your lenspages are always the best! high fives!
NAIZA LM on February 21, 2008:
Good advices how to be aware about stolen cell phones! Surely, a lot of people will consider to take extra careful. Definitely, a fabulous five!