If you’re reading this article after discovering your phone has been stolen, you have our commiserations.
If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone.
In the year to March 2017, a third of thefts from the person in England and Wales involved stolen handsets.
And while this figure has fallen from 51 per cent in 2013 and 2014, that’s scant consolation while you consider the consequences of ending up phoneless.
The best course of action if a device has been stolen involves limiting further damage, by notifying relevant authorities and disabling or deleting the phone’s contents.
You may be lucky and get the handset back, but even if you don’t, you haven’t necessarily lost everything it contained.
These are our tips for handling a uniquely stressful and unpleasant scenario:
Responding to a stolen handset
- Don’t panic! It’s human nature to catastrophise, but take a minute to think calmly. If the device is unlocked by fingerprint scans, a thief is unlikely to get into it. That may lead to the phone being abandoned, at which point you could potentially trace it using GPS.
- Try phoning the device. Even if it’s definitely been stolen, you might be able to persuade the thief to return or abandon it. Someone else may answer with a more sympathetic attitude to your loss – you might even recognise background noise that pinpoints its location.
- Inform your network operator. They will immediately be able to block the SIM and potentially the whole device. This will prevent your phone bill being inflated by calls to premium rate numbers. It’ll also protect you if the phone ends up at the scene of a crime.
- Provide the police with the device’s IMEI number. It’s a 15-digit code, unique to each handset. You could visit your local police station, or report the theft by calling 101 (don’t use 999). You’ll need a crime reference number for any insurance claim.
- Use GPS tools like Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager to track your handset. The police could do this too, but maybe your phone was discarded near the place it was stolen. It might be possible to retrieve it in person, providing it’s safe to do so.
- If you have contactless payments set up on your device, notify your credit or debit card provider about what’s happened. Ask them to temporarily disable your bank cards – it’ll be inconvenient for you, but it’ll prevent criminals paying for anything in your name.
Replacing a stolen handset
If your phone is gone forever, you’ll need to purchase a new handset – which may entail waiting for an insurance payout.
A cheap second-hand device or a friend’s spare handset will keep you connected in the meantime.
Your mobile provider should supply a replacement SIM card containing your old number, usually at the cost of a small admin fee.
It’s highly advisable to maintain a backup of every phone contact, either on an old handset or in the cloud. Tell everyone what’s happening, especially if you’re using a temporary number.
Once your old number is ported onto a replacement handset, it ought to be possible to transfer contacts and apps from most stolen Android or Apple devices.
Finally, for any readers who haven’t yet been a victim of phone theft, these sensible precautions ought to keep you out of next year’s crime statistics:
- Type *#06# into your keypad, and write down the IMEI number in a safe place. Doing so will enable you to report a crime to the police as soon as the handset is stolen
- Register the phone (and other valuable possessions) on the Immobilise website. This UK property registry helps police forces to return 2,500 found items every month
- Investigate insurance. Insurance is a waste of money if your phone is a battered old Nokia, but Samsung Galaxy S9 customers would be ill-advised not to take out a policy
- Activate biometric unlocking and set a six-digit keypad lock as a backup. An inaccessible handset won’t interest casual thieves, increasing your chances of recovering the device
- Set up Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager. These utilities remotely disable a stolen handset, make it behave annoyingly, change the unlock passcode or even wipe it
- Always be vigilant. Prevent opportunist thefts by not texting while walking, or making calls in dodgy areas. Check you’ve got the phone on you when leaving the pub, getting out of a taxi, etc.