Lost Cellphone: What Do You Do?

It was bound to happen someday. I lost my cell phone the other day. I had it in the side pocket of my car door. At some point while running errands it must have fallen out and I didn’t notice until I got home. I retraced my steps but I couldn’t find my phone. I even went in all the stores and asked if someone had turned it in. Nope. No only was my phone lost, it was probably stolen, too. It might turn up one day, but I’m not betting on it. To minimize the damage, I had to take a few steps that you should know in case you ever lose your phone.

Call your carrier immediately: They can deactivate the phone so that someone cannot run up a huge bill on your account. If you don’t report the loss, you will be liable for whatever charges the thief racks up. Some phones also have a tracking ability that the carrier can use to see where it’s being used and alert the police. The carrier can also see what numbers are called from the phone, giving the police more to work with. You can see this information, too, if you have online access to your account.

Get a new SIM card: Your carrier can send you a new SIM card (the electronic piece that mates your unique phone number to the phone) that you can place into a new phone, meaning you can keep your old phone number. They will usually do this for free, but there may be a small fee.

Contact the police: I told the police what happened so that I had a police report documenting the likely theft of my phone. This will come in handy if I have any problems related to the loss of the phone (identity theft, harassment, etc.), or if I decide to seek restitution from my insurance company. (I won’t contact my insurance because the cost of the phone isn’t worth the increase in premiums, but if you have a very expensive phone your homeowner’s insurance will likely cover the loss.)

Get a new phone: My provider wanted to charge me full retail for a replacement phone, but some haggling and negotiating on my part yielded me the same phone for half price. Try to negotiate with your provider for your replacement phone and don’t let them try to extend your contract or charge you upgrade fees just because you’re replacing the lost phone. Most are willing to work with you, but if you don’t protest they’ll hit you for full retail and all the associated fees for changing your phone.

I was lucky in some respects. Because I don’t keep much information on my phone there was much less for me to do. Some things that made it easier for me when my phone was lost that you can do, too:

I don’t keep very many contacts on my phone and of those that I do, I only keep phone numbers: I don’t keep addresses or other personal information for other people on my phone so if it falls into the wrong hands no one else has access to that information. I did call my personal friends and clients and let them know that my phone was stolen just in case they had any trouble with prank calls or harassment of any kind. Had I kept their personal information on my phone, I would have had to tell them that their addresses and any other information may have fallen into the wrong hands.

I don’t keep my own personal information on the phone: I don’t keep my Social Security Number, financial information, address, credit cards, driver’s license number, or anything that can be used for identity theft on my cell phone. If I had, I’d be much more worried about identity theft and have had to contact the credit bureaus, credit card companies, and any other compromised source to protect myself.

I don’t keep sensitive files or irreplaceable media on my phone: Any pictures or music files are backed up to my computer and the only documents I store on the phone are ones that contain only public information. Sensitive material is stored elsewhere under password protection. If I had lost confidential or irreplaceable information, I would have been in the kind of trouble that is very difficult to fix.

Cell phones are great, but losing one illustrates the point that these are not the devices on which you want to store every bit of personal information about yourself and others. They are small and easily lost or stolen. When you lose one, you only want to have to contact the carrier and get a new phone. You don’t want to also have to worry about lost data and sensitive information. I was lucky that all I had to so was have the phone deactivated and then get a new phone. It was annoying, but not too stressful. If you ever lose your phone, act immediately to protect both yourself and any sensitive information you might have stored on the phone.

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5 Responses to Lost Cellphone: What Do You Do?

  1. Good idea not to store pins and other personal info on the phone!

    Thanks for a great article.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  2. valletta says:

    These are all great tips.

    Or you can get an iPhone, which has an online remote turnoff feature you can do yourself.
    Also, your phone can have a password so no one has access to your info.
    And the best part?
    When you sync your phone with your computer all your data is automatically backed up so all you need to do is get a new iPhone, plug it in your computer and all your data gets transferred to your new iPhone.
    No manually entering info, etc….

  3. valletta says:

    Oh, one more tip:

    Enter I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) into your contacts so that when someone (police, fire, restaurant, etc.) finds your phone they know who to call to report it.
    People used to leave phones at my restaurant all the time and if they didn’t have ICE on their phone I’d usually call “Mom” :)
    (But then you’re going to get a call from Mom about where you were…haha)

  4. MBAbriefs says:

    Two good comments on the iPhone online remote turnoff feature and ICE numbers – Palm phones also have a free app that will allow you to remotely shut down your phone and entering ICE numbers is a good idea in general.

    My wife has actually lost 2 phones and it was just a matter of logging into my wireless ATT account and deactivating the phone. I bought her a cheap phone off Ebay and ATT sent us a new SIM card.

    I would add to your list syncing your phone with your PC you can store all your phone info. There are a number of 3rd party applications that make this pretty painless.

  5. Tahirarache says:

    When my contract with Sprint is up I intend to get a cell phone without a contract. Do you know of places that one can go to and just buy the phone (a nice smart phone)without entering into a contract?

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