Don't Be Dumb About Your Smartphone...
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Don't Be Dumb About Your Smartphone...

4/24/14

My wife has had three cellphones stolen in the last 3 years.  Of course, she would never want anyone to know, but on the most part, these thefts could have been prevented had she heeded some of the advice below.  The first phone was dropped from its case which was attached to the outside of her purse.  It was in an airport.  Her hands were full, she was rushing to the parking lot, and realized when she got in the car that the phone was gone.  While she hoped that someone had found it and turned it in to lost and found, she had no such luck.  Luckily, the phone was insured and a new phone arrived 24 hours later.

The second (new replacement) was not even fully activated and was inside the purse this time as she was shopping at a Las Vegas Walmart. She reached for a product on the shelf, and the thief must have reached quickly inside the purse to lift the first thing his hand came in contact with.

A couple of years later, a new cellphone still in the box, was left in the backseat of the car under some other items.  The car was broken into and the GPS and cellphone were lifted.

Smartphone theft is rampant.  A 2012 report from the FCC indicated 40 percent of the robberies in New York City involved smartphones, and Consumer Reports estimated 1.6 million smartphones were stolen in 2012.  An estimated 140 million people in the United States own smartphones, with that number predicted to climb to more than 200 million by 2017.  By comparison, there are roughly 250 million cars in the United States. 

Your cellphone is a virtual storage cabinet for all of your important and private information.  It is valuable enough to the thief as an object he can fence or resale, but the data on your phone is even more valuable, and can bring an even higher price when peddled to the right party.  Smartphones regularly carry contact information for thousands of people, photos you may not have copies of (or don’t want other people to see), bank and credit card data, and website passwords.  Worse, three of every ten smartphone users don’t lock their phones with a passcode, so anyone who finds it has access to whatever is stored there. 

Location tracking technology built into most of these phones allows their users to locate the phone’s position remotely. Sometimes this can be done even if the phone is not turned on. Only removing the battery will make the phone go completely silent, and some phones, notably the iPhone, don’t have removable batteries. 

In the case of the iPhone, a free “Find My Phone” app allows the user to display the phone’s location on a map, where the phone has been recently, to lock or erase the phone remotely, and to display a message to whoever might have it or finds it.  The app will also cause the phone to play a sound file (roughly, “Here I am!”).  Any of these actions run from another iOS device or a web browser.  An app with the same name from the Google Play store permits almost as many options on an Android device. 

While you are attending festivals or concerts, going on vacation, or shopping, be aware of where your phone is – is it in an easy accessible side pocket of your purse?  Is it in your hip pocket where it is easy pickings for a thief?  Did you put it down on a shelf while you were shopping?  Realizing what you may have stored on your smartphone, ask yourself if you have taken the proper precautions to protect yourself against theft.

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