There are plenty of articles online about how to protect your phone’s data and what else to do in the event your mobile phone is stolen — this is not one of those articles. This is about how to prevent your mobile phone from being stolen in the first place.
A Fool and His Mobile are Soon Parted
Android phones, iPhones, Windows phones, even BlackBerry smartphones (they still have those right?) — no matter which device you favour, someone else out there probably has their eye on it too. I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but let’s be real, thieves are a problem just about everywhere, and travellers especially can be an easy target. The FCC says that thefts of mobile phones account for between 30% and 40% of all robberies in major cities in the United States. In the UK, that number soars to 46% according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from mobile phone theft. Most of it involves common sense, but there are some things that you’ve probably never thought about that can come in handy too.
I’ve teamed up with the folks at GO-SIM (they offer prepaid international 3G, 4G, and Data SIM cards), to bring you this guide on tips to prevent your mobile phone from being stolen. So read on dear reader, and see how many of these Dos and Don’ts you do (or don’t) already know.
Dos and Don’ts of Mobile Phone Security
Don’t Leave Your Phone Unattended
Sounds like common sense, but next time you walk into a restaurant, café, or pub, take a look at how many mobile phones you see just sitting there on a table or bar. Even if you’re sitting right next to your cell phone at the time, it doesn’t take much for one thief to cause a distraction while another one nabs your phone from the table. Be smart and keep your smartphone in your pocket.
Don’t Touch Yourself
How many times when you’ve gotten up to leave a restaurant or bar have you patted yourself down to make sure you have your cell phone and wallet in your pockets? What you’ve basically just done is pointed out to potential thieves where all your valuables are located. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great habit to check to make sure you have all your possessions with you, but it’s probably best to do so discretely, especially if you are in a new city or unfamiliar surroundings.
For gents, the best place for protecting your mobile phone from being stolen is in your front pants pocket, or in an inside jacket pocket that can be zipped up. For ladies, the best place to carry your mobile phone is in a compartment in your zipped up purse.
Don’t Get Distracted
Thieves like to work in groups. While you’re distracted looking at that window display, answering a question from a random stranger on the street, or reading that map, you are at your most vulnerable. If you’re disembarking from a bus or train, don’t haul out your smartphone to check Google Maps or another GPS app to see where you’re going — best to duck into a store or other secure area to take a look. Keep your back to a wall as well to prevent someone from sneaking up behind you. Have your wits about you.
Do Be Aware of Crowds
Festivals, concerts, sports events, arenas — basically any place where large crowds gather are also favourite stomping grounds of mobile phone thieves. Your focus tends to be on the event rather than on your person, so maybe leave your mobile phone at home instead so you can fully enjoy the moment.
Don’t Fall Asleep
This one’s not only for travellers, but also for anyone who commutes to work or school. It’s very tempting to get some shuteye on a bus, train, subway or whatever other mode of public transportation you favour, but your sedated state also makes it that much easier for cell phone thieves to snatch your phone. Grab a coffee for the ride instead and have your wits about you.
Do Carry a Fake
Years ago when I went to Central America, I was warned about gun-wielding bandits who would stop buses and rob tourists of all their valuables. That never happened of course (and Central America is a wonderful region to visit), but I had come prepared just in case — I had a fake wallet.
Yep, the old decoy trick.
Old credits cards, forgotten ATM cards, ancient membership cards, expired IDs, and some small notes in the local currency — it all went into the fake wallet. I still carry it, but luckily I’ve never had to use it. I also carry a fake phone now too. It’s just an old phone that I don’t use anymore. It stays in the same pocket in my backpack always, so if I am ever confronted with a mugger demanding my phone, I know which one to give him.
Amazon has a host of refurbished phones if you don’t already have an old phone you can use.
The fake phone also doubles as a real phone too of course. For places where I want to have a mobile phone with me but don’t want to run the risk of losing my iPhone, I use a nano SIM to regular SIM card adapter to get old faithful up and running.
Do Get a Grip
Sometimes, just a firm grip on your phone will do the trick. Preferably you should handle your phone with both hands when out in public. A phone case with a strap offers extra grip too, making it that much harder for phone snatchers to get ahold of yours. There are plenty of phone cases to choose from for relatively reasonable prices on Amazon and eBay.
Don’t Let Loose (at least not too much)
Ahhh alcohol. The original social medium. What could possibly go wrong? Well, here’s a quick quiz for you:
When you drink to excess are you more likely to:
- lose your mobile phone
- have your mobile phone stolen
- take someone home and wake up the next morning to find your wallet and mobile phone (and a little piece of your dignity) missing
- all of the above are within the realm of possibility
Just be smart if you do plan to make a night of it. Keep track of your phone when you’re out, and safely store it when (and if) you go home.
Don’t Forget That Bigger is Better
I have an iPhone 5, but I’m constantly asked what kind of phone it is. The reason? The case I have for it is monstrous. It’s one of those rugged OtterBox Defender cases that protects it from sand, dirt, and water splashes. It’s big, and it’s also really, really ugly. It takes a perfectly swell looking phone and makes it look like a brick from the late 90s. And I’m okay with that. I rarely forget it since it’s so easy to see. I don’t feel like I’m that much of a target because to a random passer-by I obviously have no taste. And it has the added benefit of protecting my phone if I drop it. Win. Win. Win.
These tips don’t just work for travellers, but they also work to help prevent mobile phone theft at school, at work, and on public transport.
Other Steps to Protect Your Phone in Case it is Stolen
Sometimes the bad guys win no matter how many precautions you take. If your phone is stolen, luckily there are some steps you take proactively take beforehand to minimize the impact.
- Download a stolen phone tracker app. CTIA — The Wireless Association offers a comprehensive list of anti-theft protection apps for Android, iOS, and other smartphone operating systems. It’s constantly updated with the latest apps including price and availability of features such as GPS tracking and locating, remote locking, and remote wiping of your smartphone data. I use Prey Project Anti-Theft which allows you to register up to 3 devices (including tablets and laptops) for free.
- Record your IMEI. That’s the unique identifier of your phone (kinda like the VIN on an automobile.) You’ll need it if you plan to file a police report. You can usually find it by dialling *#06# on you phone’s dial pad. If it doesn’t display, it will also be on the back of your phone once you remove your battery.
- Register your property. The UK has a registry system called Immobilise where residents can register any of their personal property, including mobile phones, to aid police in finding the rightful owner of stolen goods. Check to see if your country has something similar.
- Get insurance. Many mobile phone providers, like Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint in the US and TELUS, Koodo, and Rogers in Canada offer insurance for replacement of lost, stolen, or damaged phones at a reasonable monthly rate.
Have you had your mobile phone stolen? Or did you foil the attempt? Share your stories below — I’d love to hear about it!
*All black and white photos from The Everett Collection courtesy of Shutterstock