Criminals! Unfortunately they're out there, stealing and selling mobiles left and right to fund their criminal lifestyles - but not before they've drained your PayPal account, picked out a new TV with your Amazon details and ordered themselves a pizza from Dominos.
Fortunately, there's a lot that can be done when it comes to keeping your smartphone protected from thieves - some of it common sense, some of it requiring a bit of forward planning.
Using your phone
If you’re walking down the road shouting in your shiny new HTC One X or Apple iPhone 4S, you are immediately making your phone obvious to potential thieves.
The Metropolitan Police offers the following tips on things not to do with your phone:
- Don’t attract attention to your phone when you are carrying or using it in the street
- Don’t park in isolated in dark areas
- Don’t leave your phone in an unattended car - if you must, lock it out of sight
The key is to be discrete when using your phone and make sure you keep it somewhere where it’s not visible - an inner pocket should be safe, but certainly not in your back pocket.
Register your phone
Another way to protect your phone in the event it gets stolen is to have it registered with Immobilise beforehand. Immobilise is a UK-based property register that shares its information with the police and second-hand goods resellers, meaning that once your phone has been flagged as stolen, thieves will have a much harder time reselling it. To register the phone, head to Immobilise's website:You'll need the IMEI number on your phone, which you can get by calling your network provider alternatively it will be on the box, or under the battery (you may also be able to find your IMEI by dialling *#06#).
The next most obvious thing is to have a passcode enabled on the phone. Guessing someone's passcode doesn't always require Derren Brown-like trickery. If you've picked your code based on an easy-to-remember pattern (like 1-2-1-2 or 0-8-5-2), you're in good (or, in this case, bad) company - they're both codes that rank in the top ten four digit passcodes for mobiles. The same goes for the lamentably unsecure 1234, 0000 and 1111.
All the nagging advice you get from your bank about picking your PIN code applies here as well: don't use an obvious pattern, don't use the same digit four times, don't use your birthday, etc. This goes for your voicemail, too.
The second thing to consider is the Android grid-style locking system. Avoid it. Your phone's touchscreen is going to collect fingerprints like Dustin Hoffman collects Academy Awards. Viewed in the right light, this can give potential thieves a greasy map of your finger swipes, compromising your phone's security. Protip: stick with a standard passcode for maximum protection.
Obviously, auto-lock should be on at all times too (meaning the phone automatically locks itself down after short periods of inactivity).
When downloading apps, be wary of apps and sites that offer to remember your login details for you. Apps on the Apple App Store are generally pretty secure, but with Android apps, a degree of common sense is required - if you don't trust the site you're downloading an app from, don't do it.
If you're worried about info stored on the device falling into the wrong hands, then consider downloading a security program that can wipe your phone remotely.
iPhones now come with this functionality built-in - it just has to be enabled on the phone. Find My iPhone allows you to track your iDevice's whereabouts on Google Maps, lock it remotely, display a message and even erase all stored data before the thieves can get to it. You'll need to be registered with iCloud (simple and free) and then go into your settings menu and make sure 'Find My iPhone' is toggled to 'on'. For further instructions on enabling remote wipe, check out Apple's page here:
Android users can add similar functionality to their devices through apps like AndroidLost. You'll need to have the app installed on the phone before it's been stolen obviously, but once that's done you can rest easy knowing that even if someone does pilfer your 'droid, you have the power to remotely lock it and wipe it (or track it down with Google Maps, alternatively) before any serious damage is done with your data.
The ability to remote wipe your phone is something you should get now, rather than waiting until you need to.
The secure phone
Alternatively, if protecting your data comes above all else for you, consider plumping for a phone which is specifically designed to be as impenetrable to thieves as possible. Phones like the TripletonEnigmaE2 pack 'military level security' into their handsets, which uses cutting-edge encryption technology to keep your phone conversations totally safe from prying ears. The downside? The Tripleton Eigma E2 will set you back a whopping £1,320, but then again, at what price privacy?
What to do if your phone gets stolen
If worst comes to worst and thieves do make off with your mobile, you need to act quickly. First off, call up giffgaff and get your phone barred at once. Sounds obvious, but a lot of people don't realise that many insurance contracts (see below) require you to report the phone lost or stolen within 24 hours to be eligible for coverage. So if you're abroad when your mobile gets stolen, don't put off reporting it to your provider and insurance company until the holiday's over - you could be left with no recourse when your network stings you for a grand's worth of international phone calls your phone's new owner has mad.
The same goes for reporting the theft to the police. Unfortunately, the number of mobiles that go walkabout every day means it's unlikely that your handset will be recovered, but a police reference number will almost certainly be required by your insurance company if you want them to shell out for a replacement.
Again, this is doubly true if your phone is stolen while abroad - daunting though it may sound, you'll need to get a reference from the local police to give to your insurer on your return to Blighty. If you find yourself stuck in a part of the world where it's really impossible to make yourself understood by the locals, get in touch with the local British embassy or consulate and explain what's happened - it's part of their job to help Brits who fall victim to crime while travelling. You can find a list of them by country here.
If you do have an expensive smartphone then you need to get insurance. If you’re on giffgaff it’s worth looking at third-party insurance, from ProtectYourBubbleor Insure 2 Go, which is usually cheaper than that from the networks. Make sure you read the terms and conditions, so you know what to do if your phone gets stolen.