How you can help the Police recover your stolen smartphone (& stop the thieves from using it)

December 22, 2012


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We rely on our smartphone so much these days that it can be quite a shock if they are lost or, even worse, stolen.  While you might think that the Police can simply track down your phone once you report it stolen, that’s not the case, they rely on you to provide them with the technical information as well as the tools to track down your stolen device.

So in order to help the Police help here are some important tips to follow in order to recover your phone.

Make a record of your IMEI number

The very first thing you should do with your new phone is make a record of the IMEI (it’s also called an ICCID number or MEID number) number.  This is a 16 digit number which is specific to your handset which the Police can use to track your phone, even if the thieves have changed the SIM card.

You can find your phone’s IMEI number printed on the box in which it came or, if you don’t have the box you can access it by dialling *#06# – this will display your phone’s IMEI on the screen.

It’s also a good idea to make a record of any other numbers on the phone’s insides and on the box (this is also good advice for any electronic device, such as DSLRs and MP3 players all of which will have unique ID numbers stamped on them).

Here’s how it works. The Police have two methods for tracking your phone when it’s stolen, they can use your phone number or your IMEI number.  The problem with your phone number is that thieves can easily just discard your SIM card and replace it another.  Because the IMEI number is registered to your specific handset the Police will be able to track the device itself, even if the SIM card has been changed.

Register your phone

After making a note of the IMEI number the next thing you need to do is register your phone with your service provider.  Forget the extra offers that your service provider will promise you for registering; the real benefit is being able to get quick access to tools that could help you recover, or at least block your phone.

Although it varies between providers many have a section of their website which will let you report your phone stolen or missing.  Once you have reported your smartphone stolen (or lost) your provider will be able to help you track it or will be able to block the phone remotely.  This means that the person who has taken or has found your phone won’t be able to use it to make calls and rack up a large bill on your behalf.

You should know that blocking a phone is not the same as locking it.  A blocked phone is one that cannot be used to make or receive phone calls, SMS messages, or connect to a 3G/4G network.  The person who has your phone will still be able to access your device’s photographs, contacts book, and messages.  So makes sure that you know whether your service provider is locking or blocking your phone (or both).

Don’t worry if they are just blocking it, there are apps designed to let you remotely access and lock your phone, so even if they can’t help you can still work to protect your information.

Use a PIN code

This one is simple but often overlooked.  You need to place a PIN code on your phone.  This should obviously be memorable but do avoid useless combinations of numbers, such as 1234 – this will be the first thing that a thief will try.  If you are using an Android phone and are using the pattern unlock feature make sure that this is set up not to show the pattern you use.

Protect your voicemail

It is as important to use a PIN code for your voicemail as it is to use one for your phone.  If you have not done so already set up a PIN for your voicemail now.

Ensure your phone auto locks

British Police recommend that you set your phone to automatically lock itself after 60 seconds of inactivity.

Download security apps

Downloading a tracking app is vital if you want to recover your stolen phone.  According to the Police in the UK these apps are the only way that they can track your device

“Even if a phone has GPS built in, police cannot locate a stolen or missing phone unless the tracker app is fitted and enabled.”

There are dozens of apps on the Google Play Store and the iTunes store designed to help you track your phone if it is lost or stolen.  Many of these operate on a freemium basis, so you have access to some basic features for free but will have to pay to access more powerful ones.

One of the best apps you can download to help you track your phone is Lookout Mobile Security. The app works like a virus scanner and also allows you to backup your phone’s contacts to the web. But more importantly it has a number of features designed to let you recover your phone should it be lost or stolen.

With the app you’ll be able to find out where your phone is using Google Maps and, if you want to, you can set off an ear piercing alarm to annoy the thieves.  Android users that have upgraded to the premium version of the app are able to remotely lock their phones and even wipe them.  iPhone users can use the free Find My iPhone service from Apple to track their device.

Remember that if your smartphone is connected to a 3G/4G or wireless network you should be able to remotely install these apps from your home computer – so even if you didn’t install these before your phone was taken it might not be too late.

You can also download Dropbox for iOS and Android smartphones.  This app automatically uploads photos to your Dropbox account, so that you don’t have to lose your photos along with your phone (and you might even see some photos that the thief has taken with your phone).

There are plenty of other apps out there, so be sure to explore the Security section of the Android/iTunes stores.

If these apps do give you a location for your phone don’t try to recover it yourself, give the information to the Police.

Permanently mark your phone

If the Police do manage to recover your phone you will need to prove that your phone is actually yours.  There are several ways to do this (tell them who’s in your contact book) but one of the simplest is to have already marked the inside of your phone with a permanent marker or sticker.  Signing your name to the inside of your phone can be the easiest way to prove it’s actually yours but if you don’t want to go that far a small mark in a memorable place on the phone’s inside should be sufficient.

Change your account details

When your phone is taken it’s vital that you remember each account that you have connected to it and then change all of your passwords.  Chances are that you will have connected your Google/Gmail account, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts.  You will need to make sure each of these will be inaccessible to the person who has taken your phone.

These accounts not only give the thief access to post content on your accounts but also allows them to access your personal information, leaving you open to various forms of identity theft.

Remotely log out of your accounts

Changing your social media and email passwords is only part of the story. You should also remotely log out of these accounts.  This means that if you are permanently logged into your Gmail or Facebook account on your phone those sessions will be closed and your phone will ask anyone who tries to access them for your username and password.

Where possible set up 2-step verification on your personal accounts.

Inform your employer

If you use your phone for work, or your phone was given to you by your employer, then you will also need to inform them.  They may have to declare your phone stolen to Data Protection Authorities and will likely want to see a Police report of the theft.

It’s also a good idea to inform regular contacts so that they don’t send text messages or leave voice messages with personal details on your phone.

If you have insurance

If you have taken insurance out on your phone then remember that many insurance companies require you provide a Police report of the stolen phone.  It’s also important to remember that insurers will have specific time limits for when you can make a claim – some require you to make an official Police report within 24 hours of the smartphone being taken.

Make sure you know what your insurer requires of you or you could find that even they will refuse to pay out on your stolen smartphone.

If all else fails

Keep an eye on your bank account – if someone does have your phone and you are unable to protect it they can rack up a significant bill.  Your financial statements will tell you how your phone is being used.


  • Make a note of your IMEI number,
  • Make a note of your PUK,
  • Ensure sure your pin code is memorable and/or pattern unlock is not visible,
  • Carefully read your insurers’ terms and conditions and know what you have to do if your phone is lost or stolen,
  • Download a security app, many good ones are free,
  • Mark your phone in a memorable way,
  • Change your personal accounts’ details and sign out of all sessions remotely,
  • Inform your employer and friends.

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Ajit Jain

Ajit Jain is marketing and sales head at Octal Info Solution, a leading iPhone app development company and offering platform to hire Android app developers for your own app development project. He is available to connect on Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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