What Users Do to Get Smartphones Back

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — May 12, 2014

Millions of consumers were victims of smartphone thefts in 2013, according to Consumer Reports—3.1 million to be exact, which is double from the prior year.
 
The government has been pushing manufacturers to include a kill-switch in all devices, and to that end, some headway was recently made. CTIA, the wireless association, and participating wireless companies announced the “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment,” but most lawmakers are aiming to turn voluntary into regulation.

In fact, a California Bill, which was initially voted down in April, passed on May 8 and made kill switches mandatory. Such a feature renders the device useless once activated, theoretically also making them much less valuable to thieves. The black market has been called “massive,” and as demand grows, so has the violence.

What Would You Do
In light of the danger, most users just hand over the phone and cut their losses right?

Not according to the latest research from Lookout. The “Phone Theft in America,” report  is based on research from more than 2,000 smartphone theft victims in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Among the U.S. findings, 68% of American smartphone theft victims are likely to put their personal safety at risk if it might lead to recovering their photos, videos, music, and other personal data. The research also found that half of the victims are somewhat to extremely likely to pay $500 just to retrieve the personal data on their stolen phone—a third say they would pay $1,000 for this.

“The reality is that 1 in 10 U.S. smartphone owners are victims of phone theft and 68% of those victims are unable to ever recover their device after the theft occurred. This is an issue that is bound to keep growing,” said Kevin Mahaffey, co-founder and CTO of Lookout. “While there isn’t one single solution that is going to alleviate phone theft, the problem can be stifled with industry collaboration, technology, and widespread awareness for how to stay safe.”

The most severe (personal) consequences of phone theft include fraudulent charges (12%) and identity theft (9%). As a result, about 90% of smartphone theft victims said they tried to get their phone back, including 60% who said they filed a police report. But 10% of these theft victims made no effort at all to recover their phone, primarily because they just didn’t know where to start.

Surprising Revelations
A significant number of smartphone theft victims said their device disappeared in the middle of the day, not late at night—40% of victims said their smartphone was stolen between lunch time and the end of the work day (between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.), compared to 18% of victims whose phones were stolen between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Forty-four percent of thefts happen because the victim left their phone on a table or bar, or walked away from it in some capacity. Fourteen percent were stolen from a car or house that was burglarized, while 11% of phones were stolen off the victims themselves: out of their hands, pockets, purses or bags.

The research also revealed that the top places to have a phone stolen are:

  • In a restaurant (16%)
  • At a bar or nightclub (11%)
  • At work (11%)
  • On public transportation (6%)
  • On the street (5%)


What You Should Do
To lessen the chances of lost or stolen data, Lookout suggests users place a pin or passcode on the device and download a “find my phone” app like the one the company offers, which allows for remote locating of the device, locking it down, and wiping it before a criminal can access sensitive or personal data.
 
Lookout’s app also enables the user to find a lost or stolen phone on a map or make it “scream” a loud sound. Plus, if someone incorrectly enters your password three times, Lookout’s Lock Cam feature uses your phone’s front-facing camera to snap a picture of the culprit and sends that photo and a map of the thief’s exact location to your email.

Other app and security options are available of course. For example, Apple provides Find My iPhone and iOS 7 comes with Activation Lock that renders the phone a “brick” without the password, and Samsung offers “Find My Mobile.”
 
Lookout also warns users to be alert and cognizant of the whereabouts of personal belongings at all times. A distracted person texting, listening to music, or talking on their phone is a prime target for thieves. Also, be cautious about leaving the phone out when in a public place.
 
Immediately report the incident to the police and provide them with as much information as possible. Next, contact your mobile carrier to file a report or insurance claim. Do not under any circumstances pursue a phone thief on your own. Vigilantism is never the answer.

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