Was Your Phone Stolen? Don’t Panic!
When Gaetano DiNardi lost his phone during a trip to Mexico, he thought the worst-case scenario was that he'd have to buy a new device. Instead, he lost over $10,000 when scammers broke into his online accounts and stole his identity [*].
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [*]:
1 in 10 American smartphone owners are victims of phone theft — with 68% unable to recover their lost or stolen device.
The cost of your phone getting lost or stolen can amount to more than a replacement device. In some cases, it can cost you your identity.
Every day you add more personal information to your phone — from banking app logins and passwords to sensitive data, information, and photographs. Scammers know that your phone contains everything they need to steal your identity, empty your bank accounts, or worse.
If you think (or know) that your phone has been stolen, don’t wait any longer. Here’s exactly what you need to do now to protect yourself (and possibly even get your phone back).
What Can Happen If Your Phone Is Lost or Stolen?
The moment you can’t find your phone, you should assume the worst.
Phone thieves often go straight for your personal information after stealing your phone. They’ll try to access banking and investment apps, social media and email accounts, photos, and passwords.
They’ll change your passwords and lock you out of your email accounts so that you can’t get back in, while they run their schemes.
But what about phone locks?
Professional thieves know the exact moment to strike — such as when you’re walking down the street checking Google Maps for directions, and your phone is unlocked. Even if you have a phone passcode and enabled biometric security (like fingerprint ID), hackers can still gain access to your device.
With your phone, thieves can:
- Make unauthorized purchases using your linked credit cards and Apple or Google Pay.
- Access your passwords and login information for various accounts. (As many as 99% of people reuse passwords across business and personal accounts [*]. So, if scammers gain access to your phone, they can potentially get into your other accounts.)
- Hack your email account and lock you out.
- Access your bank accounts or investing apps and wire out your savings.
- Mine enough personal data to steal your identity.
- Hack your Google or Apple ID and bypass two-factor authentication (2FA) on your other apps.
- Run phishing scams targeting your friends and family.
- Use sensitive photos to blackmail you (i.e., sextortion).
- Find out what places you visit and get details about your economic status.
- Open credit cards and loans in your name.
The list is endless. And we’re not even talking about the fact that you’ll need to spend hundreds or even thousands on buying a new phone.
💡 Related: What Is the Google Voice Verification Code Scam? →
What To Do If Your Phone Is Stolen
The moment you discover that your phone is missing, there are two scenarios to consider:
- Your phone is lost, and you may be able to recover it.
- Your phone has been stolen, and hackers are currently breaking into your accounts.
Let’s start with the best-case scenario and review what you should do if your phone is lost.
The Best Case: How To Locate a Lost Phone
The best-case scenario is that your phone is lost and secured with a password or biometrics, and your SIM is protected with a PIN. Luckily, you’re actually two times more likely to lose your phone than to have it stolen [*].
Here’s what to do if your phone is lost:
- Call or text your phone to see if someone answers. In some cases, a good samaritan may have your phone and happily return it as soon as you call or text.
- Locate your phone using the “Find my device” function. Both Apple and Android phones have features that can help you locate a missing phone. If using a different device (such as an iPad or laptop), use the Find My Device (Android), Find My (iOS), or Samsung Find My Mobile feature to locate your phone.
- Put your device into “Lock mode.” Using the “Find My” feature, you can also mark your device as “lost.” This will lock your device and set a custom message on the screen displaying your contact details.
- Report the loss to your cell phone provider. Scammers might try to rack up charges on your phone, or transfer your SIM to a new device, so that they can hack your accounts. Make sure to contact your phone service provider and let them know that your device is missing so they’ll be on the lookout for signs of fraud.
- Go get your phone. If you see that your phone is in a familiar location, go pick it up. If it’s somewhere you don’t recognize, it may have been stolen. In that case, you should contact law enforcement rather than try to retrieve the phone yourself.
You don’t want to confront thieves if they are on the run. If your phone is just lost, it’s likely in a location where you’ve recently been, and not in motion.
The Worst Case: What To Do If Your Phone Has Been Stolen
- Lock your phone remotely
- Change your main passwords, and enable 2FA
- Report the theft to your provider
- Cancel any credit cards that were linked to Apple or Google Pay
- Warn friends and family about phishing scams
- File a police report
- Remotely erase your phone’s data
- Lock or freeze your credit file
- Contact your phone insurance provider
- Remove the device from your account
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection services
If you can’t find your phone using the “Find My” feature, or if you’re sure it was stolen, don’t try to get it back. Instead, follow these steps to secure your personal information and stop scammers from emptying your bank account.
1. Lock your phone remotely
Ideally, your phone will be secured by a unique passcode (i.e., not your birthday) and biometric security such as fingerprint ID or facial recognition. But even with these security measures in place, scammers can access your device.
Locking your phone will prevent anyone from using it without your account ID and password. This is the first thing you need to do to protect yourself against identity theft and fraud.
How to remotely lock your iPhone:
Apple lets you lock your iPhone remotely so that people cannot access your personal information.
Using a different device (such as an iPad, Mac desktop, or laptop), log into your iCloud account using your Apple ID and then enable the Find My iPhone feature. This will automatically turn on Apple’s Activation Lock feature and stop scammers from accessing your phone.
You can also turn on “Lost Mode” to track your phone’s location and display a custom message on your screen (with your contact details).
Note: You need to have enabled the “Find My” feature before losing your phone in order for this to work.
Watch now: How to use Apple’s “Find My iPhone” feature on iCloud ↓
How to remotely lock your Android phone:
To lock your Android device, use a different device to log into your Google account and enable the Find My Device feature. Once logged in, select “Secure Device” and then set a new lock screen password.
You can even remotely erase your device from the “Find My Device” screen. However, you should wait to follow some of the next steps before erasing all of your device’s data.
Watch now: How to use Android’s “Find My Device” feature ↓
If you’re logged into your Google account on your laptop or another device, you can also Google “Find my phone” to see your phone’s last location. Again, you’ll need to have the “Find My Device” feature enabled before your phone is stolen in order for these steps to work.
Not using an iPhone or Android phone? Here’s how to find and lock a stolen Windows phone.
💡 Related: Can iPhones Get Hacked? How To Tell & What To Do →
2. Change your main passwords and enable 2FA (two-factor authentication)
You may have a PIN, password, or pattern to protect your phone — but even those can be hacked. Despite any remote locking or data wiping, there is a possibility that the thief has or had access to your phone for a short time.
No matter what, you should consider any account or app on your phone as potentially compromised, and change your passwords immediately.
Account passwords you should change:
- Email — both your primary account and any backup accounts you use.
- Social media accounts.
- Mobile banking and investment apps.
- Shopping apps like Amazon.
- Streaming apps like Netflix or Prime.
- Your password manager.
Do you auto-save passwords?
If you’ve made the mistake of auto-saving passwords in Google Chrome or Safari, all of your accounts and even your credit card numbers could be at risk.
Make sure to update all of your passwords with new, unique, and secure passwords. This means choosing passwords that are at least eight characters long and include a combination of letters, symbols, and numbers.
For added security, enable two-factor authentication) on all your accounts. 2FA is an additional security measure that requires a special one-time-use code, along with your password, to access an account.
But it’s critical that you don’t use SMS for receiving your 2FA codes (your phone is stolen, after all). Instead, use an authenticator app like Authy or Google Authenticator.
3. Report the theft to your provider (and block your SIM and IMEI)
Criminals can rack up text, call, and data charges with your stolen phone. Even worse, they could start to run smishing scams on your friends and family using your phone number.
Contact your phone service provider, and tell them that your SIM has been lost or stolen and you want to block it. This stops scammers from using your phone.
The following providers offer phone support:
- T-Mobile: 1-800-937-8997 (Domestic), 1-505-998-3793 (International)
- Verizon: 1-800-922-0204
If you use AT&T, you can sign into your account and report the phone stolen online. Here’s how:
- Go to att.com/suspend.
- Log in to your AT&T account.
- Choose your reason, and select “Suspend.”
- Follow the prompts to suspend and block your account.
If you can't remotely lock or erase your phone, your wireless provider might be able to help. If you call them, it is possible to have your provider deactivate your phone and wipe your data.
💡 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your SIM Card? →
4. Cancel any credit cards that were linked to Apple or Google Pay
Thieves can use Apple Pay or Google Pay to make fraudulent purchases. Contact your bank and ask them to cancel the credit cards that were linked to your stolen phone. You can also ask to speak to their fraud department and dispute any recent fraudulent activity.
Yes, this step is annoying. But it’s more than worth it to help ensure that you don’t become a victim of fraud.
In the weeks and months following the phone theft, you should monitor your account statements closely for any unrecognized charges. You never know what accounts a scammer has access to, even after you have recovered your phone and data.
5. Warn your friends and family (for phishing scams)
Scammers can use your phone number to impersonate you and harass your friends and family with phone or text message scams.
For example, scammers could hack your Venmo account and request money from your family. Or, they could send text messages asking for sensitive information that they can then use for further identity theft and fraud.
Once they have access to your phone number, hackers can send seemingly harmless messages to your friends or family members asking them to click on links to fake websites. The sites may appear legitimate, but they are not. The information that your contacts provide, such as passwords, addresses, or credit card numbers, will go to the scammers.
💡 Related: How To Tell if Someone Is Scamming You Online (Real Examples) →
6. File a police report
If your phone is stolen, do not confront the thieves. Sometimes these cases can become dangerous very quickly, like when a 23-year old man from Alabama was shot and killed after tracking his phone and trying to retrieve it from thieves [*].
Instead, file a police report for the missing device. You can either contact your local law enforcement’s non-emergency line (not 911) or file a police report online. Try to provide as much information as possible, including:
- Your phone’s make and model.
- Where and when it was stolen.
- Your phone’s serial number, IMEI, MEID, or ESN.
- Your phone’s last known location using the “Find My Device” feature.
Some providers require proof that your mobile phone was stolen in order to process claims with your phone insurance carrier. A police report helps provide that documentation.
7. Remotely erase your phone’s data
When your phone is stolen, you should consider it gone. Make sure to erase your device’s data to stop thieves from finding sensitive information or photos.
On Android and iOS, you can wipe your phone’s data remotely by using the “Find My” app. Follow the prompt for locking your phone, but then choose the “erase phone” option.
Note: This action performs a factory reset on your phone and will delete all apps, photos, music, and settings. If your phone is offline, the reset will happen once your phone is connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi connection.
8. Lock or freeze your credit file
If thieves gained access to your private information before you could lock and erase your phone, they could perform different types of financial fraud. For example, they could:
- Open new credit accounts in your name.
- Take out loans in your name.
- Request a replacement credit card, and change your address so that they (and not you) receive the new card.
The best way to protect yourself is to lock or freeze your credit.
Both a credit lock and a credit freeze stop credit bureaus from opening new accounts in your name. If your financial information has been compromised, this is one of the only ways to ensure a criminal can’t rack up debts and leave you with the bill.
9. Contact your phone insurance provider
A stolen phone can leave you on the hook for hundreds of dollars. If your phone is stolen, call your insurance provider to try and get money back to cover or replace your lost device.
There are typically two ways that people obtain phone insurance:
- Through a service provider, such as AppleCare+ or Samsung Care+.
- Through a home insurance policy, like Lemonade.
10. Remove the device from your account (after you remotely erase the data)
Once your insurance claim has been approved (and you know there’s no chance of getting your phone back), you should remove the phone from your account. This is the final step in severing your stolen phone from your sensitive personal information.
Here’s how to remove your device from both Google and Apple accounts:
To remove a device from your Google account:
- Go to your Google account dashboard (account.google.com).
- Select “Security.”
- Scroll to the “Your devices” section, and select “Manage all devices.”
To remove a device from your Apple iCloud account:
- Go to icloud.com/find.
- Use your Apple ID to log into your iCloud account.
- Click “All Devices.”
- Choose your phone from the list.
- Click “Remove from Account.”
11. Consider identity theft protection
Even if your phone has been erased and removed from your account, you can’t be sure that criminals don’t have your personal information.
Your phone could have images stored of your passport or driver’s license — or even documents that contain your Social Security number (SSN), account passwords, and credit card numbers. If criminals have access to any of these, they could steal your identity over and over again.
Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution helps keep your identity and finances safe from scammers.
With Aura, you get:
- Financial fraud protection. Aura monitors your credit and bank accounts in near-real time and alerts you of fraud 4X faster than the competition.
- Instant credit lock. Lock and unlock your credit file with one click from your desktop or mobile app.
- Identity theft protection. Aura can alert you if an online account has been compromised, will monitor your SSN for signs of fraud, and can even reduce the amount of spam calls and emails you receive.
- Device and Wi-Fi protection for all your devices. Keep your computer, phone, and home network safe from hackers with powerful antivirus software and a military-grade Virtual Private Network (VPN).
- Family identity theft monitoring that protects up to five people including children and adults.
- 24/7 U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists. If the worst happens, Aura will be there to walk you through the needed steps to secure your identity and get back on your feet.
- $1,000,000 in insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft.
How To Secure Your New Phone From Criminals
After dealing with the fallout from a stolen phone, the last thing you want is to put yourself at risk again. Here’s how to secure your new phone against scammers and hackers:
- Set your phone to “auto lock” immediately, and enable biometric ID or a strong passcode. This can potentially stop scammers from accessing your information if they steal your phone.
- Write down your phone’s serial number and IMEI number, and store them in a secure place. This information is essential when filing a police report for a stolen phone.
- Activate the “Find my device” feature right away so that you can locate and erase your phone if it gets lost or stolen.
- Lock your SIM card with a PIN so that thieves can’t use it with another phone. Contact your carrier and ask them for a SIM lock.
- Add a trusted backup phone number to your account. Make sure this is a number you’ll have access to if your phone is stolen.
- Don’t store passwords in Google Chrome or Safari. Instead, use a secure password manager (like the one offered by Aura) to keep your passwords safe on your phone.
- Use an authenticator app for 2FA instead of SMS. This stops scammers from bypassing your 2FA codes if they steal your phone.
- Back up your phone regularly so that you always have access to your contacts and information. If you have to erase your phone because it was stolen, you don’t want to lose everything that was on it.
- Keep your phone in a secure place at all times. Avoid keeping it in a back pocket or in your bag — where a pickpocket or criminal could snag it.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Let a Stolen Phone Lead To a Stolen Identity
Realizing your phone is missing might merely seem frustrating — until you realize what it could lead to. The reality is that a stolen phone can lead to identity theft, fraud, and worse.
If your phone is stolen, you should try to get it back in the safest way possible. However, your first priority should be to secure your identity. Remotely lock and erase your phone, and monitor your bank and online accounts for signs of fraud.
And for the best protection, consider signing up for Aura’s all-in-one digital security and identity theft solution.