Earlier this month, two women had their smartphones stolen. They handled the thefts in two very different ways. One almost died.
In Mayfield Heights, a small suburb of Cleveland, a 33-year-old woman contacted T-Mobile when she realized she lost her phone in a local bar called the Boneyard. T-Mobile tracked the phone to a nearby mall, where a 21-year-old man had dropped it in a EcoATM — a machine that pays for used cellphones.
Last Tuesday, police issued a warrant for that guy, who had to show his ID to sell the woman’s $624 phone for $99. And the woman got her phone back.
On the same day, a 23-year-old woman named Antia Jasmine Isom was charged with attempted murder after allegedly choking a 19-year-old woman over a stolen phone. It happened in Conway, a small city near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The 19-year-old had tracked her phone by herself, got in her car, and — long story short — ended up arguing with Isom, who reached inside the car and choked her till she blacked out.
Don’t be dumb about smartphone theft
You might scoff at the 23-year-old and tell yourself, “I’d never do anything so stupid.” But according to a study released only a few days before Isom nearly killed that woman, you probably would.
According to Phone Theft in America, “68 percent 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.”
Not only that, but this: “The research also found that half of 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.”
Of course, you’re a moron if you risk your life or fork over four figures to retrieve something you can have others do for free. Here’s how to prevent phone theft and, failing that, resolve it safely and cheaply.
Know where theft happens
Beleive it or not, there’s no national stat on how many phones are lost or stolen each year. Consumer Reports “projects” 3.1 million Americans had their phones stolen in 2013. “That’s nearly double the number we previously projected had been stolen during 2012,” the consumer magazine says. “The survey also projects that 1.4 million smart phones were lost and never recovered last year.”
Your phone is most likely to be lost or stolen while you’re eating and drinking. According to that Phone Theft in America study, phones disappear most often from…
• a restaurant (16 percent)
• a bar or nightclub (11 percent)
• work (11 percent)
• public transportation (6 percent)
• on the street (5 percent)
While I have no research to back this up, I believe most phones go missing simply because they fall out of pockets and purses, and less-than-ethical people pick them up. I once spoke to a barback who said he could literally sweep up cellphones from the dance floor at the end of the night.
Take simple precautions
Consumer Reports is too nice to say it, but there’s a 33 percent chance you’re an idiot. I know I’m one.
“About one-third of the smartphone owners we surveyed recently said that they weren’t taking even the simplest measures to protect their phone and the data on it,” the magazine says. Here’s a graphic infographic, and I’m guilty of doing almost none of these things…
Report and deactivate
It seems like silly advice, but after you lose your phone, you need to make a call.
Borrow a phone and report your loss to your carrier, who will deactivate your service. Here’s where you call…
- AT&T: 1-800-801-1101
- Sprint: 1-888-211-4727
- T-Mobile: 1-800-937-8997
- Verizon: 1-800-922-0204
- US Cellular: 1-888-944-9400
- Metro PCS: 1-888-863-8768
Your carrier will deactivate your phone, rendering it a useless brick. Of course, savvy criminals still have a shiny phone to resell. So you also need to file a police report. While the procedure for doing that varies by jurisdiction, it can be as easy as making a phone call.
Of course, the cops aren’t going to assign a task force to find your phone, but the police report is what you want. That document is required for the next step: Putting a freeze on your credit. For more details, Consumer Reports has the best advice.
Don’t buy insurance
Unless you’re losing phones like other people lose loose change, you don’t need insurance. Why? It’s expensive when you buy it through your carrier, and it doesn’t help when you buy it from a third party.
For instance, AT&T’s mobile insurance costs $6.99 a month with deductibles between $50 and $199. Verizon charges $10 a month with deductibles between $45 and $99. If your phone retails for less than $500, probably not worth it.
And if you want to sign up for cheaper third-party insurers like SquareTrade, know this: While it covers accidents, it doesn’t cover theft.
And just because we can, we’re going to end this article with last week’s big news: Justin Bieber Accused of Attempted Cellphone Theft. If that smacks of click bait, at least we didn’t lead with it.
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