What to Do When Your iPhone is Stolen (or Weekend Liberation)

Last Friday night just as the weekend was getting underway, I had the unpleasant experience of having my iPhone stolen.  Bummer, but it was my own damn fault.  I’ve learned my lesson (put your stuff away, and never NEVER leave your brand new shiny black 32 GB iPhone 5 out on a restaurant table unattended while you fetch your fountain soda, because really you’re just asking for it…)

Phone theft or loss is a common and growing occurrence with a mobile phone lost or stolen every 3.5 seconds in the US.  And since the data is from 2011, I’m sure the figures have only gotten worse with “Apple-picking” or “iCrimes” spiking after the launch of the iPad Mini and the iPhone 5 at the end of last year.  And some of these thefts include dangerous assaults.

Once you are physically safe and have come to the sudden realization that your expensive smart phone or laptop or electronic device has been swiped, you probably had a similar reaction to mine: multiple panicked but futile fumbles through your purse and/or pockets, culminating with a scatterbrained thought process in trying to figure out exactly what to do next.

After my experience this past weekend, I thought it might be helpful to compile a simple checklist for those of you who (unfortunately) might be going through the same thing.

I feel your pain, so in case you’re still scatterbrained and panicked, here’s what you should do.

Before the theft or loss (hopefully you’ve done this beforehand):

  1. Install a pass code lock on your device at all times so that the thief won’t have easy access to all of your online data and info immediately.  It might be a slight inconvenience while you have your phone, but it provides at least one layer of protection against identity theft and fraud in addition to loss of property, since you don’t want to easily give away immediate access into your email account, social networks, and contacts, etc.
  2. Install the “Find my iPhone App” on your device and be sure to remember your iCloud account login and password.

After the theft or loss:

  1. Take a deep breath and forgive yourself.  Maintain your perspective and stay physically safe—it’s just a phone.  Yes it totally sucks but it literally happens all. the. time.  (Remember, every 3.5 seconds in the US, and probably even less time if you happen to live in Philadelphia, Seattle, Oakland, Long Beach, and Newark—the top 5 cities for phone loss in 2011.)
  2. Try logging into your iCloud account on another iOS device quickly to find the GPS location of your lost/stolen iPhone.  If your phone has NOT already been turned off, it should work.  Here’s a good screenshot and step-by-step outline that I found helpful.  Some folks have reported success in recovering their lost or stolen phones and other devices using the Find my iPhone app.  (And obviously, once you’ve located your stolen device, DON’T be an idiot and try to retrieve it yourself.  Call the cops and let the experts do it.)
  3. Important Note: the Find my iPhone app will NOT work once the thief turns off your phone, which is what most thieves immediately do once they have your device.  Once your phone is turned off, you will have no recourse until the phone is back online.
  4. File a police report and obtain a case number.  In Seattle, you can do this over the phone or online (online if the stolen property is less than $500.)  You’ll need this if you’re filing an insurance claim.  Also be sure to report the serial number (on the original box, if you still have it) to the police so that the device hardware is recorded as stolen in their systems.  In certain countries (but unfortunately not yet in the US,) you can report the IMEI number to your GSM network, and the stolen phone will be blacklisted and will not work on any of the mobile networks in the country.
  5. Remotely wipe your iPhone by using the “Erase iPhone” feature from your iCloud account if you suspect you won’t be getting your phone back anytime soon or at all.  If your stolen phone is offline, you can still activate the Erase iPhone feature, which will wipe your iPhone when it is next online.  (No point in handing the thief your online identity and all of your data in addition to the pricey hardware, right?)
  6. Login to your wireless account online to suspend wireless service and to report your device as stolen.  I found that (at least on AT&T) it’s much easier to do this yourself online rather than calling in.  You can also reactivate your wireless service online without calling your wireless carrier when you’re ready to purchase a replacement phone, which saves time.
  7. Change the passwords for all of your email accounts and important social networks accessible on your lost/stolen phone.  Some social networks have easy shutoffs you can access via computer.  For Facebook, go to Facebook–> Settings–> Mobile–> Click on the “Lose your phone” hyperlink at the bottom of the page, which will bring up a window where you can hit the blue “Log out on phone” button to deactivate your FB account on your stolen phone.

Breathe, and know that you’ve pretty much done everything you can at this point.  Remember that you want to limit your losses to your phone hardware and not to throw in easy identity theft as well.  Phew!  I’m pretty sure that covers most of the bases.

Once I completed the checklist above, I was forced to unplug a bit (well, not completely as I still had my laptop) through the Easter weekend and into part of this week—mostly because I couldn’t immediately bring myself to shell out the full, unsubsidized price for a replacement iPhone.  -Ouch-

Because it was one of the most beautiful sunny weekends in Seattle, I easily moved from being tethered to my iPhone to offline.  And while it was slightly inconvenient, I found the weekend experience of living free from the tyrannical glow of a sexy, shiny smart phone screen to be… well, to be surprisingly liberating.

Now I don’t consider myself to be very sophisticated when it comes to gadgets and technology, but I do find that I have come to rely heavily on my smart phone.  I was a relatively late-adopter to the smart phone.  But if you’re anything like me, the smart phone has become the first thing you look at when you wake, and the last thing you put down before going to sleep.  (I have to set the alarm, for goodness sake!  Since when did we start using our phones as alarms and watches?  Why don’t we use watches and alarm clocks anymore?  Oops, I’m revealing my advanced age here.)

But I wouldn’t have guessed that I had to lose my phone in order to feel free.  Of course it was a costly mistake.  But my mistake did have a few unexpected side benefits as I found myself without much access to news, technology, and social media throughout the weekend and into the following week.

Instead, I experienced a lovely sunny Seattle weekend with:

– No phone calls/voicemails/texts or messages.  Not that I’m especially popular, but it’s kind of nice to be truly incognito where literally NO ONE can reach you.

The downside is that I didn’t have any phone numbers handy either, which shows just how lazy and dumb I’ve become, but also perfectly illustrates the unfortunate inverse correlation between my dwindling intelligence and that of my increasingly smart phone.  I’ll admit to you that before my phone was gone, I couldn’t even remember my home landline number!  (Sad, but to be fair, we just changed it… and I know it now!)  I remember growing up knowing various phone numbers by heart—but I suspect I’m also probably part of the last generation that also recalls rotary telephones, and the lost art of memorizing telephone numbers.  Who bothers anymore?

– No Yelp with which to consult and evaluate a new restaurant I hadn’t tried before for fear of missing out on a better or more ideal choice.

– No handy camera to Instagram that perfect fleeting sunset moment or to capture the visual deliciousness of a certain dish.

– No mobile email, Twitter or Facebook or any other social media on the go.

The lack of my usual self-reinforced dread of missing out on something big was truly refreshing, and it became apparent how I’m largely motivated by fear and why #FOMOisReal.  But the fact that I didn’t have a phone all weekend also meant that I was duly and automatically excused from researching the very best restaurant, and from contributing and partaking of the sharing, commenting, and liking of news headlines, Instagrams, status updates, and clever Tweets.

I felt more fully and physically present since I had a free pass to be silent and to relinquish a bit of perceived control while just going along for the ride.  There was no texting or surfing the web at a restaurant.  I even found that I made more eye contact with DH when we were out and about.  It was good.  Or maybe it was the 5 consecutive days of sun, but I was strangely happy and content for someone who had just lost over $800 of fancy phone equipment.

Quiet att

Which brings me back to the relationship between happiness and choice, and why many of us seem to be less happy when faced with too many options.  I’ve talked about Dr. Barry Schwartz’ Paradox of Choice before, and I think my recent mobile phone purge helped mold me into more of a Satisficer from certain Maximizer tendencies, at least for the weekend.

And just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a great article by Dr. Schwartz with a quiz that will help you figure out if you fall towards the Maximizer end of the spectrum (someone who needs to be assured that their every purchase or decision was the best that could be made) or the Satisficer side (someone who makes a decision or takes action once their criteria are met, irrespective of the possibility that there might be something better.)  I also find it fascinating that Gretchen Rubin considers herself a Satisficer, which may partially explain why she’s both smarter and happier than most of us!   🙂

Freedom Happiness att

Now that I’m back online and have a replacement phone all set up, I find that I’m slipping back towards some of my maximizing habits, like doing a lot of online research.  In fact, I just caught myself researching “the best radio alarm clock” to purchase… standard radio or sound therapy and nature sounds?… Hm…

Maybe it’s time for me to shut off my computer, leave my replacement phone at home, and go outside again this weekend.

Happy Friday!