Here’s What You’ve Gotta Do ASAP When a Lowlife Jerk Steals Your Cell Phone

Khiem Nguyen poses for a portrait in a Mega Man costume in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida
Khiem Nguyen poses for a portrait in a Mega Man costume in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, on Oct. 5, 2017. When Nguyen was at Dragon Con in Atlanta, he lost this phone. He used the "Find my iPhone" application on a friend's phone to lock his phone and track its location. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
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It was 1 a.m., and Mega Man, Proto Man and Ness were on a mission — a mission to retrieve Mega Man’s stolen cell phone.

Khiem Nguyen, senior Facebook engagement editor at The Penny Hoarder, was the man behind the Mega Man mask. Decked out in a full costume of his own making complete with a mega-blaster arm, Nguyen started out enjoying Dragon Con. He’d even discovered that his mega blaster was a great place to store his cell phone.

OK. Maybe it wasn’t so great. While he was getting his mega moves on at the post-con rave, he managed to launch his phone into the crowd. Once he realized his blunder, he used “Find My iPhone” to lock the phone and put a message on the screen. “I lost this phone. Please return to me at this location. _____”

The app showed him the general location of his phone, and it was on the move. That meant someone had found his phone but wasn’t returning it. The three video game characters followed the phone around Atlanta for three hours in what could have passed for a sad first level of an epic video game.

Someone stole Mega Man’s phone. Not cool.

Mega Man and the gang even tracked the phone 30 miles away the next day. They were able to pinpoint the house where it was located. Wisely, they opted not to go after the prize and reported the theft to the police. After all, that Mega Blaster was made out of cardboard, and they only had so many lives left.

We Live Through Our Cell Phones

I love my cell phone, and frankly, I’m a fairly basic smartphone user. It wasn’t that long ago that I’d proudly proclaim, “I just need it to make calls and maybe send texts!”

Now, I use it for social media, too. Oh, and banking, news, fantasy sports, music, navigation, boarding passes, videos and, of course, cash-back apps.

If I were to temporarily lose my cell phone, it would be nerve-wracking because there’s a lot of personal information on there. If I knew it was stolen, it would be even worse.

So, what are the realities of having your phone stolen, and what should you do about it?

Be Proactive Before You’re Dealing With a Lost Cell Phone

The first step in protecting your phone is to be smart about how you use it in the first place. Your cell phone is more than just a phone. It’s a smartphone, and that means that it’s basically a small computer with a lot of stored information. You want to keep that info protected, right?

Follow these basic steps:

Back Up Your Info

It’s easy to back up your cell phone information to your computer or a cloud network. The method you use depends on whether you have an iPhone or Android.

Use Autolock With a Passcode

If you don’t do this already, you’re either the most trusting person on the planet or not thinking proactively. Autolock is a setting that tells your phone to lock down after a few minutes of sitting idle. Set a simple four-digit passcode only you know to unlock it. Easy peasy for you, not so much for anyone else.

Set Up “Find My iPhone” or “Where’s My Droid”

Set up Find My Phone on an iPhone to help search for your phone if it gets stolen.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Thanks to the genius of GPS tracking, you can now find your lost phone by activating “Find my iPhone” or “Where’s My Droid.” These features allow you to sign in from a computer or even another phone to locate your lost or stolen phone. This will help you figure out if you just left it in the bathroom or if it’s stolen and on the move.

Reconsider Saving Passwords Online

Yes, it’s great to have your passwords all saved so you can log in to your bank account or Amazon quickly, but is it worth it? If your phone is stolen and the thief gets past your lock screen, it’s easy pickings. You can spare a few extra seconds to sign in. Really, you can.

Protect Your Info on Apple Pay

One of the best innovations for security is the implementation of fingerprint technology for your phone. Since Apple Pay uses your unique fingerprint to identify you, it should be safe even if your phone is stolen, right? Probably. But why gamble?

Apple Pay gives you the option to add multiple credit and debit cards so they are simply there and ready when you need to pay for something. You want to protect all of those.

Log into your iCloud account. Click on the “Find My iPhone” tab, and then enable “Lost Mode.” Once you’ve done this, all of your information on Apple Pay is disabled until you report that you have retrieved your phone.

Have a Lost Cell Phone? Here’s What to Do

Now that you know what you should do to keep your phone safe, what should you do if the unthinkable happens? Follow these quick tips.

Remotely Lock Your Lost Cell Phone

This feature is easy for both iPhones and Android devices, and will lock your phone immediately.

Change All Your Passwords

Yep. All of them. Bank accounts, Facebook, Twitter, you name it. The faster you can switch them out, the less likely it is they will be accessed. Start with the most important ones and work your way down.

Report the Theft to Your Carrier

You don’t want bogus charges, so suspend your service immediately. Your provider will let you know if there are other steps you should take.

Report the Theft to the Police

They likely won’t do anything, but it still helps to have the theft documented for insurance reasons. It can also help the police track things if there have been a lot of cell phone thefts in the area.

If You Can Tell Where it Is or Where it’s Going, Let it Be

You may be dressed as Wonder Woman at Comic-Con, but you lack her skill set. Sorry.

Notify Your Friends, Family and Workplace

Use a friend’s phone or even a landline (if you remember what those are) to call anyone who might need to know you are without a phone. Give them another number or your email address to reach you.

Remotely Wipe Your Phone if You Can

Chances are the crooks want to sell your phone, not your identity. But if you are able to wipe your data from your phone, do it. Your carrier may be able to help.

Your Phone Is Replaceable. Really

Nguyen was prepared when he lost his cell phone: He had his info backed up, he checked into “Find My iPhone,” he remotely locked it and he eventually let the police know about the theft. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

It’s worth remembering that your cell phone is just a handy gadget. It isn’t really your window to the world or your can’t-live-without tool. If you think you’d lose everything if you lost your phone, it’s time to consider why that is. Do you not have the info backed up?

Nguyen, aka Mega Man, did most things right. He had his info backed up, he checked into “Find My iPhone,” he remotely locked it, and eventually he let the police know about the theft. He did follow the phone after the thieves took it, which is a big no-no, but when you’re dressed like a video game hero, it’s easy to get overconfident.

Within a few days, he was up and running with a new phone.

By taking smart preventative measures, you are one step ahead of the game. Then, if some bad guy actually does take your phone, jump into action to make it as hard as possible to steal your information.

Just like Mega Man, I mean Khiem, you’ll live to battle on with a new phone.

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.