Dealing with ID Theft

What should I do if I lost my smartphone?

The first call you need to make—when you find a phone, that is!—is to your wireless carrier. Report your phone missing and have your service cancelled, which will prevent someone from racking up service charges on your dime and will prevent the thief from gaining access to your online apps or accounts.

But wait, there’s more… For most of us, our phones contain nearly as much personal info as our wallets, so you’ll want to take steps to prevent that information from getting into the wrong hands. The best move is to remotely reset the phone to factory settings. “Wiping it means you don’t need to worry,” says Neal O’Farrell, executive director of The Identity Theft Council. “The phone becomes a brick, and the info on it dies.” The problem is, you have to have already enrolled in a wiping program to do this.

Too late? Do a mental run through of apps and websites you use to see where a thief could gain your personal information. (Go through this exercise even if you wiped your device, in case someone accessed the phone between when you had it and when you had it reset.) Immediately change the passwords of these apps and sites, as well as for any email accounts linked to the phone. “Your email holds the keys to your kingdom,” says Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center. Receipts, bank statements or monthly bills in your inbox could include credit card, debit card or bank account numbers. Maybe even your Social Security number is buried somewhere in the email abyss.

Have passwords stored on the phone for financial institutions? (Don’t, in the future.) Call the banks and close the accounts. Then open new accounts with new numbers. Even if you think your log in was iron-clad, keep an eye on your statements to make sure the account isn’t breached.

If you have any credit or debit card numbers saved to your phone—maybe at the check out on a retailer’s website or app—call your card issuer and request a replacement card with a new number. Review your transaction history to make sure there were no fraudulent charges posted.

Going forward, password-protect your phone to add an additional hurdle. (And don’t undo the benefit by choosing a PIN that’s easy to guess like 1234 or the current year.) Install a “phone finder” app, so you can see where your phone is—which can prevent a hassle if it was simply misplaced and can also be useful to the police if you’re the victim of a crime. Most important, find out from your phone’s manufacturer or your wireless carrier how to opt in to a remote wiping program.

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