Apple's iPhone, like any smart phone with the capability to store significant amounts of personal information, can put you at risk for identity theft if it is lost or stolen. Fortunately, there are many precautions you can take to ease the pain of a lost iPhone. If your iPhone has already been lost or stolen and you have not taken these proactive measures, your options are more limited, but there are still steps you should take to mitigate the risks and costs of iPhone loss.

What to do BEFORE your iPhone is lost or stolen

Guard against identity theft with an identity theft protection service. To an identity thief, a lost or stolen iPhone is a potential goldmine of information. Losing your iPhone could expose your online bank account, online brokerage account, name, address, telephone number, and email address, passwords, e-mails and other personal data to a criminal. If your iPhone does go missing, an identity theft protection service will help prevent and detect identity theft.

Password protect your iPhone. Setting a a password on your iPhone is very simple and adds an immediate layer of security should it be stolen.

From the home screen of your iPhone:

  • Click on the Settings button
  • Click on General
  • Click on Passcode Lock
  • You will be prompted to enter and confirm a four digit passcode for your iPhone

Your iPhone passcode is now set and you will be prompted to enter the four digit number any time you attempt to access your phone. This simple step can greatly decrease the chance that a criminal is able to access your personal information on your iPhone if it is lost or stolen. While having a passcode will potentially prevent unauthorized access to information stored on your iPhone, it is still possible to make outbound calls. So, it is important to alert your wireless carrier immediately after you discover that your iPhone is lost or stolen so you are not potentially liable for calls made by someone else.

Download GadgetTrak from the iTunes App store. GadgetTrak is a free iPhone application that can geo-locate your phone from any web browser. GadgetTrak is available for all versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch. This application is probably more useful for cases where your iPhone is lost rather than stolen because a knowledgeable thief could simply disable the application. Despite this downside, we strongly suggest that iPhone owners download GadgetTrak since it is a free application and could be very helpful if your iPhone is lost or stolen. You can visit the GadgetTrak website for more information.

Write down your iPhone's IMEI Number. Your iPhone's IMEI, or International Mobile Equipment Identity, is a fifteen digit number that can be used by wireless carriers to identify your specific device. It is located on the back of your iPhone near the FCC ID and serial number (you may also want to write down your iPhone's serial number for your records, although this information is not really that useful in helping with recovery). Keep the IMEI number in a safe place so you can easily find it if your iPhone is ever lost or stolen.

Keep your iPhone backed up by frequently synching with iTunes. It is a good idea to always make sure that all of the information on your iPhone is also backed-up on your computer by frequently syncing through iTunes. This will make the process of recovering the data from your lost or stolen iPhone relatively painless. For even more protection you may want to consider using an online backup service to store copies of all of the files on you computer. This way you still be able to restore your files if both your iPhone and computer go missing at the same time.

Treat your iPhone like its cash equivalent. You wouldn't leave two crisp hundred dollar bills lying around so don't be as careless with your $199 iPhone. Treat your phone with the same level of security and care you use when safeguarding your wallet, purse or other important items.

What to do AFTER your iPhone is lost or stolen

Guard against identity theft with an identity theft protection service. If you didn't sign up for a service before your phone went missing, we recommend you do this as soon as possible since identity thieves will usually start working as soon as they get your information. Losing your iPhone could expose your online bank account, online brokerage account, name, address, telephone number, and email address, passwords, e-mails and other personal data to a criminal. If an identity theft does try to use information from your iPhone, an identity theft protection service will be your best defense as well as provide you the services you need to recover from identity theft should the worst happen.

Notify your cellphone carrier. You should contact AT&T, the exclusive cell phone carrier for the iPhone, as soon as you realize that your phone has gone missing. AT&T will be able to deactivate the wireless account associated with your iPhone which will prevent criminals from running up big cell phone bills in your name that you could potentially be held liable for.

File a police report. While some police will not be particularly interested or concerned about helping you recover your iPhone, others are surprisingly helpful. We have read online accounts from a police detective that claims to have recovered four out of five stolen iPhones in cases brought to his attention. This is when it is useful to have the IMEI number available.

Notify your contacts. All of the personal information stored on your lost or stolen iPhone is now potentially accessible by anyone, especially if it is not password protected. It is important for all of the contacts stored in your phone to know that their personal contact information is potentially in the hands strangers. It is not uncommon for criminals to perpetrate crimes against those listed in the phone's contact list by posing as the rightful owner.

Notify your employer. If your iPhone is linked to your company's network or has confidential business information stored within, you need to notify your employer immediately. It is a good idea to let your supervisor or other company official know as soon as you realize your phone is missing. Make sure to change the password on your work email address immediately if it is linked to your iPhone. This will prevent the phone from being able to download additional email messages.

Change all your online passwords. Your iPhone has a powerful web browser with the ability to store any of your online passwords for easy access to web based accounts. Whoever has your lost or stolen iPhone in their possession can now potentially gain access to your online bank and brokerage accounts, email, PayPal, eBay, Amazon and any social networking websites you belong to. Change those passwords now to prevent your online accounts from being compromised.

You may also be interested in our lost or stolen laptop recovery guide.

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