Do You Know Where Your Phone Is?

source: raitank/Flickr

Friends, it’s 1 am. Or 9 pm.  Or maybe it’s seven in the morning. Whatever the time, the question remains. Do you know where your cell phone is?

Consider this a favor (yes, you will owe me after reading this), for in my life I have seen the worst, and, if I haven’t seen the worst, then know that I’ve read about it.  Which is why, it is my duty to warn you:

If you don’t know where your phone is at this very moment, chances are it’s already fallen into the wrong hands.

Chances are, you were dining in an outdoor café and left your phone on the table in full view (all because you were waiting for a text from Aunt Tallulah regarding what time to pick her up to do the club scene later that night). And, while you were conversing with your dinner partner (Charlie, the guy with the gap in his front teeth and the sweaty palms, whom you’ve been trying to avoid for months, but he finally cornered you into having dinner with him), you didn’t notice that a person of ill repute just “accidentally” bumped into your table and—voila!—your phone is gone.

Here, at the university where I work, there have been a rash of phone thefts.  One even involved a strong-arm robbery (not to be confused with the kind that have weak arms), which sounds pretty scary, if you ask me.

But not as frightening as getting your phone swiped. For phones are no longer just phones. Face it, no one uses a cell phone just for making phone calls anymore.

No. They’re your link to the world. How else could you play “Words with Friends” or check your Facebook status updates, or “like” your cousin Mario’s meatloaf sandwich that he ate for breakfast and uploaded to his Pinterest page?  (Who eats meatloaf for breakfast, anyway?)

Smart phones also are great for shopping on Amazon, checking the value of your stock, buying a latte at Starbucks, checking in for your flight to Schenectady, and reviewing what’s trending on Twitter. All this and more!

Yes! Just think of all the data your little phone has collected on you–the sites you visit, your checking account info, and even all your passwords. Then ask yourself, are you sure you want to leave it out in full view, in all it’s naked glory, simply because you’re expecting a text from Aunt Tallulah or, more likely, from that guy you met at the bar last week, who still hasn’t connected with you, as promised? Sheesh.

Lucky for you, the Information Security Officer at the university where I work, asked some of her law enforcement contacts (from the local police, FBI and security professionals) why pilfered phones would be of any use, considering new service cannot be started on a phone, once it’s been reported as stolen.

Their answers were surprising. Or not, depending on how techno savvy and security minded you are.  Here’s what they said:

In fact, if you don’t already have a password on your phone, hopefully this will help motivate you:

  • Smart phones often have the credentials for the owner’s email “in the cloud.”  This will often allow a password reset for other services, such as other email systems, social sites like Facebook, perhaps even banking and financial.  Even if the financial credentials aren’t in the phone, there’s usually enough info on the social media accounts to get through the password reset secret questions. Even without those, there’s enough info in the phone to facilitate identity theft.

  • The reason for the violent high-risk thefts of phones, which the victims will probably soon deactivate, is to meet the following short-term criminal goals for supply of black market phones: drug deals, terrorist communication, and cyberhacking.

  • Don’t look at it as a phone.  Think of the information we now store and the account info we enter to allow instant purchase. If I had someone’s phone, I could data mine their identity, habits, home and more.

So, what are you waiting for? Put a password on your phone already!  Protect your information and the information of others you have stored on it.

And, if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for cousin Mario! After all, he doesn’t want his contact info exposed to the miscreants of society any more than you do. Ditto for Aunt Tallulah.

Enough said. You’re welcome, and don’t forget. You now owe me one.

Of course, you can make it up to me by commenting below. 😉

54 thoughts on “Do You Know Where Your Phone Is?

  1. Hi Monica, thanks so much for your helpful information! It never occurred to me that someone could have mined all of Bob’s information. Fortunately, we both have passwords!! We will be very watchful from now on!! Take care, Lisa

    • Lisa, I read your post, and I do believe in the kindness of strangers, like the first one who helped your husband off the ground.

      However, call me jaded (I was born and raised in New York, after all), but I myself would not have been so quick to assume the best of the second one. Only because, it only takes a minutes, maybe seconds to “mine” the data off of a phone and then return it, seemingly intact, to the owner. The owner is thankful and relieved, not realizing that all the data has already been transferred out, and the primary reason for returning the phone? Because, using the data obtained, your calls, your doings can now be traced by said person.

      How long was the phone out of your husband’s possession? Probably long enough.

      Of course, I am in no way saying that this is what happened to you. That happened to you a while ago, so I’m sure by now you’re off the hook. But this kind of identify theft is happening, which is why I go back to my initial point–be smart and use a password.

  2. I’m still waiting for my person to get me my own phone. I’m sure all my dog blogging friends are waiting to call me as soon as I get one. I’ll put a password on it. I promise.

  3. Yet another reason I don’t have/need/want a smart phone. It doesn’t sound so smart to me if it doesn’t even know it’s been stolen. A really smart phone would recognize its owner’s fingerprints. Ha! 😉

    • Jayne, a really smart phone would do things for you, like take the driving test for you, or fill out and file your taxes, and warn you when you’re speeding on the freeway and a police car is hiding along the shoulder. Now that would be a smart phone!

  4. Gee, thanks for the nightmare and the stomach ache, I really needed those to round out my day. ICK! On a more serious note, sadly, you are correct. Those darn little phones are a blessing and a curse, I’d love to hate it, but it’s like a kidney. I could give one up, live a long life, but what if I got sick and I suddenly needed that phone/kidney, then where would I be? That’s right, on a donor list or running all over Schenectady looking for a pay phone. Have you noticed, public phones are few and far between. On a similar note, I have them same sort of panics over lost of computer (not privacy stuff) my writing. I back up, push to the cloud, flash drive, but still I have nightmares. OK, now i need a glass of wine.

  5. You would reference Schenectady, NY hehe. Such a great word to say.

    I have always firmly believed in tight security when it comes to my iPhone. When I first got one, when they first came out, all my siblings and friends would pick it up and play with it. To keep prying eyes out of my business, I got into the habit of having it lock immediately after putting it on standby. So I obviously couldn’t agree more with you on this subject. Great little reminder 🙂 I love how you made a public service announcement, about locking your phone, so enjoyable to read! So great.

    • Nate, it was either referencing that or Poughkeepsie. Schenectady won, but they both sound pretty cool.

      I knew you were a smart cookie with the tenacity to stick to your convictions and already be using a password. Glad you appreciate this reminder. May I suggest you print it and post it where you work (and while you’re at it, encourage folks to read my blog)? 😉

      See you in Schenectady!

  6. I’m too cheap for a smart phone and I don’t like the idea of GPS trackers logging people’s locations, so I use a disposable (no contract, not registered to any name) that requires a $20 minute card about once every three months and only use it for emergencies, calling taxi cabs, etc. Still, your post today makes me think maybe I should add a password just to protect my phonebook. Thank you Monica!

  7. Monica, thank goodness I don’t have a cell phone! Believe it or not, the Significant Other and I share a cell phone–Sometimes he gets it, other times I get it. Sad and tragic, I know, but I’m almost relieved that we have fifty percent less chance of having our identities stolen. I mean, since there’s two of us and only one phone! hee hee! Seriously though, it’s incredible how vulnerable we are in the era of technology. This was not only a funny post, it was informative. And scary. But like nana used to say, “Sometimes we have to fear something in order to assess the consequences.” 🙂

    • Wow. You share a phone? Now, that’s love. You need to do a post on this and explain how you make sharing work, whether you have it on alternate days or only daylight hours or what. When you go to Spain do you take it with you? When I first got a cell phone it was supposed to be for emergency use only. In fact, I only purchased 10 minutes of usage per month and for the first year I didn’t use it at all! Now, I use it everyday, though rarely to talk on the phone. 😉

    • Annie, I’m so pleased that you and several others here are taking this seriously and adding a password. Common sense goes a long way!

      Hope you have a great holiday weekend!

  8. You’ve done a real service here with this one, Monica! I never even thought about all the info stored on my phone. Most of us are pretty careful with our laptops; why should care fly out the window when it comes to phones, which are so much more mobile?! Thanks for the advice!

    • You’re welcome, Debbie! It’s worth taking precautions now, than having to suffer the consequences later. And, for something so small, it sure packs a lot of information!

  9. Monica, what a timely and valuable post! My phone is not a smart phone, just a phone for making phone calls, but I will be passing this advice on to everyone I know. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Jim, for stopping by and commenting. (How did you know I love getting comments, btw? 😉 )

      Even though you don’t have a smartphone, may I suggest you consider a password for the one you do have. Because you never know, and even phone numbers are worth keeping private.

  10. I too have tons of info and lists on my iPhone and now a password (thank you). You would think that the number of times I have actually called my own cell phone to locate it (in the house) would have prompted me to do so already. I’m as thick as my phone is thin 😦
    Thanks Monica!

  11. Thank God somebody knows about these things and can warn the always naive and unsuspecting me. Thanks, Monica. But how the hell did you know about Charlie? Do you have my phone?

  12. I’ve been thinking about getting a smart phone, but now I think I’ll stick with my old fashioned one. I can call people on it, but that’s about it. And I guess maybe that’s all I need.

    • Sorry, Shary. I didn’t mean to scare you off. Smartphones have wonderful qualities that make them worthwhile. But even with a regular cell phone, you’re going to want to put a password on it. 🙂

  13. I do not have this problem. I have never owned a cell phone. THAT IS BECAUSE I AM A NORMAL PERSON WITH A NORMAL TELEPHONE RIGHT HERE ON MY DESK. However, I do not know where my keys, wallet or TV remote are hiding. They have legs, you know.

    • Wow, Carl. I applaud you for resisting the trend. I used to have a “normal” phone at home but now, it’s just me and my cell. And yes, you’re absolutely right. Keys, wallets and TV remotes sure do have legs. Never where you want them! Sigh.

  14. Oh yes, there is info on my phone. Lots of info…

    And a password! 🙂

    Great tip — sad that thievery is evolving as does society. Survival of the fittest at its (unscrupulous) finest!

    • Mik! So good to hear from you!! I’m glad to hear you already have a password. It can be annoying to always have to type it in before accessing your phone, but it’s worth it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉

  15. Well, I was just assuming you’d lost it in your *house* which I frequently do and then have to call it from my land line and follow the ring, assuming I haven’t left it on vibrate.

    *Bummer* that it can be used for ID theft. Thanks for the info. Will put lock on it and hope for the best!

    • Eloise, you’re right. I often “lose” my phone in my house, or at the office. Mostly I leave it at home and forget to take it with me when I’m heading to the office. Don’t know how I managed years ago when I didn’t have a cell phone. Now, seems impossible to live without.

      • How we managed… isn’t that the truth? If the cell isn’t around I feel like I’m missing my right arm. It’s another umbilical cord we can’t cut! I read recently that Verizon is raising its charges – yikes! I despise having to look for another carrier. Just one more computer/technology/electronic thing to deal with… grr 8)

  16. A phone thief here, actually went into the service provider to pay the bill when it ran out of minutes. Can you imagine? He was caught of course. And yes, that would be disastrous if someone took my phone. It really is something we should all consider. Thanks for this information Monica.

  17. Good post Monica.

    If my Blackberry is not in my pocket then it’s on my desk. I even put it in my pocket when I leave my desk and go downstairs to make a coffee, then I am always in the habit of taking it with me.

    It has my life on it, I even check this blog on it, how sad is that!!!!

    The phone is password protected and as secure as I can make it.

    If I am out and about where it’s busy then I have a Bluetooth ear piece and can answer the phone without taking it ot from where I have it safely stowed.

    All phones in the UK have a SIM card and can be disabled by the phone supplier, assuming of course you know it’s gone.

    Here in the UK on a contract phones are generally free, even an IPhone if you pay a big enough contract, and here I think lies the problem, because they were in the eyes of the buyer “Free” they have a less perceived value than if they had been bought. We also have PAYG or Pay As You Go and these phones are bought, and in my experience people look after them better because they have cost them money.

    Your comment about no longer making calls is so true, I browse the web, do email and send text messages but make a couple of phone calls a month.

    OK I owe you one for the post Monica, what would you like?

    • Re the sim card, Robert, even if you do know it’s gone, precious minutes can be wasted contacting the phone company (if it’s anything like calling the phone company here, you go through a lot of rigamarole in the automated system before you get to a live person). You’d be surprised how fast those thieves can work in stealing your identity. Trust me, I wouldn’t want them to start commenting here, pretending to be you. I want the Real McCoy! 😉

      • This is very true Monica. Phone company sales departments are always easier to contact than any other so I have been told.
        As for the real McCoy, I have been told many times that one of me is more than enough especially when I am in a good mood.

  18. I have on my mobile phone pictures of me after abuse, scanned medical reports of the damage, but mainly recordings of his threats and verbal abuse. That’s why I keep my phone IN HAND days and nights. But I don’t have a password on it. Thank you Monica. I think I should do that NOW!

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