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Don’t Be A Victim: Practical Tips To Protect Your Smartphone From Theft

Christian Cawley 13-12-2012

protect smartphone from theftWhere’s your smartphone right now? In your pocket? On your desk, perhaps?


Or did you leave it in your handbag or your car?

Are you even certain that it’s still there…?

Considering the cost of a new smartphone, most of us are extremely casual about how we treat them. I know one lady who has lost or broken three iPhones, and at least one of those was left on a table in a busy London pub before mysteriously vanishing.

But keeping tabs on your smartphone isn’t difficult. Keeping it safe from the possibility of theft is even simpler.

The following practical tips should explain exactly where you have been going wrong. You need never worry about a lost phone again!


Basic Smartphone Safety

Before proceeding, there are a number of basics that you should be aware of.

To begin with, you should install an app that provides a means of finding your phone if stolen. There is the Find My Phone app for iPhone and Android, while Windows Phone 8 comes with the service as part of the OS. These apps can be used to remotely lock and wipe the phone, and can prove useful in tracking the thief.

In addition to this, you should set a lock screen password on your phone that isn’t an obvious PIN (e.g., not 0000, 1234, 8520, 0258, etc.).

You should also consider whether you need insurance. This is an important point – there is a chance that the buffer of insurance might cause you to take unnecessary risks with your smartphone. Be aware, too, that even if your phone is stolen and locked by your network provider it can still be used to browse the web, play games and download apps thanks to a wireless connection. You should, therefore, take steps to cancel the phone or your account with the appropriate app store.


(It’s also worth mentioning that a network-locked phone can still make Skype calls via Wi-Fi.)

Thief Spots Phone: Will He Manage to Steal It?

There are several ways in which a criminal will attempt to steal a phone.

First of all, of course, he or she will need to spot the device. This might be easy, or it might be tough, depending on you.

For instance, if you have just left an Apple store or a popular mobile phone chain carrying branded bag with a box in it, the chances are that you’ve just bought a new smartphone.


A device that is brand new in its box and inactivated is like alchemy to thieves. Your best bet is to place your bag into another (larger and unbranded) or take the phone out of the box and place it in an inside pocket.

protect smartphone from theft

Other ways a thief might spot a smartphone is if you leave phone chargers, headphones or even docks and windscreen mounts visible in your car. You should always take the time to place these items in your glove compartment while not in use.

Finally, consider your headphones. Particular companies such as Apple and Nokia ship their smartphones with distinctive headphones. Meanwhile, even the presence of expensive alternatives can betray the presence of a piece of equipment worth stealing.


Avoiding the Advances of a Thief

Of course, a thief is unlikely to walk straight up to you and steal your phone in most cases (unless you leave it on a “plate” so to speak, such as on the table in a bar or restaurant).

Many street criminals will come up with some sort of rationale for approaching you – before running off with your smartphone.

Keeping your phone out of sight is the first step to avoiding theft. Sadly, it isn’t as simple as that. Once a thief has “clocked” you as someone who owns a smartphone that they might like to steal, they will try and distract you. This can be done in the following ways:

prevent smartphone theft

  • They might ask you for the time: your natural response will be to look away from them, giving them the chance to take your phone. If you take your phone out to check the time, this will give an opportunity for them to steal it. You’ll also be stood still, making yourself an easy target for a thief to mug you. If someone asks for the time, tell them you don’t know, or make it up.
  • You might be approached on a bus or train. Crowded subway trains are a common hunting ground for thieves, where they can easily grab a phone as they disembark – before you get a chance to react, the doors are closed and the thief has made off. Stay aware of your surroundings and situations, don’t hunch up and look down at your phone and – best advice – keep your phone out of sight in such a scenario. You should also avoid using your back pocket to hold your phone – always use an inside breast pocket and keep your coat or jacket fastened. Don’t forget to obscure your smartphone model and design with a case.
  • Finally, be aware of methods used to distract you in the street, and how to deal with them.
    • If a stranger approaches you (from front, side or behind), keep walking, regardless of whether you are wearing headphones or not.
    • Keep looking straight ahead – don’t hang your head or hunch up.
    • Ensure your phone is out of reach.
    • You might also consider ducking into the nearest shop.

protect smartphone from theft

Conclusion: Keep It Safe Out Of Sight!

Now, the last thing anyone wants is for you to run away from MakeUseOf scared and afraid to set foot outside. It’s not often we give a dose of hard edged reality among the digital fun here, but stolen phones is a massive black market, and network locks and Find My Phone and similar apps don’t put an end to this.

The onus is on you to make sure your phone is kept safe, out of sight of thieves. Don’t give them a clue that you have one, or a chance to take it from you.

Image Credit: A pickpocket with mask via Shutterstock | Masked man via Shutterstock | Theft out of a car via Shutterstock | Walking diverse people rushing via Shutterstock 

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  1. Laura
    March 5, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    What if you have a boyfriend you get in a argument then he decides he wants to hurt you because it's boyfriend he's married but he wants to hurt you so he goes through the back door of your laptop and finds out where your photos and your files are located and wipes them out now you have no photos no files to retrieve your files or photos he finds out what your Google he goes to your Google account and then he gets a hold of your passwords to your phones does the same thing how do you fix that he also knows my Google accounts because of keylogger

  2. Anonymous
    December 18, 2015 at 2:49 am

    "If someone asks for the time, tell them you don’t know, or make it up."


    • Christian Cawley
      December 19, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      Really? Do explain how.

      • Anonymous
        December 19, 2015 at 8:10 pm

        I live in LA -- high crime rates and all -- and I have visited 90+ countries -- including Central America -- like Honduras -- and its reputedly most dangerous city - San Pedro Sula. MOST ALL people asking you the time are NOT out to rob you!

        Shows just how stupidly you've extrapolated what really are very, very low stats into categorically shutting out all except those you know (or need). How stupid is that!?!

        • Christian Cawley
          December 19, 2015 at 9:11 pm

          There's nothing "stupid" about minding your own business, especially in a strange place. But thanks for taking the time to read the article and find the bit you didn't like to comment on, it's *so* rewarding.

    • Tim Mannn
      February 8, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      Agreed. How about wear a cheap watch off eBay if paranoid !

      • Christian Cawley
        February 8, 2016 at 6:12 pm

        The idea is to minimise exposure to the potential crook. Utter a response and keep walking.

        It's not about the watch.

  3. Saumyakanta Sahoo
    December 22, 2012 at 9:06 am

    hahaha.....good tips

  4. Collin Tucker
    December 22, 2012 at 7:05 am

    This is good advice. I was in D.C. a few years ago with my family and my mom placed money and a few other valuables in her side coat pocket before getting on the subway, and after we got off and she had to pay for a tour or something, she found the entire pocket empty. Plus, a buddy of mine just lost his phone and iPod today when he left them in his jacket on a chair and went to the bathroom. Unfortunately, thieves are out there.

  5. Dallas Smith
    December 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm


  6. Rob
    December 19, 2012 at 3:45 am

    "If someone asks for the time, tell them you don’t know, or make it up."

    Hmm. Now I really want to steal your phone. What a douche move. What world do you live in?

    Also, no one should be blamed for leaving their stuff in plain sight. That's rubbish. Leaving it on your desk at a busy workplace is pretty silly, but it's still not your fault when it's stolen.

    It's about principles. Even petty theft would get 3 years of honest work in a chain gang if I was in charge. When I leave my valuable property in a public place, I like to think a good citizen will ring me up and ask me when I'm going to collect it.

    • Christian Cawley
      December 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

      "What world do you live in?"

      The real one :)

      "Leaving it on your desk at a busy workplace is pretty silly, but it’s still not your fault when it’s stolen."

      So whose fault? You can't blame a thief, they're thieves by compulsion (which is why we call them "thieves").

      "Even petty theft would get 3 years of honest work in a chain gang if I was in charge. When I leave my valuable property in a public place, I like to think a good citizen will ring me up and ask me when I’m going to collect it."

      Tell me, have you ever visited the planet Earth?

      • Tony
        December 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

        I'm the guy who posted (above) about my laptop being stolen from the back seat of my LOCKED car. Admittedly, I first blamed the person that stole it, but after my disbelief and rage passed, yes, it was MY fault for being naive and leaving it where it was visible.
        Like cheese for a mouse, if you know there are mice around, don't test fate because eventually you will lose, and you (that is, I) am the only one to blame for setting the bait.

        By the way, great article. I think a lot of people have appreciated the sound advice.

  7. Ravuama Nayago
    December 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    comes down to common sense.

  8. Muhammad Rizwan
    December 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    article is very informative but 1st three pictures are like (how to steal a

  9. Anonymous
    December 18, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks - the app info is great - I didn't know about that

  10. Qin Tang
    December 17, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Thank you so much for this article. It's very useful.

  11. Ned
    December 16, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Yes. Keep it out of sight. Here is one for travellers. Even if you are staying at a hotel or guest house in which you trust the staff do not leave something easy to snatch such as your phone sitting out in the open. A simple scenario is leaving the phone in your room while you go for a workout, jogging, etc. The housekeeping generally leaves room doors open while they are working. Particularly while they are doing the bathroom there is a window of opportunity for theft.

    • Christian Cawley
      December 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

      That is a great tip, Ned. Thanks for sharing and adding some much needed reality to some of these comments...

  12. John
    December 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Excellent advice in this article people need to be aware of their surroundings and anyone especially close to them in busy places. I would add any thief trying to steal anything of mine will get seven shades of s@#t kicked out of them.

  13. Ayan Panja
    December 15, 2012 at 9:35 am

    protection of phone depends on how care about your phone..... but some times bad luck can not be avoided....

  14. Becky Bowman
    December 15, 2012 at 3:12 am

    My phone was stolen in the emergency room. I had been taken for an MRI and, of course, couldn't take things with me during the test. I didn't notice it was missing until hours later after I was home. I had been on morphine at the hospital and was out of it. Fortunately Sprint turned it into a brick and I had insurance.

  15. christine st.syr griffin
    December 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    i can totally relate i often leave my purse in the shopping cart and wander off and i have left it in a busy public library. good thing someone was kind enuff to turn it in. and if anybody approached me and tried to take my phone i would "sock em' in the face" (the other guys)
    thanks so much....christineStSyrgriffin

  16. Tony
    December 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    This stuff happens soooo fast...My phone was recently ripped off along with my laptop from the backseat of my LOCKED car! Son no, I've installed Blackberry Protect on my phone and on my laptop, so if it ever happens again, I plan on having them busted!

    • Jill
      December 14, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      That's too bad, but if I had to guess you left your stuff in plain view, right?? I'm going to check out that devicetrack site you mentioned b/c to me, that's more imprtant than my phone. My laptop has so much stuff on I that it would be hard to replace, even with a back up.

  17. Debora Humphries
    December 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    This is an awesome article. I purchased my iPhone 4 back in May of 2011 and three months laterit disappear from my desk at work. I happened to have the "Find My iPhone" app installed on my iphone and when I checked on the computer, I discovered it was 80 miles away from my job in Shreveport, LA. I called the police and they came out to my job to take the report and I showed them on my computer the location of the iPhone. It does not give the exact address, but the police can then locate it's exact coordinates working directly with AT&T. Needless to say, within 3 hours my iPhone was back in my possession and the thief was arrested. He had more violations then my iPhone theft. I love that app and so many people have no clue about it.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 11, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Hi Debora - thanks for sharing your first hand experience with this app/service, it's good to see that it genuinely works :)

  18. Ed Griebel
    December 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    The first few pictures look like they're from Ask-a-Ninja :-)

  19. Ahamed Yaseen
    December 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Good work Christian .... Worth post....

  20. bben
    December 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    It would be a simple matter for the mobile phone companies to completely lock out a stolen phone. They won't because they make too much money billing the owner for the activities of the thief. If the greedy companies would use the ID of the phone to lock it completely on being notified, the market for stolen phones would dry up - and stealing phones would not be so lucrative for criminals.

    Until they do, Lock your phone! Yes, it's inconvenient, but the alternative is a US $1000 (or more) charge that the phone company can and will bill you for. They will fight tooth and nail to collect it too. Even if you can get them to reduce it, they will rarely reduce it all they way - you are still paying for a thief to use your phone.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      This is a salient point, and something that should be taken into account. It's a very good reason to keep your phone safe, and until legislation or customer pressure forces a rethink, customers consider mobile phone networks as part of the problem - not the solution.

  21. Douglas Mutay
    December 14, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I like those app that can help you find your stolen phone as Find My Phone or Blackberry Protect. But the forgotten part of these apps is that they are only working when your phone is using a wireless signal or when it's using internet. Or this is not always the case. Especially in region where mobile internet is still a luxe!

  22. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    December 14, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Very practical and simple tips.My friend just lost her iPhone that she just used for a week or two. She realized the phone was gone when she spotted her unzipped bag.

  23. Brenden Barlow
    December 14, 2012 at 8:25 am

    while i think this might be overdramatic, i live in a fairly small area....guess ive never had to think about something like that. x-x

  24. Debkumar Bhadra
    December 14, 2012 at 4:58 am

    Thank God I dont use a smart phone

    • skipper
      December 19, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      The above tips are not only for smartphones. They can apply to anything of value that you might possess, how to avoid generating attention to yourself and how to keep yourself safe.

  25. Junil Maharjan
    December 14, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Everyone should know these things. Phone theft has become a serious threat.

  26. Anonymous
    December 14, 2012 at 2:01 am

    I didnt know for Find My Phone app . Thanks ! :D

  27. Arben Myrtaj
    December 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    This is a serious matter, I already lost one phone and I'm being really careful with my current one.