Cell Phone Safety

Cell phone theft is something to be concerned about for travelers or anyone outside of the comfort of their home. The high resale value of smartphones – along with the personal information contained on such devices – make them a prime target for criminals and identity thieves.1

Thousands are taken each day in what’s called “Apple picking” because of the popularity of iPhones (although street thugs eagerly steal other brands). But there’s also a huge harvest by stealth cyber-crooks who increasingly target smartphones remotely to collect their users’ stored data for identity theft.5

  • Phone theft is usually a crime of opportunity. And criminals focus on opportunities you give them, whether you’re walking on the street, sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop, working out at the gym, or studying at the library.
  • As smartphones have become more popular and more expensive, phone theft is increasing dramatically.
  • Frequent robbery techniques2
    • “Grab and run”: a criminal catches you with your guard down while you’re on a phone call, snatches the device, and takes off.
    • A criminal asks to borrow your phone to make an urgent call and then runs away.

According to the Federal Communications Commission3:

How smartphones are stolen:

  • 44% were stolen because the owner left the phone behind in a public setting
  • 14% were stolen from a car or house that was burglarized
  • 11% were stolen off the victim’s person: out of their hands, pockets, purses, or bags

Where phones are stolen:

  • 16% in a restaurant
  • 11% at bar/nightclub
  • 11% at work
  • 6% on public transportation
  • 5% on the street

Consequences of phone theft:

  • 47% report a time/productivity loss
  • 12% experienced fraudulent charges on their account
  • 10% report loss of confidential company data
  • 9% had their identity stolen
  • 68% of phone theft victims are willing to put themselves in some amount of danger to retrieve a stolen device and the personal information on it.

How to make sure the second-hand phone you are buying is not lost or stolen4:

  • The CTIA — Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association — has an online Stolen Phone Checker tool to help you find out about red flags in a phone’s history. 

You’ll need to enter the phone’s unique serial number, such as the international mobile equipment identity number, or IMEI. It might also be called an MEID or ESN.

There are a few different ways to find the number:

  • Dial *#06# on the phone
  • Look it up in the device’s Settings menu
  • Check the code on the back of the phone
  • Check the barcode on the original packaging

Tips on how to maintain your cell phone safe1:

  • Do not walk in public talking on your phone, texting, or even openly carrying the device.
  • If you must be on the phone, be aware of your surroundings and of other people nearby.
  • Don’t wear earbuds while on the street. In particular, white iPhone or iPad earbuds suggest you are carrying an Apple product, which may target you as a potential high-value victim.
  • Don’t allow strangers to “borrow” your phone or other electronic devices.
  • Keep records on your phone, including
    1. make and model
    2. color and appearance
    3. PIN or security lock code
    4. the IMEI number for GSM phones.
  • Ensure that your cell phone is password-protected.
  • Register your phone with your network provider when you buy it. If the phone is later stolen, report the loss to the provider immediately.
  • Don’t store personal or financial information on your phone.
  • Activate the global positioning system tracking option on your phone.
  • Never leave your device unattended in a public place. Don’t leave it visible in an unattended car.

What to do if your wireless device is stolen2:

  • Attempt to locate the device by calling it or by using an anti-theft software-enabled GPS locator.
  • If you have installed anti-theft software on your device, use it to lock the phone, wipe sensitive information and/or activate the alarm. Even if you think you may have only lost the device, you should remotely lock it to be safe.
  • If the device was stolen, immediately report the theft to the police, including the make and model, serial and IMEI or MEID or ESN number. Some service providers require proof that the device was stolen, and a police report would provide that documentation.
  • Immediately report the theft or loss to your service provider. You will be responsible for any charges incurred prior to when you report the stolen or lost device.
  • Your service provider may be able to use your IMEI or MEID or ESN number to disable your device and block access to the information it carries.
  • Request written confirmation from your service provider that you reported the device as missing and that the device was disabled.


To learn more about how to protect your mobile devices, please visit