WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — If you have a smartphone, it’s probably become an indispensable part of your life. Losing it or having it stolen is a major inconvenience.
Until recently, if you reported your phone missing, your carrier would cut off service to that device. But whoever ended up with your phone, whether it was the actual thief or someone who purchased it from that person, could easily have the phone reactivated under a new account.
As of Oct. 31, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon activated stolen phone databases, which enable customers to report and block stolen wireless devices.
“If your phone is lost or stolen, contact your carrier first thing," said Amy Storey, spokeswoman for CTIA, the international association for the wireless communications industry.
By Nov. 30, 2013, the wireless carriers will be able to share data on stolen phones with each other.
Smartphone thefts have become epidemic in the U.S. Under pressure from the Federal Communications Commission, Congress and law enforcement officials, the wireless carriers have implemented the program they first announced in April.
The system works by keeping track of each phone’s unique identification number, similar to a “vin" on a vehicle, Storey said.
In the past, SIM cards were blocked in an attempt to make the phone useless, but those were easily replaced with another SIM card.
Here is some advice from CTIA and the FCC about how to protect yourself from smartphone theft:
• Be aware. Know your surroundings and use your device discreetly. Similar to your purse or wallet, it’s best to not call attention to your smartphone and create an opportunity for a thief to steal it.
• Lock it. As soon as you get a new smartphone, set a password to protect your device and change it on a regular basis. If you don’t know how to set a password for your Android, BlackBerry, iOS (Apple) or Windows smartphones, go to ctia.org/consumer for instructions.
• Make your lock screen display contact information, such as an e-mail address or alternative phone number, so the phone may be returned to you if found. Avoid including sensitive information such as your home address.
• Write down the device’s make, model number, serial number and unique device identification number. This information can help police in identifying your phone.
• Add apps. There are a number of apps available that will remotely track, lock and/or erase your smartphone. In addition, some apps will remotely trigger an alarm so people know that smartphone is stolen or take a photo of the thief so you can send it to police. A list of apps is available at ctia.org/consumer.