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How to: Protect Your Smartphone While Traveling

Technology + Gear Insider Guides
by Megan Wood Sep 8, 2011
I left my iPhone in Casablanca.

What really happened was this: On my connecting flight from Casablanca in Morocco, I stashed the phone in the seat back in front of me, and forgot it there when I got off the plane forty-five minutes later in Marrakech.

After I arrived at my hotel located within Marrakech’s ancient city walls and realized my mistake, the only English-speaking employee had left for the night and Internet was down.

The only thing I could do was kick myself, wait for morning, and hope a good samaritan would return the phone instead of making hundreds of dollars worth of phone calls with international roaming charges.

Before You Leave

Helpful Apps

All smartphones have a variety of applications available for download that can assist in finding a lost or stolen phone. MyFoundCast is a way to create custom wallpapers that allow you to embed information directly onto your phone with instructions on where to return the phone if found. There are also a variety of apps that use GPS technology to locate the phone and email the owner location details of the missing phone.

While traveling abroad, these apps have a limit to their usefulness. For example, an Arabic speaking person in Morocco might have a hard time tracking me down if my English wallpaper instructions direct the finder to return the phone to a location in the United States. Also, if I were to use GPS and find that my phone was located in Casablanca, would I really be able to track down the person who had it and demand my phone back?

Pretty doubtful.

Stop Service

Had I temporarily stopped my phone service before leaving New York, I wouldn’t have had to worry about the person who found my phone being able to make or receive international calls.

Temporarily stopping the service is as simple as logging into your provider’s website and requesting a hold on service for any length of time.

Lock It

Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to have to enter a passcode every time you want to use your phone. But from experience, it’s much better than worrying about a stranger having access to your personal email account, iTunes, Skype, photos, Facebook account, and whatever other private settings you keep on your phone. You can even set the lock so that if a person tries ten different codes unsuccessfully, the entire hard drive on the phone will be wiped clean as an extra security measure.

Back it Up

This seems like common sense but we all get lazy. Especially before an international trip, back up your phone’s contacts, music, photos, and apps on your computer. It’s also a good idea to write down important phone numbers and carry them with you.

Once You’re There and It’s Gone

After a futile day of calling the airline from Marrakech to check if someone had turned in my phone, I had little choice but to hire a driver and physically go to the airport. I explained to a Royal Air Maroc employee that I had left my iPhone 3G on a previous flight.

He shrugged his shoulders saying, “4G is better anyway.”

Turn off Service Online

If you haven’t already turned off your service, the most important thing to do is get online and turn the service off. This will prevent whoever has your phone from making or receiving calls, texts, or using data.

My phone was set up so that I didn’t have to log into my gmail account or Facebook, which meant whoever had my phone didn’t need my password to access the accounts either.

Even if your service was disabled, it’s probably wise to change any passwords from accounts that could be accessed from your phone.

File a Police Report

If your phone has insurance (mine didn’t), you will need to file a report with local police to give to your insurance provider.

When You Get Home

Drop the Fees

If someone did have a chance to use your phone before you stopped service, you can appeal to your smartphone provider to have those charges dropped.

Replace It

Replacing a smartphone is an expensive headache with not many options if you’re still under contract with a service provider. Finding a refurbished or used model is the most economical way to go.

When I got back to New York and received my cell phone bill, I saw that whoever found my phone checked my voicemail six times and spent one day surfing the Internet.

I’m guessing a dead battery put a stop to its use.

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