The impact caused by the loss of a mobile device to its owner can be devastating. Along with the financial impact, the loss of the data, and the potential risk of identity theft, the sense of violation compounds the loss even further. This post will outline some of the different types of device loss, the expected level of police involvement in retrieving your lost device, and what to do yourself in the event of a loss.
In the case of a criminal event (burglary, theft, robbery), local police must be notified and details provided including make, model, serial number, identifiable characteristics and any tracking capabilities installed on the device.
Police will generally respond to a crime scene to take a report, gather physical evidence, take statements and interview any witnesses. As for follow-up beyond the initial report, in these times of shrinking police budgets and greater demands on limited resources, follow-up even in criminal cases is based on what police consider “solvability factors”. This means cases are assigned to detectives only if there is forensic or physical evidence.
Many criminal reports do not have enough solvability factors to be assigned to an investigator (even with GPS tracking data). Instead, they are reviewed and occasionally the victim is contacted or the property entered into the stolen property database. But otherwise, no direct action is taken unless additional solvability factors are subsequently uncovered.
In situations where someone loses their phone or leaves it in a public place, police may take a “lost property” report. In some cases, due to manpower issues, the owner may be required to make the report online or in person at the police station. If a report is taken at all, it is usually as a courtesy to the victim and for insurance purposes; the report is filed away.
Victim involvement should cease after the police report is filed. Police generally do not want the victim participating in their investigation as they are mandated by law and the courts to follow certain prescribed legal guidelines for gathering evidence. Efforts by an untrained victim can often impede the case progress or hamper the possibility for later prosecution. There has been significant coverage by the media relating to acts of vigilantism by victims using technology in an attempt to recover a lost or stolen device. The dangers – legally and physically – cannot be understated.
When it comes to tracking capabilities installed on a device, police and the victim are usually limited in their knowledge of the technology. Often this can be counter-productive and even harmful to the victim and/or the police investigation.
Best Practices for Mobile Security & Safety
Pre-Emptive Best Practices
You will increase your chances of reuniting with your device if you employ these steps before an incident occurs:
- Password protect access to the device
- Auto-set screen lock functionality for the minimum time allowed
- Record device identifiers (serial number, make/model. ESN/PIN, identifiable characteristics) in a safe place
- If possible, provide non-identifiable contact information on or in the device for good Samaritan scenarios
- Always maintain control of your device in public places - never leave it alone, even for a minute
Install proven security technology that will protect your personal information stored on the device and that will ideally assist police in the event of crime related loss.
Post-Loss Best Practices
In a worst case scenario and your device has been lost or stolen, here are important steps you should follow:
- If the device was taken as the result of a crime, immediately report it to police
- If the device was lost or misplaced, retrace your movements, contact the lost and found or management of any establishment where the loss may have occurred
- If you use your device for work and there’s a chance it may have work-related data on it, contact your employer’s IT department immediately to ensure you remain in compliance with any employment policies
- Contact your insurance provider to see if the loss is covered
- Discontinue any wireless service
- Report the theft to your cellular plan carrier and provide alternate contact phone numbers
- Call your phone from a blocked number and get a read on the person; you can thank them for finding your phone and arrange for it to be picked up (at a police station)
- Send your device a message that the phone is lost; give a safe alternate number or police contact for recovery
- Permit police to make contact with the unauthorized user if requested
- Provide police with details of any security technology installed on the device and insist that it is documented in the report
- If your device has security technology installed, you can passively collect data without engaging with the unauthorized user; record the information and provide it to the police.
- Take accurate notes (date/time/location information, etc.)
- If possible, take screen shots and save them with your notes
- If your security technology provides location-based data, it can help you find the approximate location of the device. If the device indicates a business, call and talk to a manager and explain the situation; exchange names and contact information. If possible, request the manager call the number and locate the phone by listening for ringing or an answered call
- If your device has security technology installed that provides investigative and recovery services, notify the technology provider so they can work directly with the police.
- Be vigilant not a vigilante. Never confront anyone suspected of possessing your device.
- If location technology indicates the device is somewhere other than where you left it, do not attempt the recovery yourself. Get the police involved.
- Never consider location information to be exact – GPS and IP address information is not precise; let police know the location-based data you relay may be inaccurate
- Never publicize images of users or any other information you may collect from your device. The user could have purchased the device in good faith with no idea it was stolen. Public accusations of innocent people can result in civil action against you.
- Never make contact with an unauthorized user. If someone finds your device and attempts to negotiate a reward it is unlikely they have your best interests at heart.
- Never agree to pay for the return of your device.
- Never agree to meet alone with the person who has your device. Ideally, have them turn it in to the police.