How to prepare for the theft of your beloved iPhone

Yes – you guessed it. I’m writing this article because it happened to me. Well – not me exactly – my Mother but I was there not far ahead. It was a dark, cold and rainy night. We had just descended into the depths of Piccadilly Underground Station. Unusually, probably as a result of the onset of heavy rain, a massive backlog of people had gathered trying to get in through the electronic gates. We joined the one strand of the widest queue I’ve ever seen and waited patiently. I was a few people ahead of her at the time. A few minutes later, soon after we’d gone through the electronic gates and down the escalator, she noticed and revealed the loss of a small shoulder satchel containing her iPhone.

Somewhere between the end of the queue and the electronic gates someone or a group of perpetrators had not only stolen her iPhone but the bag containing it too. How did they do it? Well my guess would be – they probably snipped the strap using a knife or scissors and pulled the bag from underneath her shoulder. Given the amount of pushing and shoving that was going on at the time in such a large crowd it wouldn’t have been a difficult trick to pull off.

Then the panic, confusion and distress began. Logically, she retraced her steps all the way from where she was to where she came in to the station but found nothing. I, in the mean time, remained composed and tried to call the phone in a futile attempt to locate it which initially failed due to calls going straight to voicemail which meant it was still underground. I also repeatedly loaded ‘Find my iPhone’ but it failed to locate this device. I continued to repeatedly call the phone and to try to locate it but to no avail. Little did I know that Find my iPhone wasn’t working because I’d disabled iCloud (damn you Apple). After a while someone answered my call but didn’t speak – by this time I knew it was out but I couldn’t track it.

Having spoken to the underground staff, only to find out that certain suspicious characters who’d been seen there not moments ago were all too well known, we left for home that night not only in a state of shock at the financial and personal loss we’d incurred but also in disbelief that this had happened to us for the first time despite not being careless and provoking such a crime.

We didn’t contact the police as it certainly didn’t appear as though they could recover it and we didn’t really need them for anything else. We also felt somewhat amateur for not insuring the phone and vowed to insure our valuables in the future. In due time we were to realise that not calling the police would turn out to be a fatal mistake. We would discover that her iPhone was in fact covered by her personal possessions cover under her home insurance but that not calling the police within 24 hours of the crime would impede or even prevent the insurance company from processing the claim.

As I reinstated an old iPhone 3GS with a new sim for her I realised that I hadn’t backed up her stolen iPhone since the iOS 5.1.1 update came out on 8 May. It had been four months since then and all activity on her phone since that date was lost. Disappointed at myself for making such a novice mistake I restored that outdated backup and that’s when I learnt about itunes wifi-sync and automatic icloud backup.

Throughout this whole process I’ve learnt a heck of a lot about how to prepare for such an eventuality and what to do when it finally happens. Needless to say given that this is the first time anything like this had happened to us. We were ill-prepared and clueless and as a result we suffered needless distress and financial loss.

I’m writing this article to pass on my newly gained wisdom to you so that you can be better prepared for the theft of your beloved iPhone and know exactly what to do in what order if this ever happens to you. Share it with everyone. The thieves may be professionals and turn off the phone right away and remove the sim. Or, as was the case with this particular theft, they may be stupid and leave the phone on leaving you free to track its movements as well as the thieves themselves. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt always be prepared. Then, whatever happens happens.

This guide is divided conveniently into what to do before and after the theft of your iPhone. Although it’s fairly iPhone and UK focused it’ll apply to any smartphone equally I think these days as well as applying to the vast majority of people worldwide. Note: I haven’t included any paid apps in this account as I personally feel the free apps are sufficient.

What to do before the theft of your iPhone

Insure your iPhone

If you have home insurance your iPhone will already be insured away from home as long as you have personal possessions cover which you most likely do. So do not get separate mobile phone insurance. If you, however, do not have home or contents insurance the cheapest way I found of getting mobile phone and gadget cover was to get a private bank account.

The best one I found of all the private bank accounts (best value for money and abundance of features) was Cooperative Bank Privilege Current Account with the Gadget benefit pack. It also offers worldwide family annual travel insurance. Overall it turned out to be much cheaper than getting all this cover separately.

Carry your iPhone securely

Carry it somewhere where you’ll notice its loss. I carry it in my trouser pocket where I would feel its absence. My mother was carrying it in a small shoulder satchel which disappeared entirely. I’m guessing the thieves snipped the strap and pulled the whole thing. She didn’t notice until a few minutes later.

Enable itunes wifi sync and automatic icloud backup

Enabling these will ensure that, even if you forget to backup your phone manually, it will still be automatically backed up regularly to allow you to restore as recent a backup as possible. Backups matter.


Set a handset PIN and SIM PIN

Go to Settings > General > Passcode Lock > Turn Passcode On and set a handset pin. Disable Voice Dial to prevent misuse by thief and disable Erase Data because if your phone wipes itself you will not be able to track it. Go to Settings > Phone > SIM PIN and set a different SIM PIN. This is so that if your sim is reused in another handset it won’t work without the PIN.


Set up ‘Find my iPhone’

Install Find my iPhone (iTunes).

Enable it in Settings > Location Services > Find my iPhone. Enable it also in Settings > iCloud > Find my iPhone.


Install Prey

Install Prey (iTunes). Enable it in Settings > Location Services > Prey.


Open up Prey and log in.


Allow it to use your location and enable Camouflage mode. Camouflage mode makes the app look like a game when opened.


Hide both Find my iPhone and Prey icons

Hide both tracking apps in a folder labelled something entirely unrelated. The thief might still find it but you’re making it less likely. We enable Restrictions as an additional measure below to prevent the thief from deleting these apps or disabling tracking.

Enable Restrictions

Go to Settings > General > Restrictions and enable it. Enter a different pin to the handset and sim PINs above. This is critical. If the thief forces you to give him or her the handset pin they will still need an additional Restrictions pin to disable tracking or to delete tracking apps but by then you’ll be long gone.

Disable Deleting Apps. Then select Restrictions > Location Services > Don't Allow Changes.


What to do after the theft of your iPhone

Report to Police

Report the theft to the Police right away to get your crime reference number which you require to make an insurance claim. Do not waste time. Do it within minutes and at the very latest within 24 hours. Otherwise the insurance company may not process your claim.

Report to Lost Property

The Police may refuse to complete filing your report until you’ve contacted Lost Property wherever you lost it. So contact them. File a report online at the Lost Property website if need be. And then call the Police back to complete the remainder of the process.

Change all your passwords

Change all your passwords – particularly email (gmail) and apple id passwords.

Track using Find my iPhone

Track the thief using Find my iPhone and iCloud.

Track using Prey

Log in to Prey, mark as missing and track the thief.

Notify network operator

If you have failed to track and reclaim your phone notify your network operator. They will bar the sim and bar the handset from all networks. Once you’ve done this you will not be able to track your phone anymore!

File an insurance claim

In order to file an insurance claim you need to fulfil the following prerequisites.

  • Provide proof of purchase (receipt) or proof that you previously owned this product.
  • Acquire a crime reference number from the Police.
  • Get proof from your network operator that the sim has been barred.

Once you’ve got all the above file an insurance claim as soon as possible. Don’t give them the satisfaction of turning you down because you came too late.

Have you been a victim? Did you do the above? How did it work out in the end? Did the above help you? Let me know in the comments.

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