The smartphone recovery guide

What to do when you can’t find your personal supercomputer-phone, and why it is important to inform the police

When Charneeta Kaur, an assistant professor at the Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi, realized she had left her Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro in a car showroom, the first thing that struck her was not how much it had cost but how much of her personal information had just become vulnerable. A smartphone is not just a calling device but a full-fledged personal computer for many.

“I am permanently logged into my personal and corporate email, WhatsApp, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. A lot of my private stuff is on my phone, including my photos,” says Kaur. Even though she had a code lock activated, she was sure it could be broken into and misused. “I was afraid that the person who might find it will be able to browse through the data on my phone.” She changed her email, chat and social network passwords.

Lost your phone? Keep the Imei number handy. It can help the police track it.

Lost your phone? Keep the Imei number handy. It can help the police track it.

One thing she didn’t do was complain to the police. “What is the point in filing an FIR? It’s not as if they will find my phone for me,” she shrugs.

But this is where Kaur is wrong, according to Rakshit Tandon, consultant, Internet and Mobile Association of India. The police just might have. “If you have the Imei (international mobile equipment identity) number of your smartphone, your phone can be tracked,” says Tandon, who advises law enforcement officers in cybercrime investigation. Every mobile handset in the world has a unique Imei number. “In India, only the surveillance cell of police can legally track a device through its Imei number, so the first thing to do as soon as you lose your cellphone is to file an FIR,” says Tandon.

If your phone has passwords for email, social networks, ATM PINs, bank account details and corporate documents, one important step is to activate the lock code and the phone tracker, which comes inbuilt with most smartphones. “It’s surprising how many people, even those who are using their phone to access corporate emails and mobile banking, don’t take these two simple steps,” says Tandon.

In 2011, software security solutions provider Symantec conducted a study—The Symantec Smartphone Honey Stick Project—in the US and Canada, leaving smartphones on newspaper boxes, park benches, elevators and other places for passers-by to find. The study, released this March, found that 96% of the phones had been accessed by the people who found them. Of them, 89% looked at personal apps such as social networks, email, online banking and pictures, while 83% looked at “corporate” apps, HR cases, salary, corporate emails and information.

Left your phone on the café table; lost it in a shop; or did it just get stolen? Here’s what to do:

Try and track it

If you cannot locate your phone physically, try the global positioning system (GPS) route. If your GPS was on before the phone got lost, you might be able to get it to ring with a pre-installed remote locator app or security app (see “Protect your phone”).

Windows Phone 7 and iOS 5 come with an inbuilt option to track your phone. All you need to do is go online (on for Windows, for iPhones), log in with the ID connected to the phone and click on “Find my Phone”. If the phone is on and emitting the GPS signal, you will be able to locate exactly where it is.

Android users can log on to Google Play with their Google account from a browser and install “Plan B” on their phone. Plan B starts automatically and sends your phone’s location to your Gmail address. To locate after 10 minutes, send an SMS to your phone from another phone with the word “locate”. Plan B uses both cell towers and GPS to locate a phone and can even switch on the GPS on some handsets.

If this doesn’t work, call your service provider’s customer care and request they block the SIM immediately.

Secure your data

If you have configured security software like Prey Anti-Theft, go online and wipe off the contents of your phone. BlackBerry has a basic app called BlackBerry Protect which can do it for you (see “Protect your phone”). Unfortunately, most smartphone owners don’t have any security installed.

Make a list of all the apps you had. Emails, apps, social networks, bank accounts—all passwords need to be changed. Changing email passwords is easy. With social networks, it’s a bit trickier. You can change the passwords to directly access Facebook and Twitter, but the third-party apps you have given access to (like Goodreads, Seesmic, etc.) can continue to post or see your social network using your old password. So after changing your password, manually logout from all third-party apps on Facebook and Twitter from the settings page of both social networks.

Most banks also have mobile apps. If you are using one of those, immediately log into the website of your bank and change your password. In case you can’t, call up customer care and have the application blocked.

If you had stored any bank passwords or ATM PINs in the contact lists or SMS drafts of your phone, visit your nearest bank branch and change the passwords.

Spread the word

Social networks are called social for a reason. As soon as your mobile phone goes missing, post about it on all your social networks—Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Quora, Pinterest, etc. If you misplaced the phone in the office, send an email to the whole office about it. Mention specifics about your phone—colour, build and any distinguishing feature like a scratch or a sticker or a case. Spreading the word is always useful, so people can’t use the phone to impersonate you.

Find your Imei number

Imei is a unique code encrypted number on each GSM device. This number is very useful in locating a phone even if its SIM is changed and GPS disabled. It’s written behind the battery of your phone. It can also be found by typing *#06# on a cellphone’s keypad. If your phone is already lost and you don’t know your Imei number, check a past cellphone bill. The Imei number is usually printed by the cellphone service provider on the bill.

Every time a phone logs into a particular network to make or receive calls, its Imei number is automatically emitted and tracked. This gets registered with the service provider. In India, like anywhere else in the world, the police have a database of phones which are in white, grey and black lists, so a phone which is in the black list is known to be stolen. Once it’s reported stolen by you, the Imei number is blacklisted across the country.

If an Imei device on the black list is used to make a call, the police will get to know about it immediately. You should also give your Imei number to the service centres of your handset manufacturer (Nokia, Samsung, etc). There is a chance that they will track the phone if it comes up for resale or reset.

File an FIR

Most city police websites have downloadable and printable FIR formats which can be used to file your complaint. Once you have put in the information about your cellphone (number, device type, last used, service provider and alternative contact details), the FIR should be submitted to the nearest police station. If you don’t want to go through the procedure of an FIR but simply inform the police, you can do that too. For example, you can simply email Delhi Police ( and inform them about your missing cellphone, says Tandon. You can also to check the status of your FIR.

After they have your complaint, the surveillance cell of the police starts tracking your device with the help of service providers. Phones have been recovered in many cases, though it can take time because it depends on when the thief might switch the phone on. You also have the option of tracking the status of your phone with your Imei number on the zonal integrated police network (, an integrated website which covers Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Protect your phone

Track your phone to a street, wipe off the contents or ring an alarm. You can do it all with the latest anti-theft apps. The best part? They’re all free


This site/app ( helps you keep track of your phone when it goes missing. If the thieves put another SIM in your phone, it tells you the new SIM number. You activate it through an SMS or by logging in online to get reports in your email box. It has another cool feature—it can take a screenshot snap of the criminal when he/she uses the phone. You can also erase your phone’s contents when you are sure your phone cannot be recovered.

Where’s my Droid?

This site/app ( turns up the ringer volume with an SMS. It also gets a GPS location of your phone and links it to Google Maps. It works only for Androids.

Lookout Mobile Security

This site/app ( sounds an alarm so that you can find your hopefully misplaced phone. It can also send an SMS to your phone with your contact details. If it’s truly lost, the premium version helps you wipe out and restore data. It works for both iPhones and Androids.

Find my iPhone

This site/app ( or lets you use another iOS device to track your lost phone. It locates the missing device on a map. You can then choose to display a message on your phone, sound an alarm or remotely lock and erase your data.

BlackBerry Protect

This site/app ( helps you try to find your BlackBerry, lock it and remote-wipe off all the sensitive data on your phone as well as microSD card through the BlackBerry Protect website. It takes an auto backup of your phone so that you don’t lose your SMSes and contacts in the wipe-off.



Crossposted from LIVE MINT website