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Mobile Phone Theft: What can you do to protect yourself?

In Medellín, I had the bad experience of having my cell phone stolen in the subway.

My cell phone was password-protected (indispensable!), making the risk of further inconvenience quite low.

But since I have most of my life on my phone, I still took a number of steps to protect my sensitive data as much as possible, here’s what I did.

Locking / Erasing my phone remotely

Most smartphones now have a feature that allows you to lock or even delete your phone remotely

If you have an Android phone, you have to go here: https: //

If you have an iPhone, go here: https: //

For this to work, a number of conditions must be met (the phone must be switched on, connected to the internet, …).

If it works, you’re safe.

In my case, it didn’t work, as the thief probably turned off the phone right after the theft.

Change my Google password and disconnect my phone

My Google account is especially valuable. On the one hand, it stores all my personal data (e-mail, photos, documents, …), on the other hand you can retrieve the password of many services if you have access to my mailbox (using the “forgotten password” feature).

So I started by changing my password (here: https: // and then I used the feature to disconnect the stolen phone (here: https: //

Block my SIM card

The SIM card in my phone was a prepaid Colombian SIM card that didn’t matter. On the other hand, I had two extra French SIM cards stored in the shell of my phone (which isn’t necessarily a good idea in retrospect…).

The thief could potentially use them to make international calls and generate a very large bill for me (although the risk was quite low because the SIM is protected by a pin code). Moreover, some services (Grab) use the phone number as an identifier so the thief could have used some services with my SIM card.

So I logged on to my operator’s site to block the SIM card and request a new one.

Deactivate my credit cards

As a Google Pay user, I can pay with my phone. As it is protected by a password + having activated the phone wiping procedure, it was completely unlikely that the thief would be able to use it, but when in doubt, I temporarily deactivated payments with my N26 and Revolut cards.

I reactivated the cards a few days later after no payment attempts were made.

Disconnect from sensitive services

Here again, I did it more out of awareness that I did it, it is possible to disconnect remotely for certain sensitive services.

Notify my family and friends

Even though this is also very unlikely, the thief could potentially contact my relatives to ask them for money (“I have a big problem in Colombia, I need money, can you send me a Western Union…”).

So I posted a small message on Facebook explaining that my phone had been stolen and inviting my relatives to be careful if someone contacted them in my name in a strange way.

File a complaint with the police?

I didn’t do it in Colombia, fearing the complexity of the operation and not wanting to spend hours there, I would probably have done it if the flight had taken place in France.

This can have 3 interests:

  • Communicate your IMEI number (unique identifier of the phone), the police will then transmit it to the telephone operators which will make the phone completely unusable in the country where the thefttook place.
  • If you have an insurance policy covering phone theft, you will certainly have to file a complaint in order to be compensated.
  • From a statistical viewpoint, your complaint will increase the official number of thefts and may incite the authorities to take additional measures (more surveillance, more severity against thieves, …)

Put my confidence to work

I checked with my travel insurance and credit cards, unfortunately I was not insured against phone theft.

These are generally specific options that are subject to a fee and have fairly significant exclusion conditions. Given the price of these insurances, if you only have your phone stolen every two or three years, it doesn’t seem profitable to me.

In conclusion

By following these different steps, I was able to take peace of mind about the protection of my personal data

The only prejudice of this theft is therefore the financial loss related to the replacement of the phone. It’s annoying as possible but a few days later, it’s already a bad memory

To be done preventively

As digital nomads, we have dematerialized our lives to the maximum. It’s a real peace of mind but it’s not without risk: all our personal information is online and potentially targeted by malicious people.

Here are some preventive actions to be implemented to reduce the risk as much as possible.

  1. Protect your phone with an authentication mechanism. That seems to be the basis but I hallucinated when I discovered that my father had not put a password on his phone. A thief will therefore be able to check his e-mails, access his Facebook account, his bank accounts, … The horror. If you want to limit the friction of “I don’t want to enter a code every time”, modern cell phones can now be unlocked thanks to your fingerprints or facial recognition. Very efficient!
  2. A different (complex) password for each of your services. The vast majority of people use the same password for each online service. Every day, sites get hacked and hackers recover the passwords of all users. The hackers have your email and password and will automatically test if it is the same on many services (Paypal, Facebook, Google, …). If you have the same password everywhere, you will have problems. By using a password manager, (example: 1password), you can have a different, complex and random password for each service you use.
  3. Enable dual authentication. This feature, available on most messaging services and social networks, forces you to enter a second code, generated by an application, after entering your login and password. Thus, a hacker who has retrieved your password will not be able to log in. You have single-use emergency codes in case of loss or theft of the phone. The two most used applications are Google Authenticator and Authy.
  4. Keep the phone’s IMEI number: in case of theft, you can block the use of the phone in the country where it was stolen.
  5. Test your phone’s location service. As mentioned above, it is useful to check if it works before having your phone stolen
  6. Avoid dual SIM phones: when you are abroad, it can be convenient to have a dual SIM phone to have a local SIM card and its French SIM card to receive SMS. In case of theft, you will lose your French SIM card, which may cause a lot of trouble when you order a new one and have it shipped abroad. For my part, I only have the local SIM card in my smartphone. My French SIM is in an old phone that I leave in my home most of the time.

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