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Susan Salisbury

New databases may help identify stolen smartphones

If you have a smartphone, it’s probably become an indispensable part of your life. Losing it or having it stolen is a major inconvenience.

Until recently, if you reported your phone missing, your carrier would cut off service. But whoever ended up with your phone could easily have the phone reactivated with a new account.

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On Oct. 31, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon activated stolen-phone databases that enable customers to report and block stolen wireless devices. By Nov. 30, 2013, the carriers will be able to share data on stolen phones.

The system works by keeping track of each phone’s unique identification number. In the past, SIM cards were blocked in an attempt to make the phone useless, but those were easily replaced with another SIM card. Now, cellphone service providers are supposed to check the database before reactivating a phone. If the owner finds the phone, it can be reactivated if he or she provides proof of identity.

Here is some advice from the industry and the Federal Communications Commission about protecting yourself from smartphone theft:

Use your device discreetly. It’s best to not call attention to your smartphone. Don’t leave it on a restaurant table or use it while walking or taking public transportation. Don’t let a stranger borrow it.

 As soon as you get a smartphone, set a password and change it regularly.

 ­Make your screen display contact information, such as an e-mail address or alternative phone number, so the phone can be returned to you. Avoid using sensitive information such as your home address.

  Record the make, model number, serial number, and unique identification number. This information can help police in identifying your phone.

 There are apps that will remotely track, lock, and/or erase your smartphone’s data. Some apps trigger an alarm so people will know the phone is stolen, or take a photo of the thief so you can send it to police.

 If you have photos, e-mails, contacts, videos, or anything else you want to protect, save them somewhere else, such as on a computer, on a USB drive, or in a cloud service.

­ If you are prone to losing things, consider insurance.

 If your smartphone is lost or stolen, immediately notify your wireless provider so you can avoid usage charges. If your device is lost, put a ‘‘hold’’ on your account so that if it is stolen, you have prevented unauthorized use.

 Never attempt to recover your smartphone on your own if an app shows its location.

 If you have sensitive information, such as financial, health, or work-related data, or you believe your smartphone won’t be returned, it’s best to remotely erase, or ‘‘wipe’’ it. Essentially, wiping your smartphone is similar to resetting it to its factory-installed settings. If you stored passwords on your smartphone, change them.

To report a lost or stolen phone:

AT&T: att.com or 800-801-1101

MetroPCS: 888-863-8768

Sprint Nextel: 888-211-4727

T-Mobile USA: t-mobile.com or 800-937-8997

US Cellular: 1-888-944-9400

Verizon Wireless: 1-800-922-0204

Susan Salisbury writes for The Palm Beach Post.
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