Lost your phone? Follow these 7 steps to protect your accounts and your money

A woman on the phone, her hand to her forehead, seemingly receiving bad news.

Image source: Getty Images

What a terrifying thought.

Key points

  • Your smartphone probably contains a lot of your banking and other financial data.
  • Take the necessary steps to make sure your phone is gone, then wipe your data remotely and contact your cellular service provider (and possibly the police).
  • Monitor your credit and financial accounts closely in the future, to identify and report fraudulent charges as soon as possible.

Have you ever misplaced your smartphone? It was definitely a scary moment, as you mentally (or physically) retrace your steps and try to remember where you put it down. After all, your smartphone isn’t just expensive technology, it may also be a place where you do a lot of your banking and financial activities.

If the unthinkable happens and you lose your phone (rather than putting it somewhere in your apartment and forgetting where, as I sometimes do), or if it’s stolen, here are some things you can do ensure that your financial accounts are protected.

1. Try to find your phone

First off, you’re going to want to try and really get your phone before you panic. If you’re at home, it might be somewhere you haven’t checked. Maybe you left it in your purse or in your coat pocket. If you have another phone available, try calling your own (assuming you haven’t left it on silent). If you have a smartwatch that pairs with your phone it may have a feature that will allow you to “page” your phone so you can hear it beep or ring (I have one and it’s a buoy of rescue). You can also try texting your phone, if your settings are configured to show text on the lock screen. Maybe a Good Samaritan has recovered your lost phone and would like to return it to you.

These days, most smartphones also come with built-in “find my phone” apps. These will show you on a map where your device is, which can help you locate it.

2. Erase your phone remotely

If you are sure that your phone is missing, it’s time to erase its data by logging into your account with your operating system (Android or iOS). You’ll want to do this as soon as possible because thieves could remove your phone’s SIM card (if it’s removable) or protect your phone from mobile network access, which means you can’t erase it. Ideally, you’ve also backed up your phone’s data periodically, so if you get it back or buy a new phone, you can transfer your precious digital life to it.

You definitely want to contact your mobile carrier once you’ve determined that your phone is in fact not found. Cell phone insurer Asurion notes that your cell phone carrier will be able to deactivate your service and mark the phone as unusable, meaning that if it’s been stolen and resold, the new owner won’t be able to use it.

4. Change your account credentials

Ideally, either you have completely erased your phone’s data, or you have enabled the lock screen protectors on your phone (meaning you need a passcode, fingerprint, or your face to unlock it). But think of all the accounts that are probably set up on your phone. Your mobile banking or credit card apps probably require a password to access them, but if you have something permanently logged in through your phone’s browser, like social media sites, you’re going to want to change those credentials right away. as possible. And also change your bank and other financial credentials.

Some of the best credit cards offer cell phone protection plans. So if you pay your phone bill with a credit card that offers this benefit, you’ll want to contact them. You’ll have to go through a few steps to get cash for a new phone, but it’ll probably be worth it.

6. File a police report

If it seems likely that your phone has been stolen, you’ll want to file a police report. You may need the report number if you are also filing a cell phone insurance claim. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notes that your local law enforcement will likely need your phone’s make, model, and serial number.

7. Monitor your credit and financial statements

Finally, if you’ve lost your phone, it’s a good idea to monitor your credit report and financial accounts more closely. Ideally, you already check these things regularly, as this is a big part of improving your money. But if you check your money, credit, and financial accounts after your phone stops working, you’ll be in a better position to immediately spot fraudulent charges or other issues and report them.

I hope you never get that “oh no” feeling of losing your phone, and potentially the loss of control over your financial accounts that might come with it. If you find yourself in this situation, keep these steps in mind to protect yourself and your money.

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