6 Surefire Ways to Frustrate Mobile Thieves
If you or an employee loses a smartphone or it’s snatched by a thief, what damage could it do to your company? Think about it. These devices may hold sensitive data about your customers or emails about important deals. They may even store passwords to your mobile banking service and other online financial accounts. Not exactly the information you want to get in the wrong hands.
Just as more employees use their smartphones for work, the theft of these devices is also increasing. In several major cities, smartphone theft accounts for 40 percent to 50 percent of all street crimes. Yet not even a third of small business owners have put measures in place to protect them, according to a 2012 study by AT&T and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.
Fortunately, you can help protect your mobile devices and your business by following some simple steps. These don’t require much time or effort, but they can save you from a world of worry if something happens.
What to do right now
1. Record identifying details.
List the following information for all smartphones that you and your staff use, and store it in a safe place:
- Phone number
- Serial number
- Make and model
- Color and appearance
- PIN or security code
- International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number
You can usually find the IMEI number by dialing *#06# on your smartphone or by checking inside the battery compartment. If a device is stolen, your carrier may be able to blacklist the IMEI number so a thief can’t use it.
2. Use passwords.
I’m always surprised when people don’t use passwords to protect their phones. It’s simple to do and provides a valuable line of defense in case a phone goes missing. Require all employees using their smartphones for business purposes — no matter how minimally — to set up passwords that are hard to guess. This can be done easily from the phone’s “Settings” menu.
3. Add security features.
Besides using passwords, many apps are available that can help keep phones secure. These apps can help users remotely track, lock and erase their phones. Some can even trigger an alarm to let the owner know the phone is stolen or snap a photo of the thief and send an email with the picture and location. If you don’t want to rely on your employees, you can take a more centralized approach to security by using a mobile device management service. These services let you monitor the smartphones connecting to your network from a central console and locate, lock and wipe the data from any that go missing.
What to do if a device goes missing
The steps above can help protect the data on your mobile devices, but you should take action right away if one is lost or stolen. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Report the theft immediately.
Contact your service provider to help prevent incurring usage charges. Ask the provider to add the IMEI number to a national database of blacklisted phones, which can help stop another user from activating it. Also alert your local police department. If you’re able to locate the phone remotely through an app or mobile device management system, the police may be able to help you retrieve it.
2. Put security features to work.
Along with location-tracking, use remote locking capabilities to help prevent anyone from accessing your data. These can be especially valuable if the thieves have circumvented your password. If the device contains sensitive data, wipe its contents remotely. As an extra precaution, change the passwords for any email sites, banks or other services you have visited from the phone.
3. Use an online registry.
Consider listing the phone information in a missing-device registry. These sites let anyone who purchases a second-hand phone enter its IMEI number to see if it has been reported as stolen. If it has been, the buyer can contact the original owner. Though these sites aren’t widely known, they provide another way to recover a stolen phone. No measure is completely fool-proof, but by taking a few steps and training your staff to take security seriously can help you avoid costly damage control later on.