What Happens to Your Phone After it is Stolen?

Recent reports suggest that, on average, around 183 mobile phones are stolen every day in the UK. That’s a lot of people in a state of stress, wondering what steps to take next.

While the focus is often on the victim (and what they should do after the theft occurs), it’s useful to have insight into what the thief intends to do with your phone once they’ve stolen it. With that in mind, here’s some information about what frequently happens to all those missing handsets.

What do thieves do with your phone once they’ve pinched it?

  • They go searching for data. Some phone-criminals are mainly focused on accessing your data, as it’s worth more to them than the handset itself. Armed with your personal information, identity fraud becomes a piece of cake. They can access your sensitive files, for example, or even pay a visit to your online bank account. There are measures you can take to protect yourself from this. For example, downloading data encryption apps that protect your social chats, passwords or emails is a very smart move.
  • They seek out material for blackmail purposes. This is thankfully rare, but it does happen. Some thieves will use the information they find on phones (such as photos, texts or emails), then use it to hold the original owner to ransom. The best thing to do is to remotely wipe your phone as soon as you find out it’s stolen – this can be achieved with apps such as Find My Device (free – Android and iOS).
  • They take over your accounts. In some circumstances, thieves have even been known to take over your online accounts – such as your Apple ID account or your iCloud. They then hold the accounts to ransom, until you’re willing to pay up in exchange for regaining control.
  • They sell the handsets on. Your smartphone is likely to be valuable, unless it’s particularly outdated or broken. A skilled thief knows how to reprogram the phone and swap its SIM card. This means they can then take it to a reseller, who will happily pay hundreds of pounds for the latest model.
  • They take the phone abroad. The UK has relatively effective measures when it comes to retrieving or identifying stolen phones; which is why some thieves now take them abroad to be sold on. In the past, gangs have been caught sending stolen handsets to at least 46 different countries around the world.

Secured Smartphone

How to protect yourself from thieves

Sadly, phone theft is a fairly common occurrence. It’s all too easy to accidentally leave your phone lying on a table in a café, only to find it gone when you return – or for it to be whipped out of your pocket while you’re walking along the street.

There are steps you can take to avoid being a victim of theft:

  • Avoid making yourself an easy target. A lot of thieves are opportunistic. They see the perfect chance to grab a phone with minimal detection, and they take it. When you’re out and about, ensure your device is safely hidden away; either at the bottom of your back or in an internal jacket pocket. Be aware of your surroundings when you’re using it too; as some thieves nab phones while their victims are chatting away, oblivious to those around them.
  • Install the necessary safety measures. Some apps protect your data. Others will manage all your passwords, ensuring that thieves have a tough time accessing them. Two-factor authentication is another great way to protect your phone. This means the thief not only has to crack your password; they also have to break through an additional layer of security too.
  • Get it insured. Insurance provides valuable peace of mind if the worst does happen. Some insurance companies will not only cover theft, but also offer coverage if someone has hacked into your personal data.
  • Lock it or wipe it. Install an app like Find My Phone. This is not only useful for gaining insight into where your device is – it can also be used to remotely wipe all the data from it. As soon as you know that your mobile phone has been stolen, you need to take action, though. A thief will be focused on accessing the data as quickly as possible, and you need to make sure that you beat them to it.

If you’re planning on buying a second-hand phone, it’s worthwhile making sure that it hasn’t been blacklisted or stolen. You can do this by checking the IMEI and ESN numbers online (though be warned, some adept thieves can change the IMEI number). Go with your intuition too – if something doesn’t feel right about the sale, then it could be the case that you’re buying a stolen handset.