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How to recover a lost phone, tablet, or laptop

Armando Rodriguez and Nick Mediati | Sept. 26, 2011
The bad news: At some point, your cell phone is likely to go missing. Whether it falls out of your pocket in a cab, or you leave it unattended in a public place for a few seconds only to have it swiped by someone with sticky fingers and low moral fiber, your phone is vulnerable. In fact, according to a report from security software company Symantec, 36 percent of U.S. consumers have had a cell phone disappear on them.

Turn to Plan B: What if you didn't install any recovery software? Are you out of luck? If it's an iOS device, probably yes. But Android users can still take action. Thanks to the Web-based Android Market, you can remotely install recovery software to your phone or tablet, even if it is no longer in your possession. For instance, in addition to its mobile security suite, Lookout offers the aptly named Plan B. You remotely install the app through the Web-based Android Market, and it begins to run automatically, sending email messages to your Gmail account with a map showing where your equipment is. Don't rely on this app alone, though: Consider Plan B only as a last resort, rather than as your primary or sole line of defense.

Starting Over With a New Phone or Laptop

Let's say that despite following our suggestions, you've lost your valuable mobile tech and you're resigned to the fact that the device will never come back to you. Yes, it's time to start from scratch. Fortunately, securing a new laptop, tablet, or smartphone will be a relatively quick and painless affair. But even before you begin to set up your new device and install any of the apps we recommend elsewhere in this article, consider taking two actions.

Contact your carrier: If your missing phone, tablet, or laptop used a SIM card, make sure that your wireless carrier has deactivated or locked it. That move will prevent other people from simply pulling the SIM card out of your locked device, inserting it into their own, and then shamelessly racking up charges to your account. This tip also applies to LTE (4G) phones on Verizon, as well as to so-called world phones (handsets that work outside the United States), since they also carry SIM cards. Be sure to explain to your carrier that your device was stolen; it may be helpful to bring along a copy of the police report you filed, in case you need to dispute any charges.

Keep an eye on your financial statements: If evildoers succeeded in rummaging through your data before you could wipe or lock your device, they may have snagged some of your personal financial information. If you did any online banking or shopping on the lost device, change the passwords for those accounts immediately. Check your credit reports by visiting, and be ready to put out a fraud alert at the first signs of trouble. You might also wish to cancel any credit cards that you used on the device, as they may have been compromised.

So get to it! Something as simple as downloading and installing a basic security program or locking your laptop doesn't take much effort. And you never know: A ten-dollar app could end up saving you thousands in the long run.


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