Stolen Cell Phones: What you Can Do About Them

By: Christine Peppler

Cell Phone theft is a booming business. There are numerous reasons cell phones are popular with thieves. They are small and easy to take, they can bring in $50-$60, are easier to sell than most items, or can be used by the thief almost indefinitely. Efforts by manufacturers to make tracking stolen phones easier should have a positive effect in the future but for now consumers need to beware.

First, consumers need to know that when their phone is stolen they are generally responsible for all charges incurred prior to reporting the phone lost or stolen. Secondly, it is important to realize that unlike a credit card, most cellular contracts have no liability limitations. Simply put, this means that the individual's responsibility is not limited. So what is a victim of cell phone theft do?

&bull To avoid paying for hundreds of dollars of calls they did not make, the victim needs to report their stolen phone to the police immediately. At a minimum they will need to know the name of their cellular provider, the make and model of their phone, and the Electronic Serial Number of the phone to make a complete police report.

&bull At that point the individual will receive a case number which they will then need to report to their cellular service provider. The cellular provider can then blacklist the phone and the individual can not be held responsible for calls made after that point. It is important that records be kept regarding names, dates/times of any communications in case there is any dispute in the future.

&bull It is also wise to check the cellular contract as well. The agreement often outlines exactly what steps should be taken in case of theft or loss.

&bull Although the consumer is responsible for all calls prior to reporting the loss, in some instances, fraudulent calls are covered by the individual's credit card company if the phone/service was set up/paid for using their credit card. Therefore, in such instances, a call to the credit card company is recommended.

&bull In some instance, fraudulent accounts are created using the information obtained through the stolen cell phone. Additional assistance in dealing with fraudulent accounts can be obtained from the FCC (www.fcc.gov)

Another important thing for users to realize is that the information on the cell phone is now potentially accessible to the thief. In this great "information age", it is easy to obtain all kinds of information on individuals based on bits of information stored in a cell phone. What precautions can cell phone users take to protect their information?

&bull It is best to use security features on your phone to encrypt data and to prevent others from accessing it.

&bull Although it is possible to overwrite them, another important step in thwarting thieves is to set up passwords to restrict access. It is particularly important to use a password to gain access/use of the keypad.

&bull Another, more drastic option is to avoid storing personal information on your cell phone at all. Certainly, most cell phone users prize being able to store addresses and phone numbers, but at a minimum they should carefully consider what information is most sensitive and could create the most havoc if strangers were to gain access to it, and avoid storing such information.

The bottom line is owners need to fully understand the potential damage caused by a loss. With thousands of cell phone thefts each week, owners need to protect personal information at all times and report loss immediately.

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