If you’re reading this on a smartphone or tablet, take a moment right now to survey your surroundings, especially if you’re out in public. That device could make you a prime target, but there are ways to protect yourself even if it gets stolen.

Mobile device theft has been in the news lately. Police recently arrested a former San Jose State football star on charges of burglarizing the home of Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs. Kariem McFarlin was easy to find because he allegedly got online with the devices, creating a digital trail that led police right to him. These days our ubiquitous smartphones and tablets can make us easier targets for theft.

But if someone stole your device, what would you do first? Even if this has happened to you, you might not have responded to it in the best way for law enforcement to quickly find what was taken. Just because the device can be tracked easily does not mean thieves are shying away from stealing them.

“I don’t think they care, necessarily,” says Palo Alto Police Lt. Zach Perron. “There’s such a high number of these thefts that are occuring everywhere that, quite frankly, it can be a little bit overwhelming for law enforcement to respond to.”

Perron has four simple recommendations:

1. Activate the GPS function on your device right away. This will help law enforcement track it if it’s stolen.

2. Note the serial number on your device. You can find it in your device’s Settings menu.

3. Lock your device to prevent unauthorized access.

4. If your device is taken or lost, call the police immediately. Don’t wait: the sooner you make contact, the faster you can help police track the device.

“As long as a GPS signal is being received by a phone,” says Perron, “and that is information that a phone carrier or a device carrier can provide to law enforcement in a legal manner, we can use that informaton to follow up and try and locate the device.”

Different police departments will have different responses to these thefts depending on their staffing levels, and on whether a more serious crime also occurred. A simple theft might not get as swift a response as, for example, a home burglarly where the device was taken. Catching the burglar would allow police to not only catch someone who might strike again, but also to help stem the tide of a growing crime in the Bay Area.

If you’re thinking of shutting off your mobile service to prevent a thief from using your phone or tablet, Perron suggests calling the police first. Some agencies will want to leave the phone in service to track GPS signals, phone calls that are placed or data traffic. Canceling your service can essentially hand your property to the thief for easy use.

“(Thieves) will erase (your) information off that phone, and as soon as the service is disconnected, they’ll take that phone to another air carrier and say, ‘Hey, I just bought this phone on the Internet. Please activate this service for me.’ ”

As for the Steve Jobs burglary, it seems McFarlin may have entered the home using a key hidden on the property. Palo Alto Police are trying to convince residents to be more diligent about securing their homes to stem the tide of burglaries. City statistics show 64 percent of last year’s burglaries probably happened because the homeowners left a door or window unlocked.

4 Tips for Recovering Your Stolen Phone or Tablet 22 August,2012Joshua Johnson

  • The truth is that most gadgets are lost rather than stolen. Here is a simple way to increase the likelyhood of getting a lost item returned: Mystufflostandfound.com


Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson is the creator and host of Truth Be Told, a special series on race from KQED and PRI. Prior to creating the show, he served as the station’s morning news anchor for five-and-half years.

Prior to joining KQED, Joshua spent six years as an anchor/reporter for WLRN Miami Herald News. He’s a native of South Florida, with degrees from the University of Miami. His reporting and newscasting have won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association and from the National Association of Black Journalists. Joshua is also active in his union, SAG-AFTRA. He lives in San Francisco.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor