Lost Smartphone? Take These Precautions First

I spent much of Sunday in Manhattan with the family and while there stopped by one of our favorite restaurants for lunch. A bit later in the day my wife realized her iPhone had gone missing. The last place she knew she had it was the restaurant so we placed a call only to learn it wasn’t there. We then walked back to the restaurant and conducted an exhaustive search with the help of the manager and still nothing.

On our way to the restaurant I sent an SMS to the lost phone asking for someone to call me to return it. There was no response to the SMS or the 10 phone calls I placed – the phone was on vibrate by the way. At dinner my wife began to tell me all of the personal and confidential information this phone had on it and my jaw dropped. It occurred to me that the financial damage to an individual from the loss of a smartphone is equivalent to the damage inflicted on a business. It was at this point I realized the distinction between personal and business smartphone has eroded. These miniature computers we walk around with can sink us if they get into the wrong hands.

It was at dinner where I decided to send another SMS but this time I included the offer “$200 reward.” Still nothing but I got to thinking it would make sense to at least change my wife’s email password so the new owner of her phone couldn’t send messages on her behalf. There was no security on the phone so existing messages could not be safeguarded and Apple has no way to remotely wipe a device like RIM and Microsoft do.

Still, my wife couldn’t rest till she found out what happened and she was convinced her phone got thrown away with a bunch of napkins and subsequently wanted to visit the restaurant again. I was thinking to myself, is she going to dig through the napkins to find the phone? I just couldn’t see this happening – besides who would confuse an iPhone in a pink protective case with napkins anyway?

When we got to the restaurant we realized it was very busy and I thought the odds of finding it now was basically zero. Then I realized that my wife has a Bluetooth headset that she occasionally uses. I asked her to take it out and turn it on. I called her phone. Her headset rang. Bingo – the phone was in the restaurant. We told the manager who started to take the matter more seriously when he realized the headset was working.

The manager and my wife started to walk around the restaurant to determine where the phone was based on the strength of the bluetooth signal. Thankfully the signal died when they got near the dirty napkins.

The manager then went to the table where we had eaten and started moving customers around as he searched the ground. Minutes later a busboy asked what they were looking for. Once told, the busboy went to a drawer and voila – my wife’s phone appeared. Thankfully we hadn’t cancelled the service – we were imagining someone racking up huge international calling bills on the phone – thankfully it seemed no one touched it.

On the screen were various messages about missed calls and of course the reward. Boy was my wife happy. A subject of lively debate on the way home was whether the phone was going to end up on eBay that night had we not gone back and whether the busboy still had a job.

iPhones can track their position and if only there was a way to run background applications on the device we could have tracked the phone’s location through a service like Google Latitude – which by the way is slated to be included in the next iPhone.

Determining the location of important assets will only become more important in my opinion and already there are devices which give you NSA-like security at affordable prices. Case in point is the GSM Handheld Tracker by GADGET.BRANDO.COM.HK. This pocket-sized device gives you the ability to track a car, person or any other object while allowing you to receive speed alerts, movement alerts, setting up a geofence and it can communicate via SMS.

Handheld Tracker Components


I consider this incredible functionality for $133 and I would imagine some parents would consider it a perfect stealthy addition to their teenage kid’s cars.

It is worth pointing out that virtually all other phones besides the iPhone do allow multitasking so you should explore installing geolocation software in case your device goes missing. In addition you may want to take a moment and think about whether it makes sense to store social security and credit card numbers on your device. One last precaution – set security on your phone if you think it is important to protect your phone, email and other details. I would opt for a password to pop onscreen after an hour of inactivity – it will be annoying but give you added peace of mind if you and your phone do ever get permanently separated.

  • roderickm
    June 3, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Rich, there is an iPhone security setting to require a four-digit passcode to unlock the phone, and an additional setting to secure-erase the phone after ten consecutive incorrect attempts. It’s annoying at first, but quickly becomes second nature to tap the code.
    As more iPhones are used each day in corporate settings, this capability will likely see wider use. See http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1212 for more details.
    Glad you found your phone — sharp thinking to use a bluetooth headset to locate it!

  • Ben
    August 22, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    That happen to my wife too and we were in Lake Tahoe when she realized that her phone is missing. We took same actions as you did in exception of reward (phone was free and digital age in 2002 was not that advance yet). Three days forward, we got back home and I was cleaning the car, and her phone was wedged beside the seat and center console under the seat belt clip. Yes the phone was on the vibrator too.

  • Ben
    August 22, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Similar thing happen to my wife too. I think getting rid of the wife would solve all problems. Kidding…

  • Joshan
    September 5, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Ben, I got rid of mine long time ago for almost same reasons.

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