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Hey! Give me my iPhone back! Tips to outsmarting phone thieves

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If you’ve ever lost your phone, you know that stomach-sinking feeling. Thick, heavy waves of angst wash over you. Palms sweat, your heart pounds and that flutter of panic threatens to erupt like an angry volcano.

Forget about Facebook. Your bank account is on that phone!

Email, contacts (when’s the last time you memorized a phone number)? Essentially, your life is on that little gadget you carry in your pocket, purse, or if you’re like my sister, your bra.

If that little gadget goes missing, there are tools to help you find it, but you have to be smarter than the crook — and sometimes technology itself.

Over the weekend my mother and I discovered her phone was not where she last left it, which by the way was the hood of her car out in Podunk, Arkansas, while we were on a wild plant dig-up expedition. Turns out we left — plants in tow, but not her phone.


The first thing we did when we realized the phone was missing was try and locate it using Find My iPhone. But that setting had been disabled. “Device not found” is the message that came back.

Sounds sketchy, huh? We thought so too. But all hope was not lost.

Years ago, my mother and I connected on Google Latitude, which tracks and displays your location with people you invite. Mom rides a Harley, and I wanted to keep tabs on her when she’s out and about on long rides — especially alone. Since the Find My iPhone setting was disabled on her phone, we looked at Google Latitude. Her phone was seven miles away — so off we went — albeit hesitantly.

Two dirty, disheveled women on a mission to get a phone. What would people think when we started knocking on doors? There was only one way to know.

Driving down a long stretch of gravel road, we pull into the driveway of a home with big barking dogs, chickens, goats and cars — some working, some not.

Never mind the big Mastiff leering at me, my mom’s phone was missing! And Google Latitude said it was at that house. I hop out of the truck and open the gate. I was going in! But then out comes this guy. He was big. I am not, but I was armed with determination.

I didn’t know whether to be firm or put on the charm. I tried a mix of both. He was helpful, but he did not have the phone. Or at least that’s what he said. We had no way of knowing.

He told us about a few of his neighbors. After knocking on a few more doors, and dodging a feisty little dog that had his eye — and almost his teeth — on my ankles, we got a tip that led us six miles away to look for a lady who worked at the Dollar General store.

Long story short, that lady at the Dollar General store knew who had the phone. It was her nephew. She made a phone call and told the people we had GPS tracking on the phone and knew where it was. (Close enough, at least.)

She sent us back down the road to where we just were to another home we had not visited. Apparently Google Latitude’s location is not exact. It was off by about a quarter mile.

Phone and cigarette in hand, a woman came out and returned the phone. She wasn’t very chatty. And we didn’t ask questions. We were just happy to get the phone back — and grateful to the lady who admitted knowing who had the phone.

Lessons learned

Set short time increments for passcode. While my mother had a passcode set for her phone, whoever found it accessed it prior to the phone locking. Mom has since changed the passcode lock from an hour to 15 minutes. Once you set the passcode, if you (or someone else) wants to change the amount of time when the phone is set to lock, you need the passcode, making it more difficult for the average thug off the street to manipulate your phone.

Erase data after failed attempts. You can set your phone to erase all its data off after 10 failed passcode attempts. If you have children who use your phone frequently and have trouble remember the passcode (or if you operate your phone while intoxicated), this option may not be a good idea for you.

Disable ability to delete apps. Having Google Latitude or other tracking apps downloaded on your phone will do you no good if the person in possession of your phone can delete the app. Disable the ability to delete apps by going to Settings > General > Restrictions > Turn off “Deleting Apps.”

While it may be true we rely entirely too much on our gadgets, they can sometimes provide us with the opportunity for a little adventure. And I’m always up for an adventure.

FOX 4’s Rob Low shared the story of a man who got the police involved when searching for his wife’s lost phone. See what happened with those guys here.

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