Lost Your Phone? Take These 7 Steps to Protect Your Accounts and Your Money

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  • Your smartphone likely holds a lot of your banking and other financial data.
  • Take the steps to ensure your phone is truly gone, then remotely erase your data and contact your mobile service provider (and possibly the police).
  • Closely monitor your credit and financial accounts going forward, to identify and report fraudulent charges as quickly as possible.

What a terrifying thought.

Have you ever misplaced your smartphone? It was no doubt a scary moment, as you mentally (or physically) retraced your steps and tried to remember where you set it down. After all, your smartphone isn't just an expensive piece of technology, it might also be a place where you do a lot of your banking and other financial activities.

If the unthinkable happens and you do lose your phone (rather than putting it down somewhere in your apartment and forgetting where, as I sometimes do), or it gets stolen, here are some steps to take to ensure your financial accounts are protected.

1. Attempt to find your phone

First things first, you're going to want to try really looking for your phone before you panic. If you're at home, it might be in a spot you haven't checked. Maybe you left it in your purse or coat pocket. If you have another phone at your disposal, try calling yours (assuming you haven't left it on silent). If you have a smartwatch that pairs with your phone, it may have a feature that will let you "page" your phone so you can hear it beep or ring (I have one and it's a lifesaver). You might also try texting your phone, if you have your settings configured so a text will pop up on the lock screen. Maybe a good samaritan picked up your lost phone and would like to get it back to you.

Most smartphones these days also come with "find my phone" apps built right in. These will show you on a map where your device is, which can help you locate it.

2. Remotely erase your phone

If you're sure your phone is gone, it's time to erase its data by signing into your account with your operating system (Android or iOS). You'll want to do this as soon as possible, as thieves could remove your phone's SIM card (if it's a removable one) or shield your phone from mobile network access, meaning you won't be able to erase it. Ideally, you have also been backing up your phone's data periodically, so if you get it back or get a new phone, you can move your precious digital life onto it.

3. Contact your mobile carrier

You definitely want to contact your mobile service carrier once you determine your phone is in fact nowhere to be found. Cellphone insurer Asurion notes that your mobile carrier will be able to disable your service and mark the phone as unusable, which means that if it was stolen and is resold, the new owner won't be able to use it.

4. Change your account logins

Ideally, you've either erased your phone's data altogether, or you have lock screen protections enabled on your phone (meaning you need a code, a fingerprint, or your face to unlock it). But think about all the accounts that are likely set up on your phone. Your mobile banking or credit card apps likely require a password to access, but if you have anything permanently logged in via your phone's browser, like social media sites, you're going to want to change those logins ASAP. And change your banking and other financial logins too.

5. Contact your credit card issuer

Some of the best credit cards offer cellphone protection plans. So if you pay your phone bill with a credit card that offers this perk, you'll want to contact them. You'll have to jump through a few hoops to get some money back toward a new phone, but it will likely be worth your time.

6. File a police report

If it seems likely that your phone was stolen, you'll want to file a police report. You may need the report number if you file a cellphone insurance claim as well. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notes that your local police will probably need your phone's make, model, and serial number.

7. Watch your credit and financial statements

Finally, if you've lost your phone, it's a good idea to monitor your credit report and financial accounts more closely. Ideally, you're already checking up on these things regularly, as doing so is a big part of getting good with money. But if you're checking up on your money, your credit, and your financial accounts after your phone goes AWOL, you'll better position yourself to spot fraudulent charges or other issues right away, and report them.

I hope you never experience the "oh no" feeling of losing your phone, and potentially the loss of control of your financial accounts that could come with it. If you find yourself in that position, though, keep these steps in mind to protect yourself and your money.

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