/ Technology

Look after your mobile – or thieves will look after it for you

Mobile with padlock

Millions of mobiles are going missing each year, and many of them contain sensitive information. Are you doing enough to protect your handset from fraudulent use – or are you putting your personal data at risk?

Modern mobiles are amazing. Forget calls and texts – smartphones let us manage our emails, shop online, even manage our bank accounts.

But with increased use and desirability, comes increased risk of loss and theft. According to Which? research, nearly 9 million of us have lost our mobile at least once in the last five years (at least 2.2 million more than once). And 5.7 million have had a mobile nicked.

Ouch. That’s a lot of missing mobiles. Small comfort that most of us spot our phone missing within an hour – an absent phone is an absent phone, regardless of how long you’ve been without it.

Personal data at risk

Three in ten people said they store personal information such as Pin numbers, passwords or home addresses on their phones. Valuable data that thieves would love to get their greasy hands on, making a missing phone an even greater cause for concern.

When Which? asked mobile phone users about their mobile security back in 2008, six in ten had no security measures in place on their phone – such as setting a mobile Pin-lock.

That data’s pretty old so mobile users may have got more savvy since then. But I, for one, don’t do everything I should to keep my mobile safe. I use a password to lock my handset after a certain period of inactivity. And at one point I definitely noted down my phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number (it’s anyone’s guess where I put it though).

But my mobile’s not registered with immobilise.com – a property register that helps police identify and return stolen property. Plus, I have a bad habit of leaving my handset out on tables in pubs or cafés – a tempting proposition for opportunist thieves.

Mobile security should be second nature

Luckily I’ve never lost my phone – not for more than a few hours anyway – or had it stolen. But enough of my friends have that I know the worry it can cause. And I’ve heard horror stories of people who’ve had huge bills run up by thieves. And that’s no laughing matter when mobile operators, unlike credit card companies, aren’t liable for fraudulent use.

So Which? Mobile’s research is a valuable reminder that owning a high-spec handset comes with added responsibilities. Yes, mobile operators could – and arguably should – do more to flag atypical mobile use.

But if we’ve done nothing to stop a thief accessing our personal details or using our phone to run up big bills, then we have only ourselves to blame.


I use a passlock on my iPhone. The MobileMe feature is quite useful too – it locates your phone using its GPS – fairly accurately to within a few houses! Best of all – it’s free 🙂

I do keep a certain amount of personal information in the phone memory [encoded but probably not sufficiently secure to beat a clever criminal] but I always keep it in a pocket or locked compartment. I have never understood why people leave their phone out on a table in public – after all, it’s no longer a status symbol – and when out with friends or family I’m hardly going to make or take a phone call; the beauty of the mobile phone is that you can easily catch up with any missed calls and messages so you don’t have to be interrupted.

I store only emergency phone numbers on my phone – no information as such, as these numbers could be kept in my wallet – I never use it in public if at all possible (and it is) – It is kept in a zipped inside pocket – so stealing it is difficult. My land line phone has an answer machine – so never lose messages – and it deters cold callers.

And most of all because I have never given my mobile phone number to anyone – I will never be interrupted by unwanted calls whilst driving – or while on long silent walks with my dogs – or if I’m dealing with a difficult dog at the kennels – Total Bliss!!

trevor lenoir says:
27 September 2011

How many of us when we upgrade send out old phone off for cash??
Read the small print on the web sites and you will see that it is down to you to remove the data before you send it!
Also take out the sim card and the memory card as these can dontain more information that will put you at risk of fraud!
There are companies like ours that offer data wiping for organisations from all data including the modern smart phones!