Back in July we ventured to Morocco – it’s a wonderful place, but unfortunately during the trip we were mugged and had a handbag stolen which contained my iPhone. We’re fine, thankfully, but I did learn a few valuable tips about having your iPhone stolen abroad, and the precautions you can take before travelling.
iPhone Security – Before You Travel
None of us want to lose our iPhone, but by being prepared in advance you can make life much easier if the worst does happen. Luckily for iPhone users Apple’s tight ecosystem makes security relatively simple as long as you have taken the correct precautions.
iCloud / Find My iPhone
If you use an iPhone, you should really be using Apple’s iCloud, if only for its security features, namely Find My iPhone. While, you may think the most obvious benefit is being able to track down your iPhone if stolen (in reality that’s quite a dangerous thing to do), the real star feature is the ability to remotely wipe your device to prevent anyone from accessing your data.
It should go without saying though, your iCloud account needs to have a very secure password. It’s potentially the portal to all your information and should be protected as such. You might even want to think about setting up two-step verification for your Apple ID – more on that shortly.
Make sure you know your iCloud password by heart. Even if you use a password manager, if your iPhone is stolen you won’t have access to it, and the ability to reset a password via email is much trickier.
Passcode and Lock Screen Access
It’s such a simple feature of iOS, but one many people ignore – make sure your has a lock screen passcode, and auto-lock is set to one minute. The chances of a thief guessing a 1 in 10,000 four digit code (or even better a complex passcode) are tiny. If you are using Touch ID, despite some reports of fingerprint cloning, that method of access should be incredibly secure.
Additionally, check what features are allowed when locked (Settings > Touch ID & Passcode / Passcode), and the time required before needing to enter the passcode. You can even set your iPhone to erase after ten failed passcode attempts.
Backup Codes / Two-step Authentication
Many people now have two-step authentication activated for a variety of logins, usually using their iPhone as the third passcode device. Of course, if your iPhone is stolen you are no longer able to login to any of these websites or apps.
There is another option that all products with two-step authentication provide – backup codes. Essentially these act as an emergency way of replacing the third passcode from your device that’s needed to login.
If you have written down these passcodes or saved them to a file, make sure you have access to them while you are away. This might mean asking a relative to store them safely or putting them somewhere secure online that you can reach from any computer.
Backup Your iPhone
If you use iCloud, make sure your iPhone is set to automatically backup when connected to Wi-Fi (and plugged-in). You can check this by going to Settings > iCloud > Backup, and even do a manual iCloud backup to be safe.
If you want to be extra cautious you can do a full backup via iTunes as well. Although a lengthy process, it does give you a full copy of your iPhone’s contents on a computer, rather than in the cloud.
Use Restrictions To Protect your Location Settings
This is a really good tip that many people don’t know. The first thing that many thieves will do is turn off the iPhone to prevent its location being broadcast, however some will try to be clever and just disable location settings if the iPhone is unlocked.
You can, however, stop them from doing this, even if they have access to your phone. To do this you can use the Restrictions settings, usually used for parental control. If you go to Settings > Restrictions, it allows you to set a passcode to access this settings panel.
Scroll down to the Privacy section and tap Location Services. Then choose Don’t Allow Changes. This means that without your Restrictions passcode, no-one can turn off the iPhone’s location broadcasts.
The small annoyance to this hack is that every time a new app wants location access you need to unlock it through this Restrictions panel, but it’s a slight inconvenience for the extra security that it provides.
Use a SIM Lock
The person that stole my iPhone took out the SIM card and used it in another handset to call people, which racked up a small bill before I was able to cancel the card. Luckily there is a simple way to prevent this by using a SIM Personal Identification Number (PIN).
On your iPhone go to Settings > Phone > SIM PIN and choose a code. Your SIM card is then protected from use in another phone without entering the code. There are two slight downsides – you will have to re-enter the code every time you restart your phone, and you will lock the SIM card if you enter the code wrongly three times – but it’s a small price to pay.
Check You Have Your iPhone’s Unique Codes
All iPhones have an individual serial number, as well as other unique identifiers, the main one being an IMEI number. Before you travel make sure you have all of these written somewhere – you may find them on the original box, or you can get them from the phone itself.
Write Down Important Numbers
Lastly – an obvious thing that’s easy to forget – make sure you have all your important contact details stored somewhere that’s not your iPhone. This should also include the phone numbers for your bank and mobile phone carrier, who should both have dedicated cheap/free numbers for calling from abroad.
Basic Security Abroad
Although you want your holiday to be a relaxing time for all involved, it’s still worth being wary when out and about in a foreign place – especially if you are carrying expensive equipment which makes you an easy target for criminals.
Only Carry What You Need For The Day
Unfortunately as a tourist in another country you tend to take a lot of your important documents and possessions with you – usually passports, driving licence, a large amount of cash, as well as cameras, phones, Go Pros and suchlike.
It goes without saying really, but never take more than you need out of your hotel. We were lucky in that we only had my (relatively) old iPhone 4s and around £40 in cash on us, but could easily have also had credit cards or, worse still, our passports, stolen which would have made the situation so much more complicated.
Use A Secure Bag
Let’s not be naive, there are two types of muggers out there – the violent and the opportunist. The first, you can’t do anything about; if somebody wants to rob you at knifepoint then you are best to hand over your possessions. The latter, however is a different story.
My girlfriend’s handbag was literally ripped from her shoulder – despite it being crossed-over her body and facing inwards, the thief tore it downwards ripping the bag from the strap, before riding away on his friend’s mini-motorbike.
Had we had a more secure bag, rucksack or even one of those money belts or security pouches, I’m certain we wouldn’t have been robbed. Unfortunately they are a hassle, but if you know you will be carrying vital documents or valuable items with you then they are certainly worth considering.
iPhone Security – After Theft
So your iPhone has been stolen – what are the logical steps to take next? There’s a few things you must do, and the order in which you do them could be crucial to saving your personal data.
Use Another Device to Access Find My iPhone
Presuming you are unharmed and now safe after the robbery, the first thing you need to do is set your iPhone to erase as quickly as possible. The handset is gone, but your data and personal information is the most important thing.
You can use any Internet-connected device to login to iCloud – just go to icloud.com. If it’s an iOS device though, annoyingly you have to use the Find My iPhone app, so make sure you have that installed on all the iPhones and iPads you are taking with you.
From there you can use Find My iPhone to set your iPhone to erase. If you are lucky it will do this straight away; if the thief has already switched it off, the next time it connects to the Internet it will wipe. (Note: If the iPhone is manually erased by the thief using iTunes, Find My iPhone will just say ‘Erase Pending’ permanently – there’s no way of knowing if the iPhone is still turned off or has been wiped.)
Call Your Carrier / Mobile Provider
The next step is to immediately shut down your SIM card and number. The only person that can do this is your carrier – call them and tell them your phone has been stolen. You will hopefully have their contact details already.
Annoyingly, as I found with O2, most mobile phone providers don’t have a dedicated fast number for stolen phones. I had to wait nearly 15 minutes trying to get through to them to report my iPhone as stolen. On the plus side, they shouldn’t charge you for the call if you use their official number for calling from abroad.
It is also important to do this quickly, as they will not reimburse you for any calls made before reporting the phone as stolen.
Tell People That Your Phone Has Been Stolen
If the above step has gone well, the thief won’t be able to access your data as the iPhone’s contents will have been erased. Even if the iPhone has been put into Airplane mode, a locked phone is very safe if you have taken the correct precautions, even Siri won’t work without being online. And, of course the moment it connects to Internet it will be wiped.
If the phone is unlocked, however, even without Internet connection there is a significant amount of information stored locally on your iPhone, including all contacts, downloaded emails and notes.
The thief might try to call or email people on your contacts list – you need to tell your closest fiends and family that your phone has been stolen and not to answer any calls from your number, or interact with anyone that they don’t know.
File a Police Report
Let’s be clear here, although it is your duty to report a crime to the police, the main reason for this crucial step is to validate your insurance claim – it is unlikely that you will get a payout without it.
Foreign police procedures might work very differently to your country of residence, and you may need to go to a specific tourist police station or one in a certain proximity to the crime. Also, it’s worth noting that many countries only accept you reporting a crime if you do it within a certain time after the incident took place.
Although it might be a lengthy and frustrating process, give the police all the details you can, and most of all don’t lie or exaggerate. Don’t be tempted to say you had more stolen than you did – both the police and insurance companies are very used to spotting fraudulent cases. Stay calm and be helpful, and most of all make sure you get a stamped report – that’s all you really need.
Contact Your Insurance Company
The final step, and one that can wait until you get home from your travels (within a reasonable time frame). You should find that if you’ve taken all the precautions and steps above that putting in a claim is a relatively simple one, especially for an iPhone.
We found that £40 in cash is too little to claim for, but our insurance did cover the original purchase cost of the iPhone 4s minus 10% wear and tear charge per year. The handbag too was covered, although you’ll need some evidence of it (ours was from an earlier photo taken that day), or even better a receipt.