Track a stolen smartphone

Cologne (dpa) – Everyone knows to never leave a smartphone unattended in a public place. And yet smartphones are still stolen all the time.

If the inevitable happens, there are some steps you can take to reduce the harm caused and perhaps even recover the device.

The first point is to make sure the thief has no access to the phone and the data on it. "The screen lock on the smartphone should always be activated," says Andreas Mayer, a crime prevention officer in Germany.

There’s also encryption. Android owners can use the "Security" menu to encrypt the phone’s memory, while iPhones are encrypted at the factory.

The Android Device Manager and the Find iPhone function allow you to remotely block a device or delete its data, but in that case you’re in a race with the thief. Also this option is only available if the phone is still connected to the network.

You certainly should block and delete the phone if it’s been stolen. But you shouldn't rely on this alone. Instead security experts recommend changing the passwords on email and other online accounts.

The Android and iPhone blocking and deleting functions can also usually locate the device. But that doesn't mean you should go looking for it yourself, Mayer says. Instead, call the police first. "For the police this information can be very helpful when searching for the device."

If the police do recover a stolen phone, it's important you have the IMEI number, a unique serial number that every phone has. You should take note of this somewhere. It can be found in the settings menus on Android and iPhone devices.

It also makes sense to back up the data on the phone in case you don’t get it back. On an iPhone this can be done via iCloud or by connecting to iTunes.

Android owners with a Google account can store their important data online with Google Drive and Google Photos, and there’s also the free desktop application MyPhoneExplorer for local storage.