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What to do if your smartphone or tablet is stolen

June 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Imagine this scenario, your electronic device gets stolen, but you think, no problem, because you installed that highly touted GPS tracking software. But what do you do then? Do you call police for help?

When business owner and working mom Monica Friel accidentally left her phone in the back of a cab and had no way to get in touch with her kids or her clients she immediately panicked. She activated her GPS tracking app through another device and traced her phone to a nearby hotel. When she called police asking for help, she got quite a surprise.

"They were like, 'Oh yeah, sorry. That's too bad,'" recalled Friel.

If your smartphone or tablet is stolen, finding out where it is may be easy. But what to do next may be anything but easy. A call to police may get you nowhere.

"A lot of law enforcement agencies don't have the man power to always be dedicated to working on tracking your phone," said former police chief and crime expert Dr. Richard Weinblatt.

He says many law enforcement agencies struggle to handle emergency calls and finding your smartphone could be a department's last priority.

"Resources are a big problem for law enforcement agencies. They need to be able to allocate it to the violent crimes first," said Weinblatt. "I mean, if you're being stabbed, do you want to be put on hold for 911 to say, 'I'm sorry we're dealing with a $200 iPhone, we have to go handle that.'"

Friel decided it was too risky to confront someone in the hotel she traced her phone to without police, so she gave up and got a new one.

"It was just really frustrating to be able to see the phone and know it was there and then not get it back," she said.

Experts say she did the right thing. If police won't help you, don't take matters into your own hands.

"You can get hurt, you can get killed and it's not worth your life or your injury for a $200 phone," said Weinblatt.

But there is something you can do about losing your gear. GPS tracking software experts say the moment you realize your device is lost or stolen use the GPS app to lock it down.

"So that an unauthorized user can't get access to it, you give yourself a layer of security that gives you time to retrieve the device without having to be anxious about whether or not the information is potentially being stolen or abused," said Dan Clark, vice president of marketing at ESET North America.

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