When your device gets stolen, it can feel like a sudden crisis. Nobody wants to be in a situation where they’re walking about their day and reach for their bag to pull out their laptop, phone, or tablet only to discover that their device is nowhere to be found. All of a sudden, your mind starts to race—did you accidentally leave it at the coffee shop where you were just working, or did somebody slip it out of your bag while you weren’t paying attention? And even if you did lose it, is there a risk that it could fall into the hands of someone who’s completely unethical?
A stolen device doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Keep a level head and approach this crisis the way you would with any other problem in your professional life by going down the list of steps you need to take to minimize the damage and put yourself back on the right track.
Start by Preventing Theft of Your Device (If You Can)
As with other best practices in business (and other areas of life), an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you can avoid a problem altogether by taking the right steps ahead of time, it will be much easier when something bad does happen—in this case, your laptop or phone is stolen.
Nobody wants to think that there are people out there who would steal your device and put everything on it to ill use. But you need to stay diligent, even when you think you’re in a situation that’s safe. Sure, you think the little sandwich shop where you often get some work done remotely while having lunch is safe (it’s in a great area, and you’re there every day) but that doesn’t mean you can leave your laptop unattended while you use the restroom. If you can’t find a trustworthy person to watch it for you, pack up your bag and take it into the restroom with you.
Beyond keeping a close eye on your devices, you should also…
Have a strong password for everything on your computer
The days of having a password that’s easy to figure out are way behind us. There’s too much risk these days. Come up with a strong password that involves at least eight characters including lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Don’t use any recognizable words or anything that’s related to you (such as your birthday or the last four digits of your phone number). Some devices will lock after enough failed password guesses, keeping your information safe. However—and this is important however—having a strong password won’t do you much good if you don’t take advantage of your device’s encryption functionality. In worst-case scenarios, you might forget your password, and if you did not record your encryption key, you may not be able to recover your data.
Enable safety features on your device
Your computer or phone comes with built-in safety features you want to take advantage of. Go to Settings and enable the Find My Device feature, which will use GPS or network connections to locate your laptop or phone if you can’t find it. Bear in mind that this feature isn’t foolproof, especially if your device is in dubious hands, as this feature can be easily turned off.
Backup everything on your device
In the event that you do have to wipe everything off your device remotely, you want to make sure you have all your important documents and media backed up so you can access it later. Save everything to the Cloud or an external drive regularly.
How to React If You Do Lose Your Device
Although you never want to panic, it’s important that you act fast—if a dishonest person has your device, then minutes or even seconds can make a big difference. That’s all the time it takes for them to pull out the SIM card or even place your phone someplace where there’s no WiFi or service.
Take these steps to protect your device:
Start by Calling
If you think you might have simply misplaced your phone, send a message from a different device or ask a friend to do it for you. The sound will help draw your attention to the device, wherever it is. If your device has been picked up by an honest person, they might be able to use this contact as a way of getting your device back to you.
Erase All Your Data
Remember how you enabled the Find My Device feature? Even if this feature isn’t able to provide the location of your phone, you can use it to erase the data from your phone or laptop remotely.
Report the Loss to Your Service Provider
If you let your service provider know that your device has been stolen, they can not only turn off service to the device but also mark the device as unusable. That way, the device can’t be picked up by a new carrier or used with a new SIM card.
Finally, Change All Your Passwords and Credit Card Info
If you can’t get your device back, you’ll want to change all login information for accounts, particularly for any platforms where you have personal information, such as your email address. If you have any credit card information saved (for example, on Amazon) remove those cards from your account and let your bank know about the problem so you can monitor for any suspicious activity.