Here in Vietnam, crime surges are often experienced in the weeks leading up to Tet, yet lately there have been a number of incidents reported at the shop regarding phone theft. Most of the reports at the shop tend to be localised to Thao Dien. Though Tet is in February and it’s a little early in the season for the insurgence of common thievery tactics, one of the reasons that phone theft may be rampant at the moment is due to the return of expats from their extended summer holidays to the city. Newcomers can be unaware of the everyday nuances of phone theft here and thus do not take the necessary precautions to avoid, or know what to do when it does happen. In the first year of my Saigon adventures, I myself was a victim.
With the amount of experience that we have dealing with misplaced and stolen phones at the shop throughout the years, it’s a common enough happenstance which I thought I’d share some insight into. In this article, I’ve compiled a list of things to do before, during and after such instances.
Prevention is the Best Defense
I would advise that if you don’t need to, don’t take your expensive smartphone out of your pocket on the street. It makes you an immediate target and it’s almost like flashing VND10,000,000 in cash. But alas, when we need to check Google Maps while on our bikes, or it’s imperative that we take a call while walking down a busy street, then heightened awareness and knowing what to expect could be the difference between keeping your phone or losing it.
In such situations, 360-degree situational awareness is key. In this city where motorbikes outnumber any other mode of transport, scooter snatch-and-grab cases happen more than regularly and come out of seemingly nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Leaving your phone on the table at a cafe or restaurant is a no-no.
BEFORE: The things you should have done before things got bad.
The Simplest Way
Simply setting a passcode on your phone remains the easiest way to protect your private information. Although it is that simple, some people still do not practice this security measure because it’s too inconvenient to have to unlock or remember the passcode.
Many phone brands make it even easier to get around these inconveniences by using a fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock. In my eyes, there really isn’t a convincing excuse as to why you shouldn’t have a passcode on your phone!
The use of two-factor authentication (TFA) can sometimes be cumbersome, but it does have its benefits. If someone manages to get past the phone’s lock screen and starts making changes to your other online accounts, you’ll be prompted to approve any of these actions by accepting them from another linked device via SMS, email or a one-time code.
However, proving your identity through TFA is tricky without a second phone, so make sure you configure thesettings correctly in order to provide alternative access (ie. a linked tablet, computer or backup rescue phone number).
Backup and Do It Regularly
When all else fails and a replacement phone is imminent, a backup to be restored can be somewhat of a saving grace. You can always replace your phone, but you can’t replace your data or precious photos. Make sure to backup often as well, as a two-year old backup doesn’t do you any good anyway. Cloud backup services can automate the backup process so you don’t have to think about it.
Advanced Security Apps
For those who are willing to pay for their anti-theft security, apps like Cerberus (Android only), Prey (Android/iOS) and Best Phone Security (iOS only) may be the answer. Advanced theft-prevention features such as a motion-activated alarm, access attempt log, intruder photo capture, sound-clip recording and force power off are available as in-app purchases or a paid subscription. Do a quick Google search to see which one might be best suited for you.
DURING: The things you do while it’s happening so you don’t freak out… much.
Track it Back
The most popular mobile operating systems do have default apps which permit remote tracking of a stolen or misplaced phone. Find My Device (on Android) and Find My iPhone (on iOS) have similar features: live location tracking, last reported location, remote lock and (in a last-ditch effort) remote wipe, which allows you to erase all your personal data from your phone. Additionally, you can play a sound on the phone that plays even when it is on mute in case you’ve simply misplaced it at home.
You do have to be signed in with your Google or iCloud account to begin with and the phone must be connected to the internet (preferably via cellular) in order to make efficient use of these features. From experience, although location tracking can be as accurate up to within five metres, in most cases that we’ve seen, the chances of you getting your phone back this way is slim, if it was intentionally jacked.
The security apps mentioned above even have the option to send a message that appears on the lock screen to attempt to make contact with someone who may have your phone. You can offer a “reward” for the return of the phone.
AFTER: The things you do when you come to terms with it being over.
When days have gone by and you really have to admit to yourself that you’ll never see your phone again, remotely wiping your phone is your final option.
Change Your Passwords to Other Online Accounts
Even if you think that you have the proper measures to secure your phone, changing your passwords is worthwhile. You never really know. Accessing any of your email, social media, chat and connected accounts after losing your phone and ensuring that they cannot be accessed gives you a little more ease of mind.
In situations where your phone is stolen, what do thieves try to do with your phone? Thieves are aware of the numerous security features that most smartphones have in place. Anti-theft features like Activation Lock (iOS) and Device Protection (Android) prevents someone else reactivating the phone for use even after a complete wipe. These security measures are embedded into the phone’s CPU firmware and cannot be undone even when the phone is reset to factory settings. Usually, thieves sell the phone for parts to willing buyers at a significantly discounted price. Such buyers who have the technical know-how to perform component modifications to the phone can indeed bypass reactivation locks. So beware where and who you purchase pre-owned phones from, as you could be purchasing someone’s stolen hardware.
I don’t want to start rumours but I think it’s worth mentioning that there is a rather less-known ‘stolen electronic goods” market. Although you’d have to know someone in-the-know, as these markets tend to be ephemeral in venue, moving from location to location as authorities come to know of them.