May 7, 2014

min read

Phone Theft in America: What Happens When Your Phone Gets Grabbed

Lookout Life
Lookout Life
Mobile Security: Privacy & Identity Protection

You’re in a coffee shop. It’s 3 p.m. and you really need that espresso to get you through the rest of the afternoon. The barista calls your name and you set your phone down on the table -- just for a quick second! -- to grab the productivity-saving drink. When you turn around your phone -- and all the precious data on it -- is gone. This is a classic phone theft story and, unfortunately, 3.1 million Americans experienced one like in it the last year.

Lookout decided it was time to get a clearer picture of what that awful phone theft moment looks like, so we conducted research in partnership with IDG to figure out exactly what a phone theft scenario looks like. The result: our first Phone Theft in America report*. Indeed, the picture we painted above is one of the most common phone theft scenarios. Despite popular belief, phone theft does not always happen late at night, on a dark street, where a criminal grabs the phone out of your hand. Instead, phone theft most commonly happens between the hours of 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. in a restaurant. How do the bad guys get access to your phone? Forty-four percent of thefts happen because you’ve let your phone out of your sight -- left it on a table or bar or walked away from it in some capacity. Eleven percent of phones were stolen off the victim’s person: out of their hands, pockets, purses, or bags.

But once they’ve got your phone, what do thieves do?

First, a thief is going to try to disable your phone. They might do this by pulling out your battery, removing your SIM card, switching the phone to airplane mode, or, well, turning off your phone. Second, a thief will try to wipe your device. In order to resell it, they’ll want to prime it for the next owner. This is where having a phone that is locked with a pin is really important. Criminals might look through your phone for sensitive data before they wipe it. With a pin protecting the innards of your phone, plus a feature like Lock Cam that will take a picture of the thief if he inputs the wrong pin enough times, this might not be an issue. Lastly, a thief will try to sell your phone sending it, sometimes, all the way across the world.

Consequences of Phone Theft

Unfortunately, phone theft does come with its repercussions, even if you do get your phone back. Ten percent of victims reported loss of company data -- BYOD is a real thing. Twelve percent of victims had fraudulent charges made to their accounts and another nine percent had their identity stolen. It would make sense then that one in three victims are somewhat to extremely likely to pay $1,000 for their data back. How do you react? Well, try not to be like the 68 percent of people who put themselves in some amount of danger when their phone is stolen! Instead, do like the 60 percent of people who filed a report with their carrier or the 43 percent who filed a report with the police. Did you know your phone has a unique identifier called an IMEI? Forty percent didn’t, but you can actually use this number to blacklist the phone from being resold after it’s stolen. Downloading an app like Lookout can help you locate the phone or get your personal mugshot of the thief with Lock Cam. We’re protecting you against phone theft at the software level. Don’t try to be a vigilante, though. Rope law enforcement in to get your device back. Of course you should always:

  • Have a pin or unlock pattern protecting your phone.
  • Be aware of where your phone is at all times! Don’t leave it behind, especially not in public places.
  • Immediately report the incident -- only 25 percent of theft victims realize their phone is stolen immediately after a theft occurs. Check for your phone often when you’re out and about.



*Survey Methodology The survey was conducted online by IDG Research on behalf of Lookout between March 4 and March 20, 2014. The survey was fielded to respondents in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany who reported owning a smartphone. Quotas were set to ensure that approximately 500 respondents (2,403 complete responses) from each country had their smartphones stolen at some point, while another 100 respondents from each country were allowed to complete the survey despite never having their smartphone stolen.

With Lookout Life, Staying Protected Has Never Been Easier

Lookout Life protects your digital information at every level. Device security, online privacy protection & identity financial protection for total peace of mind.