The average smartphone contains so much of one’s personal life — photos, list of contacts, calendar, email, digital wallet — that the loss of that handy slab of glass and metal can be highly disruptive and disorienting. You may never have to face this situation, but you would be wise to plan for it, especially if you have children with their own phones.
Here’s a guide to what you can do before and after you lose or break your phone.
A sturdy drop-resistant case and a screen protector are starters for safeguarding your phone from physical damage. Wirecutter, a product review site owned by The New York Times, has case recommendations for iPhones.
A lost phone can be a security risk, so make sure you have facial or fingerprint recognition enabled and a strong passcode in place to lock the screen.
Your phone’s location services feature can also help you find the device if you lose it, so make sure to enable location in your Android or iOS settings if you’ve turned it off. Remember, you can adjust the access apps have to your location in the settings for privacy.
Keep a record of the phone’s identification numbers (the serial number and International Mobile Equipment Identity number) in case you need the information later to file a police report. You can find the numbers in the settings or by dialing *#06# on the phone’s keypad. Take a screenshot and send it your computer for safekeeping.
Buying insurance or extended warranty coverage for your phone costs money up front, but it can bring benefits like 24/7 support, low-cost repairs and same-day replacements for unusable devices.
If you’re not sure you need insurance, factor in how long you intend to keep the phone, how you use the device and if you can afford out-of-pocket repairs. In some cases, the insurance can cost more than the repair, so read the warranty or policy closely before investing in it.
You’re typically prodded to sign up when you purchase a new phone. AppleCare, Google Preferred Care and Samsung Care+ are common manufacturer plans; AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are among the carriers offering coverage. Third-party insurance companies like Assurant, Asurion and Akko sell policies for smartphones, as do some general insurance providers like Progressive and USAA.
Back It Up
With your phone’s Apple, Google or Samsung account, you get a certain amount of “cloud” storage — internet-connected servers where you can back up files. Cloud backup is simple: Once enabled, the phone should automatically back up when it’s plugged into power and connected to a Wi-Fi network.
If you have a lot of content on your phone, you may need to buy more space for a few dollars a month.
Set your Apple iCloud, Google or Samsung account to sync across devices, and then your email, contacts, notes and calendar will be backed up to your provider’s cloud. But you may also want to preserve things like call history, text messages and other information from the phone.
Apple, Google and Samsung all have instructions on their sites for configuring cloud backup on their gear. Google’s Google One service also works with other Android phones and devices.
If you prefer to keep your files off remote servers because of privacy and security concerns, you can back up to your computer instead. Apple’s iOS devices can be backed up to a Mac or PC using a USB cable or Wi-Fi connection; that backup can later be transferred to a new iPhone or iPad. Google’s site has instructions for transferring Android files to a computer and Samsung’s free Smart Switch app for Windows, Mac and Android can backup and transfer your Galaxy phone files.
Looking for the Phone
If you lost your phone or fear it was stolen, search for it using the Apple, Google or Samsung “find my device” pages, or with tools like Apple’s Find My or Google’s Find My Device apps. If your phone still works, the location setting is enabled and it is connected to a network, you should see the device’s whereabouts displayed on a map.
Apple’s Find My app can warn you if you leave a device behind and includes a Mark as Lost setting to lock the phone with a passcode and disable Apple Pay. But if the device seems to be in an unfamiliar location, you can use these tracking tools to remotely lock or erase your iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or other Android phone.
If the phone appears to be permanently missing or you know it was stolen, inform your wireless carrier and report the loss to the police; you’ll probably need to supply those serial and I.M.E.I. numbers. File an insurance claim if you have a policy, change your passwords and alert your financial institutions to watch for suspicious account activity.
Deal With Damage
Accidents happen. Waterlogged hardware and cracked screens are common phone mishaps. Apple, Google and Samsung have their own guides for dealing with water damage, which can be less fatal than it used to be. (Many experts advise against dunking the wet phone in dry rice to draw out moisture.)
For the technically adventurous, the do-it-yourself site iFixit has illustrated guides to common repairs. But for many people, smashed glass or fried electronics mean a trip to a professional service center. Check with your phone manufacturer and wireless carrier for your options.
National chains like CPR or Asurion Tech Repairs & Solutions (formerly UbreakiFix) work with some insurance policies. And speaking of insurance policies, if you signed up for one, go file that claim.