Anyone who's spent any amount of time overseas will appreciate just how much of a lifeline a mobile phone is.
Unfortunately amid the chaos and noise that is the CES show in Las Vegas, I took my eye off my phone for all of 30 seconds and yes, you guessed, it vanished. Aside from being my only real conduit with home, it also contained a lot of personal data including passwords and emails, making it the perfect tool for identity-theft.
Unsurprisingly my blood ran cold and a feeling of dread set in. Thankfully instead of panicking, I got busy searching for the device. After emailing my wife back in New Zealand to let her know that my phone had vanished and not to panic when I didn't text her, I spent a fruitless afternoon running around CES checking to see if anyone had handed it in to security or the Las Vegas police. Unfortunately it was a top of the line Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone so I wasn't holding my breath.
At the end of a very long and tiring day my smartphone was still gone, so the first thing I did was change all the logins and passwords to email accounts and other online services.
Doing so meant that any personal or financial information I had online remained private, reducing the risk of identity theft. The one bit of good news out of what was otherwise a pretty black day was that the phone was a using a prepaid SIM (which had run out of credit that morning), so I didn't need to worry about contacting the telco to get the account shut down. Sadly, it also meant that I was unable to call whoever had picked it up.
Step 1: Be contactable
Having reduced the risk of identity theft, my mind was reeling with all the simple common-sense steps I could have or should have taken to get my phone back.
Perhaps the most straightforward of all involved putting contact information such as my name, an alternate phone number (be it a landline or a friend's mobile), an email address (whilst also being sure not to include personal details such as my home address for obvious reasons) on my phone's home screen.
Doing so means that should my phone have been picked up by an honest person, they'd be able to quickly get in touch, dramatically improving the odds of me and my phone being reunited. Unfortunately doing something this logical hadn't occurred to me, so I had to resort to an alternative plan of attack, and in this case, my plan B should've been a real doozy.
Step 2: Have a Plan B
Apple iPhone owners have long had the luxury of subscribing to the Find My iPhone feature. Using Find My iPhone, owners can use a web browser to track their missing device via its built-in GPS radio. Even fancier still, iPhone owners can also install a paid app called GadgetTrak which can handily take photos of whoever has found your iphone and email them back to you.
Because my smartphone was a Samsung Galaxy SII and not an iPhone, Find my iPhone or GadgetTrak weren't options. However as an Android owner I thankfully had tonnes of other similar, and equally useful options.
Where's My Droid allowed me to text my phone with a code-word which would theoretically turn on its GPS and email its map co-ordinates back to me.
Alternatively I could also fire up its ringtone at full noise (even if the phone was set to silent). Equally nice is Lookout, a free antivirus and security app that is largely similar to Where's My Droid with the paid version also letting me remotely wipe my phone, eliminating any risk of identity theft.
All of this would've been great - if I'd pre installed Where's My Droid or Lookout, but unfortunately even with my best intentions I'd never factored in my ability to stupidly lose my phone and hadn't bothered to install any of these incredibly useful apps.
Thank goodness for a free app called Plan B which sports the same functionality as Lookout.
Even though I'd not installed Plan B, I was able to log into the android marketplace using a PC to remotely install it.
As fantastic as these options are, there was one minor flaw that all but scuppered the usefulness of Plan B and Lookout. As I mentioned earlier, at the time of the phone's disappearing act, it was fitted with a prepaid SIM and the prepaid balance had literally just run out that morning. In short there was no way it could broadcast its location to me, let alone remotely install Plan B.
Step 3: Insurance
This realisation bought me to my last step, namely replacing my beloved phone. When you plunk down a thick wad of cash to buy a fancy top of the line smartphone, check what insurance options are available with the telco you're buying it from.
You may save a few bucks not taking out any insurance, but at the end of the day, having it for a $1000 plus smartphone is simply a no-brainer. If you have a police report (which I had sourced from the ever helpful Las Vegas PD) and pay an excess, you can often get a replacement.
Reporting your phone as stolen also has the added benefit of the telco suspending your phone number so no one can use it and you don't end up footing a massive bill from some perp calling dodgy 0900 numbers.
But if all else fails, you could be lucky
After arriving home from Vegas, I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I'd never see my Galaxy SII ever again. At least that was until I received an email from a kind soul in Taipei who'd also been at CES and had picked up my phone, tracking me down via my email address on the phone.
After we chatted, he posted my phone back to me from Taipei at his own cost and my Galaxy SII and I were reunited.
I have also left him with a standing invitation to New Zealand and the promise of a full on dinner at my favourite restaurant should he ever arrive here.