What Not to Do When Your iPhone Is Stolen
A Personal Essay
When I sat down at my desk today, I had planned on writing an article about how big changes within society can start at the individual level. It’s overwhelming to look at all the problems in our world and wonder how you can make a difference, but people have done it in the past. I started doing my research on examples from recent history, like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and going back further, the Civil Rights movement. I thought about how much things have — and haven’t — changed. Then I looked at my iPhone sitting on top of my desk. Just inches from my hand I have more computing power than NASA had when sending the first man to the moon. Talk about massive change! This tiny device connects me to my life at work and at play.
This weekend, it was stolen.
I know you just envisioned this happening to you. Perhaps a few deep breaths would help at this point.
It is pretty easy to spin out of control just imagining your smart phone being stolen, right? When I think about all the information it contains and everything it can do, it’s amazing. I just watched a TED Talk this weekend by Peter Diamandis on Bold & Abundant Thinking. He talks about how successful entrepreneurs are at a point that they are dematerializing other businesses — basically meaning making their products obsolete. He points to Amazon replacing most bookstores and has an interesting graphic of how many material goods are no longer needed because our smart phones can do so much. That small device replaces (or can at least do the jobs of) mP3, record and cassette players, televisions, video players, video cameras, regular cameras, gaming systems, video-conferencing phones, audio recorders, calculators, maps and GPS systems, books, notebooks, checkbooks, timers, watches, stopwatches, books, magazines, address books…..the list goes on and on. Oh — and it’s a really good telephone, too.
So, when I think about my phone being stolen — it really means I have lost a truckload of devices, plus banking information, credit card numbers, passwords, and my entire contact list, including my kids phone numbers, because, who memorizes phone numbers anymore?
It’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. It’s Mother’s Day, but my kids are with their other mom this year. My wife decides to take me out shopping for a gift I’ve been wanting and we plan a whole afternoon of fun for us both. After exploring Harbor Freight and finding a number of small objects neither of us ever expected (it’s an oddly interesting store), I find the air brush air compressor we came for. Happy Mother’s Day to me! I make my purchases, showing the clerk the coupon on my phone. It doesn’t work. She then looks for one on her phone. It doesn’t work either, but the sale price is already very low, so I don’t worry much about it. The store has gotten quite hot and stuffy and I am eager to get out of there and move on with our day.
When I get to the car, a clean but presumably homeless man approaches asking very politely if we can spare any change. I tell him truthfully, “Sorry, we never carry cash.” He smiles, says that’s OK, shakes my hand, and bids us a good day. He sends out really good energy and strikes me as someone I might meet at a music festival — only he is clean and sober.
Back in the car, my wife finds a couple of dollars in her wallet and says she thinks we should give it to him. This is very unusual for us. We donate to charities but rarely individuals. As I said, this guy had really good energy. We drive up next to him, give him the money, and he seems truly grateful.
We drive away, feeling like we did a good thing.
A few minutes later, we need directions to our next destination. I reach over to grab my phone out of its customary place in the cup holder, only — it’s not there! I grab for my pockets and scan every place in the car where it could possibly be. It’s nowhere to be seen. Crap! While my wife drives, I actually climb from the front into the backseat of our Prius so I can check the back area where we placed our bags. I think maybe I could have put my phone down next to them before closing the hatchback. No such luck.
I am not the type of person who loses my phone. I have locked my keys in the car on more than one occasion. I have left my debit card in various places. I have never lost my phone. I am very careful to always place it in certain pockets of my clothing when out and about, or locations in the house when we are at home. I guess the combination of being excited about my purchases, the heat of the store, and my eagerness to enjoy the rest of our day combined to make me less conscientious than normal.
Did I drop it? Leave it at the store? Then it becomes crystal clear — the homeless guy.
He was close enough to shake my hand. He must have pickpocketed me. (Wouldn’t I have felt that? I don’t think he got that close. Maybe the phone was on top of the box I was carrying and he quietly lifted it. I don’t know. I just know my phone is gone.) My pulse races. This can’t be happening.
Using the FindiPhone app on my wife’s phone, we see my phone is still in the parking lot we’d just left. We turn around and race back. Crap. Crap. Crap. What are we going to do? Confront the guy? Yes, that is the plan.
I refresh the location of my phone. It is now in the same parking lot, but on the other side from where we were. Crap! It’s on the move. I picture the guy handing it off to someone who has been waiting in a parked car, ready to drive it off to some temporary hacker headquarters. (In my mind, he is no longer a homeless guy, but high tech grifter simply posing as a homeless man.)
We are almost back to where we had parked. I refresh again and now it appears my phone is several blocks away in another shopping area. Crap! It is really on the move. We start to go to the new location. I wonder out loud if we should call the police. My wife, thinking a bit more rationally than I, tells me to go ahead and erase the phone. This can be done remotely. All I need to do is enter the password….
…why isn’t my password working? I try again. No luck.
My wife pulls the car over to enter my password herself. We are both in panic-mode now, imagining some professional hacker working on my phone at that very moment, trying to access banking and credit card information. She finally pulls up my password from a password app we share, and finds I had been trying the wrong password. She successfully enters the correct series of letters and symbols and we get a message saying the phone has been erased.
Good. It is unlikely there was time to hack into my phone, especially since it was on the move most of the time.
All my photos from a recent cross-country trip — gone.
I hadn’t backed them up, yet. We back up most everything to iCloud, but not my photos, as far as I remember. My wife thinks she set everything to back up automatically. She is my tech wizard. I hope she is right.
We decide to go back to the parking lot again, just in case. The finder app is now showing my phone in the place we’d parked again. Weird. My wife lets me out in front of Harbor Freight while she goes to look in the area where we’d parked in case I simply dropped it. I don’t hold out much hope, but go back inside the hot, stuffy store and wait while the clerk that had assisted me finishes with her current customer.
“Did you happen to find my phone?”
“Oh my gosh! I feel so bad! I took your phone!” (SHE HAS MY PHONE! YES!!!)
The clerk looks embarrassed and relieved. She pulls her phone from her back pocket and shows me how similar our phones look. “After I scanned the coupon from your phone, I must have put it in my back pocket like I do with mine.” She then explains how she didn’t realize what had happened until she discovered she had a phone in both back pockets. (Perhaps that is when the tracker showed my phone on the other side of the parking lot. Maybe she had taken a break.)
Soon the manager unlocks a metal drawer, I am reunited with my phone, and all is right with the world. I expresse my gratitude out loud to the gods, my guardian angels, and anyone else listening. I apologize to the long-gone homeless man who I accused of being a thief and criminal mastermind.
The rest of our day was pleasant, but the stress had taken a toll on my nerves. I had to seriously look at why I had jumped to the conclusion that my phone had been stolen versus doing what I would normally do in such situations, which was to start with going back into the store.
First, we had given cash to a stranger, which is outside of our norm. Second, I was tricked by believing that the FindiPhone app was completely accurate. Maybe being placed inside the safe/drawer messed with the tracking system’s accuracy. I don’t know. Third, I was mentally panicking, jumping to the worst case scenario when confronted with the idea that an entire truckload possessions and personal information had been stolen. It could have been weeks closing and opening new accounts, not to mention needing to replace a very expensive phone. Had we just stayed in one place long enough to think through a plan and then follow through, I would have had my phone back much faster and without all of the insane stress. Easy to say now, but when it appears your phone is on the move and your personal information is at risk, not so easy to do.
Here are the things I learned from this ordeal.
Sometimes the nice looking guy in the parking lot really is just a nice guy.
Setting up all devices that are on the same family plan on everyone’s iPhone is worthwhile. We never would have been able to wipe out my phone so quickly if it hadn’t been accessible from my wife’s phone. I am guessing Androids have a similar feature.
Remote erasing of the device works — and works fast.
In similarly high stress situations in the future, I hope to remember to stay calm, take a few deep breaths, and rely on common sense as much as technology.
As technology improves our lives, and allows us to do things we never thought possible, it also complicates our lives. I started this article wanting to write about how individuals can make a difference in this crazy world that has given us so many conveniences at the price of our health, eco-systems, and entire species. Maybe the experience I had with my phone is a good reminder that more of my life should be happening outside of that little device and away from technology. I know many of the solutions to today’s problems will come from technology, but maybe some of them should come from taking a few deep breaths and applying some common sense.
By the way, I got by photos back, too.
Be here now. You hear this advice all the time. It’s a way to improve your life, relationships and sense of well-being, but what does it mean and how do you do it? I’ve put together a short guide that will help — “Seven Tips for Living in the Moment.”