I recently received an e-mail that detailed the hottest new crimes that I should be aware of and protect myself against. A quick check on snopes.com refuted the validity of these claims, but also revealed some truths hidden among the exaggerated tales. I decided it would be worthwhile to share the real risks that exist (as opposed to the hypothetical worst-case scenarios) and provide you with some reasonable preventative measures since none of us wants to be a victim (which is why those tall tales spread so quickly).
Protect Your Cell Phone
Smartphones are attractive items to steal because 1) they are valuable, 2) they contain a lot of personal and account information that can be used to steal more from you.
Since only 2% of stolen phones are recovered, it’s worth your time and attention to make sure your phone isn’t stolen. Aside from carrying an outdated, frills-free phone, your best option is to keep your phone with you at all times. This may sound obvious, but many people are in the habit of leaving their phone in their gym locker while they workout, or in their beach bag while they walk the shoreline looking for shells, or on the counter while they fill out forms at the school or in an office, or they give it to their child to play with while they’re in the waiting room and fail to notice when the child drops it for a book instead. Also, be aware that many thieves look for a target phone while it is in use, so they can avoid having to punch in a pass code. When you go to make that quick call outside the store or office, be aware of your surroundings and keep your phone ear next to a wall or against your car, making it much harder for the “snatch and grab” many of these phone thieves rely on.
In the Event of Theft
If your phone is stolen, make sure that’s the worst of it by taking precautions to safeguard the information stored on your phone and to disable the phone so that the thief can’t run up your bill. Here are some ways to do this:
- Password or PIN-protect your phone.
- Install a phone location app on your phone so that you can track its location.
- Install mobile security software which will prevent the thief from hacking into the personal information stored on your phone.
- Do not store identifying labels with any of your contacts (e.g. hubby, home, mom). If you are concerned about emergency personnel being able to contact your family members in case of emergency, rather than labelling them as ICE in your phone, keep this information in your wallet.
- Store your phone’s serial number and your cell phone service provider’s number in your wallet and at home. To easily obtain your serial number, key in *#06# (star, pound, zero, six, pound) on your cell phone. If your phone is stolen, contact your provider immediately with your serial number so that they can disable the phone.
- Make your phone easy to return. In most cases, your phone is lost, not stolen. Make sure your display shows your e-mail address (even when the phone is locked) so that someone who finds your phone has a safe way to contact you to let you know where it is.
- Special note: I use Lookout Mobile Security app because it:
- Backs up your data to a cloud
- Protects your phone from malware
- Scans all your apps to make sure they are safe
- Blocks malicious websites
- Blocks phishing attempts
- Locates your phone if it’s been lost or stolen
- Locks your phone so unauthorized users can’t use it
- Wipes your data so no one can access it
- Will sound an alarm to help you find it (even in silent mode)
Protect Your Purse
The best tip for keeping your purse from getting stolen is to not carry one. If you can fit what you need into a pocket (or in my case, in the back compartment of my phone case), leave the purse at home. If this isn’t a viable alternative for you, then consider taking these precautions:
- Choose a purse that can either be worn diagonally across your body or tucked snugly beneath your armpit held against your body by your arm.
- In restaurants, keep your purse on your lap or on the floor between your feet.
- Carry your keys in a pocket or wear them around your wrist or neck so that if your purse is stolen, the thief won’t have access to your car or home (since your address will be in your purse)
- If someone does attempt to steal your purse, throw the purse far away from you so that you can run to safety while the thief fetches the purse.
Protect Your Car
First, let’s go over the obvious tips just as a reminder.
- Don’t leave your car unattended with the motor running. Lock your doors.
- Roll your windows all the way up and close your sunroof.
- Park in your garage if you can, next best choice is a driveway, and then in a well-lit area.
- Don’t leave valuable items in plain sight.
Here are some not-so-obvious recommendations.
- Don’t leave a spare key in or on the vehicle because there are only so many places to hide it and car thieves know all of them.
- Don’t leave anything with your name and address or other personal information on it in the car. This includes your vehicle registration and proof of insurance! Keep copies of these in your wallet/purse.
- If you have a vehicle that is attractive to thieves (see this list), consider investing in having the VIN etched onto windows and valuable parts. You can also purchase your own kit for about $20 and do it yourself. Since most car thieves steal them to sell of the parts, this will make your car less attractive to them.
- If you are going out of town, remove the garage door openers from your car so that thieves can’t gain easy access to your home by breaking into your car.
- If you are in a high-theft area, it may be worth investing the $25-$100 for a steering wheel lock.
- Take good care of your car. A well-maintained car is unattractive to thieves because the owner of the car is more likely to have an alarm, a tracking system, and will notice the theft sooner.
In general, the best ways to protect yourself and your belongings is to:
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Make you and your items unattractive to criminals
- Take measures to minimize any benefit a criminal gets from stealing from you