Simple cell phone hack

With privacy features that keep phones locked these days, your phone is safe… but is it too safe?
Almost everyone has a cell phone, and you probably also have a feature set up for privacy and security purposes – nobody but you can get into your phone without your passcode, or maybe biometrics like a fingerprint or face recognition. I actually use a four digit code as a backup to my fingerprint in case I need to have someone else unlock my phone. But what happens if you lose your phone? Think about your phone right now. Do you have any way a stranger could access information that will help you get your phone back?
When my sister worked at Borders Books over a decade ago, she would open a lost phone’s contacts and look for Mom or Dad, and if not there she would choose anyone else. She would call the person and ask, “Do you know whose phone this is? They lost it at Borders, can you let them know they can come pick it up at the Info desk?” Technically she was not allowed to do that. Store rules said that she was not allowed to look in the phone or call anyone, just hold it at the desk. But, she reasoned, if someone went to the bookstore then they probably went a bunch of other places too. And they may not even remember going to the bookstore if they also had to go to the grocery store, the pharmacy, pick up a child at school and bring them to soccer practice, send out a package at the post office, pick up a birthday present at a store… My sister helped reunite a lot of people with their phones, but today I don’t think she would have the same rate of success.
I know my phone is prepared to be lost. In fact, I dropped it a few days ago while crossing a street and got it back in less than an hour! A stranger saw the phone on the road and picked it up, and then he tried to turn on the phone but couldn’t get past the lock screen. But then he saw a message on my screen saying my name followed by, “if found please call my husband,” along with his name and phone number. So the man called my husband and we arranged to meet right away, and I got my phone back unharmed. It turns out he picked it up not to steal it, but to prevent it from getting run over by another car.
I highly recommend you put a similar message and contact information on your cell phone, and it’s really easy. You can list a family member, a friend, or even yourself if you have another phone at home or at work. Put a phone number, an email address, a street address… whatever works for you.
On my phone, which is running Android 11, I go into the settings and then tap on Lock Screen & Security, then Customize Lock Screen, and finally I tap Contact Info for Lost Phone. There I can write whatever I want someone to see and do if they find my phone. Your phone may be different, and if you don’t feel comfortable poking around looking for it then you can search for instructions online, or just come into the library and ask for some help.
You may feel lost without your cell phone, but your cell phone doesn’t have to be lost for good.
Written by Michelle Halpern
Children’s Librarian, Riverfront Library
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