THE BLOG
18/06/2015 11:05 BST | Updated 17/06/2016 06:59 BST

How Do We Stamp Out Mobile Theft? Make Stealing Phones Totally Pointless

Mobile phone theft (or should I say cell phone theft) has reached such epic proportions it's practically endemic in the United States, with one study suggesting a tenth of American smartphone owners are victims of phone theft.

All this gadget pilfering has prompted the chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, to challenge the mobile industry to add special anti-theft features to handsets.

That means the cell phones of the future would all come with remote lock and wipe features, and the ability to call 911 even when locked, all at no extra cost to consumers.

Why a phone thief would feel the need to dial 911 from a locked device is beyond me - because it's not often a phone theft victim ever gets the chance to call the police in the heat of the moment.

But the ability to lock and wipe your data is useful, especially so now mobile payment technologies are on the rise (hello Apple Pay) and protecting data is more important than ever.

More useful still would be the ability to render your mobile totally and utterly ineffective (self-destructing innards anyone?!). The black market for stolen phones would disappear overnight. Sure, thieves could still break down phones and sell the component parts, but they're not worth much.

Fortunately, this technology already exists for some phones. While you can't make a handset melt in a thief's hand James Bond style - although someone should really develop that - there is a 'kill switch' which Apple already offers on all iPhone since iOS 7. It's called Activation Lock or 'Find My iPhone'.

We don't all have iPhones but, happily, Android has one too. Launched with Lollipop 5.1 it's called Device Protection.

Last month, more than 30 phones were discovered at one address after one of the stolen phones, nicked from a Foo Fighters concert, had a tracker app installed on it and helped police locate it.

The point I'm making is that anti-theft measures already exist, to make the job of the police easier and thieves' lives harder - but many of us are not using them. If you don't have snazzy mobile software with a kill switch, downloading a similar security app takes minutes, and could make the difference between getting your stolen phone back, or losing it forever. You may also help the police uncover some other poor soul's lost phone in the process and do your good deed for the day.

We can't rely on thieves to change their ways, we can only put deterrents in place to make stealing phones in the first place completely and utterly pointless.

Three ways you can do that...

1. Render your handset useless: Download a tracking app with a kill switch, which also makes things easier for the police to locate thieves

2. Password or PIN protect your phone: Make it as tricky as possible for a thief to access your data, buying you extra time to 'kill' your phone

3. Don't let thieves cash in on your airtime: Block your phone with your mobile network as soon as you realise it's missing so they can't make unauthorised calls