Selfies two weeks in a row: This time, a reader who lost his phone on a plane, only to discover an airline employee with a penchant for self-directed camera testing.
Q: I was on an AeroMexico flight from Lima, Peru to Mexico City. I don't know whether my phone was stolen or if I accidentally left it on my seat, but as soon as I was aware it was missing, I went to the AeroMexico desk and alerted them to the problem. They searched the plane, but didn’t find it.
I have evidence it was found! My phone automatically uploads to the cloud. I’m attaching pictures of what appears to be an AeroMexico employee finding the phone and taking several other selfies. I have called and emailed AeroMexico numerous times without getting anywhere. I don’t want to cause any trouble. I only want my phone back. Can you help? *—Daniel P., Scottsdale, AZ*
A: That’s one way to locate a lost phone. At first blush, it puts a positive spin on the notion of personal tracking and surveillance. If we step back, however, perhaps it was a little too easy for the gentleman who found the phone to start using it for his own purposes. Also, it must have been a bit unsettling for Daniel to see a stranger in photos on his cloud account.
So what can you do to protect your phone while traveling? Here are a few suggestions from Verizon Wireless, many of which apply even when you’re at home:
• First, use a screen lock, especially if you set up your email and social networks to save your passwords. It might seem annoying to go through an extra step to use your phone, but a good password may help deter a thief and protect your personal information in the process. Be sure to avoid codes that are easy to guess (hint: “1234” is not secure). Or better yet, use your face: with Android’s “Ice Cream Sandwich,” you can unlock your phone using the built-in facial recognition software. iOS has different security measures depending on the device, which can include Touch ID (fingerprint) or the traditional pass code.
• Don’t break down built-in security. The full-customization options on your phone can be awfully tempting, but McAfee says when you circumvent security restrictions, you may make your phone vulnerable to worms, viruses, spyware, and Trojans that could wreak havoc on your phone’s operating system.
• Install a mobile security app and back up your data.
• Don’t click on suspicious links in spam emails, and don’t trust every app available for download.Check the reviews before you download to be sure others haven’t reported problems. Some may ask for permission to obtain personal information and stored passwords. Make sure you fully research the app before approving these requests. McAfee has found that 82% of apps read your device ID and 36% of apps know personal details such as your account information.
• It’s highly recommended you keep your phone updated with the latest operating system available, as it will have the most recent security features.
• Many phones allow you to put your owner info on the lock screen, so if you do lose your phone, it can be returned easily—make sure it’s something that won’t give thieves information you don’t want them to have; your name and a backup email and/or work phone number should be enough. If you can’t locate the feature on your device, there are apps that provide this functionality; search for “owner information on lock screen” and find one that works for you.
• If you do lose your phone while on vacation, contact your provider to have service suspended and discuss replacement options. When traveling outside the U.S., check with your provider beforehand to make sure you have the necessary international contact information.
• Verizon recommended its protection plan as well. Most companies offer one. There is also independent phone insurance. Read the fine print to make sure you’ll get the protection and service you want. Sometimes the deductible is high enough that the cost of the plan doesn't make sense, unless you want other bundled features such as additional tech support. GPS location services and the ability to wipe your phone remotely may be included, although there are apps that offer the same functionality.
While cloud storage services are a good way to share data across platforms and back it up, they probably aren't the best way to protect or recover your phone. In this case, Daniel got lucky and the photos worked. By the time I replied to his email a week after we received it, AeroMexico had responded. It recovered his phone and sent it to him. The fate of the employee is unknown, but let’s hope the next time he finds a phone it won’t be so easy for him to snap his own visage and inadvertently share it with the owner.