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Free resources available to prevent thieves from using stolen phones

About a week after authorities broke up a cell phone theft ring that involved eight Dayton-area residents, they are warning consumers that cell phones are increasingly being targeted by thieves as valuable currency.

Given the personal and credit card information loaded on her iPhone, Kettering resident Bee Person said her cell phone is one of the most valuable things in her purse. That’s why she was so distraught when she went to the Cellular One store on Far Hills Avenue Monday to report that her phone had been hacked.

“They hacked into my system and they stole my information and they stole money right off my card,” she said.

But thanks to the staff at Cellular One, she learned about the free Verizon Security app she can use to block viruses, mal-ware and other intrusions into her phone.

Cell phone theft is becoming common, officials said. According to the Federal Communications Commission, a mobile phone accounted for one out of every three items stolen in 2011; in larger cities, the rate may climb to 40 percent of reported thefts. A 2012 Consumer Reports survey estimated 1.6 million phones were stolen from Americans that year.

Given the rise in cell phone thefts, most people aren’t taking advantage of the free resources available to prevent thieves from using stolen phones and accessing personal data, said Max Greschl, a Cellular One employee.

“It seems like people are going to steal your phone no matter what,” he said. “And a lot of people really don’t know about the apps, they either don’t turn them on and they don’t actually run them.

Most people can look up how to reset or “jail-break” a phone to retrieve personal data on the Internet, allowing the phone to be resold to a new user, Greschl said. That tactic may be behind the arrest of eight Dayton-area people last week who are suspected of stealing more than $300,000 in electronics, including cell phones. The two separate theft rings are believed to have resold the stolen devices, said the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Setting a passcode under the “Settings” option on your phone can prevent anyone from getting into your device and accessing personal information. On the new iPhone5, Greschl said the thief would have to have the original Apple ID and password to be able to use the phone, rendering it useless if stolen. Under the “Settings” and “iCloud” option is the “Find My iPhone” option, which allows any user to track their iPhone for free, and remotely erase data if it has been stolen. Android has a similar option called “Lookout,” Greschl said.

For a one-time fee, users can download an app called “Cerberus,” which can also track your phone and lock potential thieves out. Users can sound an audible alarm of the phone, even if the sound is turned off, remotely, as well as wipe the memory and SD card. It will also take a photo of the thief with the forward-facing camera and audio record the person. The app stays hidden on the phone, so thieves won’t know it’s running, said Patrick Paudyal, a Cellular One store employee.

A free app, Lockwatch, will also take a photo of the thief and can be shutdown remotely if stolen.

To make sure you get the best app, Greschl suggested researching online and reading reviews before downloading anything. But the simplest way to protect yourself in the event of theft, he said, is to use free devices included with your phone and have a passcode.

“It takes a few seconds, but can be the difference with your sensitive information,” he said.

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