Detective Kevin Coffey, a travel risk consultant and corporate trainer who is CEO of Los Angeles–based Corporate Travel Safety. He recently retired from the Los Angeles Police Department, where he served 35 years and founded the Los Angeles International Airport’s Crimes Investigations Detail. CorporateTravelSafety.com
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If your smartphone is lost, broken or stolen while you’re traveling abroad, you will be out far more than the cost of a replacement phone. Besides your precious vacation photos, you could lose everything you had saved on the phone, including digital airline tickets and boarding passes…contact information for loved ones and coworkers—the very people who might be able to help you…access to your e-mail…medical documentation and prescriptions…and so much more. You also will not be able to receive credit card fraud alerts and authorize charges that your credit card company may deem fraudulent.
Bottom Line Personal spoke with travel security expert Detective Kevin Coffey to get his critical advice…
Prepare to lose your phone—before you leave on your trip. Thinking this scenario all the way through will help you understand what you would have to do, who you would contact and what you would need access to so you can get a replacement phone up and running while still giving you access to all of the apps and accounts you need while traveling.
Most important: Know how to locate your phone using someone else’s phone. This feature, available on all cell phones, can help pinpoint your lost phone (as long as its turned on). You also will be able to wipe all of your phone’s data if you choose to, as well as make a message display on the phone so that someone who finds it will be able to reach you. These apps even can make your phone play a sound if you simply misplaced it between the couch cushions of your Airbnb or it slid under the seat of your rental car. To access these apps or websites, you will need to know your phone’s ID and password.
For iPhones: Look for “Find My” in “Settings.”
For Google/Android: The app “Find My Device.”
Both can be accessed via a desktop.
Samsung and other major phone companies have their own apps and access—check with the manufacturer.
Important: Try the app before you leave on your trip so you understand how to use it on someone else’s phone or computer.
Set your phone to automatically back up to the cloud. With this automatic remote storage, you’ll still have access to the phone’s data and photos even if you no longer have the phone. Your cellular provider can walk you through setting up automatic cloud backup—but if you require more data storage, the prices might be exorbitant. Reasonably priced cloud storage options: Google One (One.Google.com), which provides 15 GB for free, with upgrades starting at $1.99/month or $19.99/year for 100 GB for both Android and Apple…or Apple iCloud+ (Apple.com/icloud), which offers 5 GB for free with upgrades starting at $0.99/month for 50 GB for iPhones and other Apple devices.
Store your app user names and passwords to the cloud. If you must replace your phone during a trip, you will be able to download the apps you use onto the replacement device—but without your usernames and passwords, gaining access to those apps could be time-consuming. Reminder: Many apps now require two-factor authentication—that means you will have to acknowledge on your phone and/or in an e-mail sent to you that you are authorizing the password reset.
One secure way to store usernames and passwords to the cloud is to type them into an encrypted Microsoft Word file on your computer, which is saved to the cloud. Helpful: To encrypt a Microsoft Word file, select “File,” then “Info,” then “Protect Document,” then “Encrypt with Password.” One option: Turn a sentence that’s meaningful and memorable to you into a run-on word, such as “MyCat’sNameIsJerry.” Reminder: You will have to know how to access your Office account online from someone else’s computer or phone.
Delete anything that you don’t want to become public. Information on your phone—and on other tech devices that travel with you, such as tablets or laptops—could potentially be accessed if they are stolen. In fact, this info could be revealed on an international trip even if the phone isn’t stolen—border guards have the right to demand passwords and search digital devices. Warning: If you have a same-sex dating app on your phone, consider deleting it before visiting a country where such relationships are illegal.
Provide contact info on and in your phone. Many phones are lost, not stolen—but well-meaning people who find them sometimes can’t unlock the phone to access the owner’s contact info. Solution: Most cell phones allow you to put a personalized message on the main screen. This message can be set to display on your phone without having to unlock it. Keep it simple. Example: “If found, call (000) 000-0000, and or e-mail XXXX@email.com.” Make sure the phone number is for someone who will answer a call from the finder.
Also put contact info such as your spouse’s cell number and/or your e-mail address on a sticker on the phone when you travel…on a card inside the phone’s case…and/or include these details in the phone’s emergency information, which can be accessed without a password. Note that a reward will be provided if the phone is found—if traveling internationally, write this in the local language. Helpful: A service called ReturnMe (Return.me) can serve as a middle man between people who have lost valuable items such as phones and the people who find them—the company provides stickers and tags that feature its 800-number. ReturnMe’s base plan has no monthly fee, but its phone tags cost $12.99 for a pair, and additional costs—including a $10 reward payment—will be required when the service is used.
Know the terms and limits of your cellular insurance. If you have coverage that protects you against the cost of replacing a lost, stolen or broken phone, read over this policy’s terms prior to traveling. (Some credit card issuers also provide this service.) Among other details, know whether the coverage is valid outside the US—many of these plans do not extend beyond US borders.
Wear pants with deep front pockets when traveling. No phone is completely safe from pickpockets and purse and phone snatchers who plague many tourist areas, but phones are at somewhat lower risk when carried in a deep front pants pocket and/or a pocket that buttons shut. Also: Pay attention to your surroundings whenever you take your phone from your pocket to use it—many phones are simply grabbed out of tourists’ hands. If you must focus intently on your phone in public, ask a travel companion to monitor your surroundings.
Pack a portable charger, wall charger with multiple USB ports and charging cord in a carry-on bag. A depleted battery could cost you access to your phone, and airlines sometimes lose checked bags. Also: Turn on your phone’s low-power-consumption setting when traveling in remote areas or hiking in the wilderness…visiting regions where power failures are common…or in travel situations when recharging might not be readily available. On many phones this setting is called either “emergency mode” or “power-saving mode.”