What started out as a luxury has now become, for most, a necessity. Ask anyone who's lost a cell phone exactly how they felt when it was missing, damaged, or otherwise rendered unusable. There are over 250 MILLION cell phones in the United States alone, and if history proves true, over a half a million of them will be in the hands of cell phone thieves in the next year. Scary, right?
Feelings of confusion, violation and lack-of-connectedness aside, cell phone theft is not a cheap crime. Because many cell phone contracts make the owners responsible for all charges to their phone (though some policies vary depending on when and how you report your phone borrowed sans permission) thieves can take advantage of that - to the tune of thousands of dollars. For anyone who has ever gone over their minute limit or text allowance, charges for extras on the phone plans add up quickly. Unfortunately, those costs (the ones from the thieves downloading each and every Harry Potter or Star Warsmovie under the sun, for example) are rarely covered by your homeowners insurance.
Homeowners policies are designed to cover "direct physical loss" - or something actually happening to you. This means that the insurance could cover the new device itself, but you are still stuck paying for the downloaded movies, umpteen text messages and a variety of marathon-length phone calls. Charges resulting from the usage of the phone aren't covered.
Even the cell phone carriers' insurance plans may not cover you for the usage charges. Like homeowners insurance, they might just help you buy a new device. Since having one's phone stolen is not only a common reality, but a very spendy situation, it is important to safeguard your phone from thieves, know how to report a theft (or missing phone in general) and report it missing as soon as you are sure that it is gone for good. Trusted Choice (a national insurance association) received some tips from best-selling author David Bach of The Automatic Millionaire to avoid being on the hook for a monster bill from a stolen phone:
1) Use Password Protection. Most phones, especially the smart ones, include a programmable password feature that requires a password to be entered to even begin to use the phone.
2) Call your Provider the Second you Discover the Loss: Most contracts make the owner responsible for all charges that occur before the loss is reported. Therefore the time of reporting could save thousands of dollars in unwanted charges. While reporting the loss, keep track of the date and time of the call, as well as the name of the persons taking the report. That could be valuable information in the even your provider continues to charge you after you filed the claim.
3) File a Police Report. While very few stolen phones are actually recovered, a police report creates an official record of the crime, and some phone companies do require a police report to proceed.
4) If You Feel Your Provider is Being Unreasonable, Tell Them You Request an Investigation. This could help you avoid collections and delay reporting to the credit bureaus. When you request the investigation, inform the provider that you are filing complaints with the FCC, your state's Attorney General's Office, and the state's Public Utilities Commission.
5) If Your Provider Continues to Act Unreasonably, Contact the Three Resources Above. Complaints can usually be filed by calling the consumer hot lines or through their websites.
While we hope you never have your phone stolen, we want you to have some tips, tricks and resources to help curb the damage.