Phone companies offer advice to prevent cell phone loss, theft

Tim Eggerding

Tim Eggerding

By Tanika Ely

A fun Friday night can turn into disaster for students who return from a night of partying to find they have lost their cell phone, or – even worse – someone has stolen it. For these students, a moment of panic sets in as they try to re-trace their steps to find the phone so they can avoid having to dish out money for a new one.

Dan Witten, assistant manager of Cingular Wireless at Marketplace Mall, said he has repeatedly seen this scenario with customers.

“It’s a relatively big problem, but more so with students,” he said. “People going to bars can barely remember the past night, much less where they’ve put their phone.”

What students may not know is that it is easy for someone to re-activate stolen phones.

“There is really nothing to keep someone from coming in with a stolen phone and passing it off as their own,” Witten said.

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But there are some preventative measures students can take to avoid paying for minutes used after a phone is stolen.

After losing a cell phone, report it to the provider immediately, said Belynda Allen, a retail sales representative for T-mobile. If the phone has been stolen, students should also report the theft to police, she said.

“It is the number one suggestion I tell (customers) when they lose a phone,” she said. “This way we can suspend the account and no one else can use it.”

Falon McCain, senior in communication, said cell phone loss is familiar to college students.

“I have a friend who’s lost her phone several times,” she said. “For me, I don’t think I would be able to replace that phone every time.”

Allen said that when customers choose a plan from their cell phone carrier, most receive a substantial discount on their phone. If that phone is lost or stolen without insurance, then the customer is responsible for buying a new phone at retail price, which Allen said can be expensive.

“Phone insurance is only $3.99 a month (with T-Mobile). That’s better than paying $200 for a new phone if you lose it,” she said.

Both Cingular and Nextel charge a monthly insurance fee of $3.99 and $4.95, respectively.

McCain, who is a Sprint customer, said she is extremely careful with her phone because she does not have insurance.

“I know if I lose it I’ll have to pay for it,” she said. “I paid close to $300 for this phone and I don’t know what I’d do if I lost it.”

Marcus Wauchop, a wireless consultant for Nextel, said students should be cautious when reporting a cell phone theft to the police and should only do so if they are positive a crime has occurred. He said when someone reports a phone as stolen, the serial number is also recorded to prevent re-activation of a stolen phone.

“A lady who came in reported her phone stolen and she found it six months later,” he said. “But we couldn’t re-activate it because it had already been reported to police.”

Wauchop suggested not taking phones to class or carrying them in purses because they are more likely to be stolen. He also said using a phone clip or a pin number to lock the phone is a good way to avoid loss and to prevent someone from accessing the phone.

McCain said her cautiousness is the main reason why phone theft or loss has not been a problem for her.

“I’ve never lost a phone in my life,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”