How to flip your phone's 'kill switch' right now

Starting next summer, every smartphone sold in California must have an anti-theft device. But many users don't have to wait to safeguard their phones.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 27, 2014 12:15PM

Woman using smartphone in San Francisco © AP Photo/Ben MargotBy Kara Brandeisky, Money


Smartphone theft just got a whole lot less lucrative. This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring that all smartphones sold in the state include a "kill switch," software that makes it impossible for thieves to use stolen phones.


Money on MSN MoneyHere's something you may not know: Your phone could already have such a switch. Both Apple (AAPL) iPhones and Samsung (SSNLF) phones have new software that "locks" the device so that unauthorized users are unable to activate it. According to the San Francisco Police Department, the city saw a 38 percent drop in iPhone thefts in the six months after Apple released its kill switch.


In June, Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) promised to offer kill switch technology in their next operating systems, and for now, both offer other apps to help you protect a lost phone. (Microsoft owns and publishes MSN Money.)


The California bill requires that tech companies make the kill switch feature standard on all phones starting July 1, 2015. In the meantime, you can enable your phone's available security features by turning on the right settings. Here's how.


iPhone


Do this right now: Make sure you have iOS7 software (if you haven't already, you can download the upgrade on iTunes). Go to Settings, then iCloud, and then flip on "Find My iPhone." If your phone gets lost, you'll be able to track it on icloud.com.


Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to icloud.com/find and sign in using your Apple ID and password. There, a button lets you play a sound on your iPhone to help you locate the device. You can also put the phone in "lost mode," which gives you the option to display an alternate phone number and a message explaining that the phone has been lost, so Good Samaritans will be able to find you.


If you're sure your phone has been stolen, erase the data. Remember that this is a last resort: Once you've erased your phone, you won't be able to track it. But that way, the only way someone will be able to activate it is by entering your Apple ID and password. (And in the event that you find your phone again, you can restore the data using iCloud backup.)


Android


Do this right now: Android doesn't have a kill switch yet, but it has still some helpful anti-theft features. Start by downloading the free "Android Device Manager."


Do this if your phone gets stolen: Sign in to the Android Device Manager using your Google account and password. Again, you'll be able to play a sound, track your phone, reset the screen lock PIN, and erase the data. (Remember, once you erase the data, you won't be able to track the phone anymore.)


However, hackers may still be able to reset and reactivate the device. Expect a tougher kill switch feature in Google's next software upgrade.

Samsung


Do this right now: If you've got a Samsung Android phone, you're in luck. Go to Apps, then Settings, and then Security. Check the box next to "reactivation lock." You'll be prompted to either sign in to your Samsung account or create one.


Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to findmymobile.samsung.com and log in with your Samsung account. Like "Find My iPhone," Samsung lets you track your phone, play a sound to help you find it, and lock your device remotely.

If your phone has been jacked, the reactivation lock renders it useless. Once you've turned the feature on, no one can reset the device without your Samsung account and password.


Windows Phone


Do this right now: Windows phones don't have kill switches yet either, but they do have a device tracking feature. Go to Start, then App, then Settings, and then "Find My Phone." You can opt to save your phone's location every few hours, which could give you a more accurate reading of its last known location if the battery dies.


Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to windowsphone.com and sign in with your Windows Live ID. You'll be able to track your phone, play a sound, lock your phone with a message, and erase your data.


Windows also plans to add a kill switch in the future.


More from Money


57Comments
Aug 27, 2014 5:01PM
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How about an automatic "texting kill switch" for cell phones when anyone gest in any vehicle? I'm sick and tired of sitting at stoplights and having to blow the horn to get these AHs off their phones to get moving!! And sick of them trying to run people off the roads when they aren't paying attention to anything but texting!!!
Aug 28, 2014 6:20AM
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Hey MSN, how about an article about the two men who are in in critical condition after being attacked by over a dozen black men, for being white? 
Aug 27, 2014 1:57PM
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A kill switch sounds like a great feature.  Mandating it by law is stupid.
Aug 27, 2014 2:22PM
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How about that I have a kill switch and didn't even know it...... wish I could use it on the person who took it. 
Aug 27, 2014 7:10PM
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I have no Iphone.  I have no problem.
Aug 27, 2014 4:18PM
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It hasn't quite ceased to amaze me how in the name of Safety people welcome the tools and means of tyranny. Domestic and Foreign policy.


Used to be your rulers were openly cruel, merciless monsters and you disobeyed or it was off with your head. Now they just have to highlight how it's for your own good and people offer their heads for free.

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My kill switch would be just that, a KILL switch that would explode if someone stole my phone and tried to use it.
Aug 27, 2014 10:02PM
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66GTO, good idea for texting kill switch for cell phones when anyone gets in a vehicle, but how to do it?  Better yet devise a "texting kill switch" if the phone is moving more than 10 MPH. That's faster than walking, so the idiots can still text and walk, but since MOST people drive faster than 10 MPH, problem solved
Aug 27, 2014 7:58PM
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Given my absence of fondness for smart phones I get whatever is free.  Other than phone numbers I don't have any data that I know of.  I do use the internet occasionally and text message on very rare occasions.  Some of the features are useful when I travel although not so much that I would be afraid to travel without them.


I know many people love smart phones.  Perhaps it's good that they have such expensive phones that they can worry about theft.  It's hard to brag about an inexpensive phone.  My phone isn't that tempting and I don't want anything that adds to the complexity of using it.  I particularly don't want features that require typing with my fat fingers on the tiny buttons.  Can I just take my chances and have the lock thing remain optional?

Aug 28, 2014 8:58AM
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Blackberry users: Carry on. Chances are if your phone is stolen, it will be mailed back to you within 3-5 business days.

(I am a BB user, by the way.)

Aug 28, 2014 1:52PM
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Wish the current phones were like Boeing's Mil Spec smartphone. Has a software lock and, if you try to take it apart to take the flash memory out, it self-destructs.
Aug 28, 2014 2:59PM
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cant wait for all the jealous partners, ex's and all can kill their "loved ones" phones, so forget about it being stolen, I'd be more worried about jilted folks.
Aug 27, 2014 3:27PM
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A meaningless stupid un-needed law. The only thing that needs a kill switch is a foodstamp card. Crime would be a thing of the past then.
Aug 27, 2014 6:53PM
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Blackberry for BES has always had it.
Just send erase to phone from BES and no data no more.



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This great until the thieves figure out a way around it. They should be more interested in stopping people from talking/texting while driving than this stuff though.
Aug 28, 2014 6:57AM
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if it hasn't been said already, The ICloud "Find My Phone" does not work if the phone is dead!!  I just tried to use it this week and it did not work, it said my phone was not online!!!!  
Aug 28, 2014 10:41AM
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Is it really the phones  that they want, or is it  the batteries...Very expensive to buy and lots of them burn out quick..
Aug 28, 2014 7:01AM
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The kill switch is not an anti-theft device.
Aug 27, 2014 1:36PM
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Newsmen fiddle while Obamaville burns

Aug 28, 2014 3:29PM
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"or a real cellphone with a real kill switch ;)~" 
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