Lost and Phoned

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For Those Prone To Misplacing Their Cell, Providers Offer Some Help

I am a loser.

Jewelry. Purses. My work badge. You name it, I’ve lost it. But there is one thing I seem to lose the most: my cellphone.

In an age that encourages us to store e-mail, movies, songs, contact lists, and text and picture messages on a single device, our cellphones have become the one thing we can’t afford to drop into toilets, or have shattered on the pavement, or leave in the dressing room at H&M. Yes, it all happened. Last month.

As if they were tracking my phone history, wireless providers are now offering a growing number of products, services and applications tailored for us losers and breakers that can ease the pain and quicken the transition to a new phone. Here are a few things I wish I knew last month:

*Back it up. Some wireless providers, including AT&T and Verizon, offer backup programs that routinely save the contacts in your phone to a server. If you lose or break your phone, you can log on to this backup server online and wirelessly send your contact information to your new phone’s address book.

Companies that provide this service charge a monthly fee of about $2. But Verizon waives this charge if you register for My Verizon – a free online service that allows its customers to check their cellphone usage, pay bills and add or remove features.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about My Verizon until after I had left my week-old LG Chocolate on top of a pile of clothes in a dressing room. I am still receiving calls on my replacement phone from numbers I haven’t identified, afraid to answer out of fear that it’s an ex-boyfriend I’ve been trying to avoid.

*"Pix" messaging fanatics might want to buy a micro SD card. Nowadays, most phones have a slot for these cards, on which you can save pictures and graphics. Just remember to take the card out and store it in a safe place after you’ve transferred the files.

*Some cellphones are also capable of transferring information to your computer hard drive with the help of a USB cable. And a number of new phones can sync with your computer so contacts and e-mail are saved on both systems.

*An AT&T customer has the option of storing phone numbers on the cellphone’s SIM card or on the cellphone itself. If you’re prone to breaking phones, store your contacts on the SIM card and switch the card to a new phone when yours inevitably breaks.

*Most carriers offer phone insurance plans that vary in price, from about $4 to $7 a month, depending on the type of coverage.

Sprint Nextel has a "Total Equipment Protection program" that covers lost, stolen or physically damaged devices for $7 a month. But like most insurance plans, there is a deductible on replacements that is usually about $50. If you’re not prone to losing phones but break them a lot, or vice versa, you can sign up for one coverage but not the other for $4 a month.

Verizon offers a similar total equipment program for $6 a month and an extended warranty program for $2 a month that covers any mechanical or electrical defects after the manufacturer’s warranty expires.

Some believe cellphone insurance is for suckers. My editor recently told me to spend my money on a pair of pants with pockets instead. Mike Gikas, an electronics editor for ConsumerReports.org, said you’re better off buying a cellphone on eBay or begging a friend for a used one.

Companies will often try to pawn off a "refurbished" phone to their insured customers anyway, he said, and it may not even be the same model you had. Some insurance plans also require customers to pay a deductible of about $50 and file a police report to prove the phone was stolen, he said.

"Imagine if you had insurance on your car, it was totaled, and they sent you somebody else’s used car," said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog, based in Santa Monica, Calif. "Generally speaking, it’s a rip-off."

That said, Rosenfield just bought insurance for his daughter’s $200, touch-screen phone.

"With a high-priced phone like that," he said, "it’s more likely it’s going to be a bigger out-of-pocket cost to replace."

Knowing my track record of lost and broken phones, one AT&T official urged another type of insurance: "If you get an iPhone, I hope you tape it to your arm."

*The best way to not break a phone? Buy one that doesn’t break. Nextel has long manufactured a series of phones with a heavy emphasis on durability. My last phone at The Courant was a Nextel, and it literally bounced when I dropped it on a hard surface. Nearly every provider features phones that cater to the customer who likes water, extreme heat and hard surfaces. In a recent article, CNET.com recommended the rubber-encased Motorola i335 and the Sanyo SCP-7050 but raved about the waterproof Casio G’zOne phones. Other reviewers agreed.

"It’s tough. We love it," Gikas said. "If you’re butterfingered, that’s your phone."

*So the day arrives when you’re phone goes missing, or maybe it’s still around, just in pieces because you didn’t buy the butterfingers phone. Good thing you’ve backed up all your contacts, saved your songs and "pix" to an SD card and possibly signed up for insurance.

But there is still work to be done.

The No. 1 piece of advice from wireless providers? When you lose a phone, call them immediately. Don’t wait for that Good Samaritan to find your phone, pick up when you call it, and then bring you lunch while dropping it off. I didn’t immediately call my provider once, and nearly $20 worth of songs and subscription games, including chess, showed up on my monthly bill. I don’t even know how to play chess.

Providers are generally good about crediting you for these erroneous charges, but it’s better if it never happens in the first place. You can take a proactive step and block all Web access and program downloading on your account if you never use those services anyway.

*For a replacement phone, see if you’re eligible for a discount from your carrier. Even if you’re not up for that free phone every two years, your provider may offer a one-time discount.

*Activating a new phone now takes minutes. If you have an online account, you can do the entire activation yourself by logging on and plugging in a number from the back of the phone. If you run into any problems, call me.

On second thought, call your provider. My phone’s probably at the bottom of my bathtub.

Contact the author Lynn Doan at: [email protected]

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
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