September 12, 2014 in Personal Finance

Mobile security experts always urge smartphone users to lock their phones with a PIN or passcode to prevent some enterprising thief from using a stolen phone to rob them blind.

That’s really good advice, but there is one significant drawback. If your phone is found by a Good Samaritan who wants to return it to you, there’s not much identifying information they can get from a locked phone that would help them do that. Because of that, you could end up having to pay to replace a phone that would otherwise have been returned to you.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to solve this: Add emergency contact information to your lock screen.

The emergency contact information you choose probably shouldn’t be anything too revealing — don’t put your home address or anything like that. But your spouse’s phone number, an email address or your Twitter handle probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.

How to do it
On Android, that’s a pretty straightforward task. Just go to settings>security>owner info and type in whatever you’d like a prospective phone-finder to know about you.

On Apple iOS7 it’s a little more tricky (but who knows, the upcoming iOS8 might be different). The best way I’ve seen to do it involves taking the photo you use for your lockscreen background and manually adding text with an app. The one I used was Phonto, a free app which did the job fairly easily.

  1. In Phonto, open the picture you’d like to use (it has to be a picture taken in “portrait” rather than landscape mode”) and touch it anywhere to add text. I’d recommend adding it near the center; too close to the bottom and it can be obscured by the “slide to unlock” animation.
  2. Write in your information. I picked to add my wife’s cell number, but feel free to put down whatever contact information you feel comfortable with.
  3. Once you’ve written in the info you want, save the picture (don’t use a picture you love, because it will have that writing on it forever).
  4. Go into your photos, select the one you made and select “Use as wallpaper,” then hit “Set” and “Set Lock Screen.”

If that seems needlessly complicated, that’s because it is. We can only hope Apple makes it a little easier in iOS8.

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Apple isn’t alone in this regard. Windows Phone users — yes, there are some of those — also have to look to third-party apps to customize their lock-screen messages.

Contact information isn’t the only thing you can put on your lock screen that’s helpful.

How it could save your life
So where does the “saving your life” part come in? Those who have dangerous allergies or health issues that could strike suddenly or render them unable to communicate could also benefit from adding in some information that could be useful for would-be rescuers, such as “penicillin allergy” or “diabetic.”

If a first responder or other rescuer isn’t able to find this information anywhere else, your phone may provide a last line of defense against deadly medical mistakes.

What do you think? Do you have any information on your lock screen? Does it seem worth the trouble to you?

Follow me on Twitter: @claesbell.

Update: As some readers have helpfully pointed out in the comments, iPhone users (or Android users who have an older version of Android) can also get their personal details onto their lock screen by writing them down on a piece of paper and taking a picture. While you might not end up with a background that’s quite as snazzy as what you’ll get using the method above, it will definitely get the job done.

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