Set Your Phone To Dial For Help When It’s Stolen

Set Your Phone To Dial For Help When It’s Stolen

You can locate your lost or stolen smartphone on a map using an app like Find My iPhone for iOS or employing other clever tricks on Android, but if you’re feeling particularly mischievous, you can also set your Android phone to dial for help when it’s been stolen. Here’s how.Some backstory: Some unlucky thieves were recently apprehended when one of the bandits accidentally pocket-dialled 911 on his mobile phone while the group was riding in the car discussing plans for a future heist. Instead, they were nabbed.

If your phone pocket-dialled for help while in the possession of the person who stole it, does that mean the thief would be discussing their location or plans for other heists? Probably not. But it’s a fun idea, and with a little know-how, you can set your phone to automatically “pocket-dial” pretty much any number you want in the event it’s stolen. Here’s how:

What You’ll Need

  • An Android phone
  • Tasker ($6.42 in the Android Market)

Set Up Your Phone to Dial a Number When It Receives a Text Message Trigger

We’ve talked about how to use Tasker to automate tasks on your Android phone before, and followed up with several clever uses, so think of this as more of a fun addendum to something like our guide to rolling “Find My iPhone” for Android. It’s not ground-breaking, but if your phone’s in the hands of some scoundrel, consider this one of many ways to get a handle on who took it and where it might be — or as an opportunity to, you know, say goodbye to your beloved gadget and get some closure. (“I’ll miss you, Android. I hope you’re fenced to a nice person.”)

Assuming you’ve already downloaded and installed Tasker, setting it up is easy:

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    Open Tasker and tap on New, set your Profile name to Pocket Dial, and tap OK.

  2. In the First Context dialog, select Event, select Phone in the Select Event Category Dialog, and then tap Received Text.
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    Scroll down the Received Text dialog and set the Content to something unique, like “Unhand my phone, you dirty crook!” You can optionally set the Sender name to make sure only a specific number or contact will trigger this event. Tap Done.

  5. You’ll now see a Task Selection dialog. Here, tap New Task. You can give it a name if you like, but I normally just tap OK and skip this step unless it’s one you’re planning to use in other Tasker setups.
  6. From the Task Edit / Anonymous dialog, tap the + button, tap Phone, then tap Call.
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    In the Call dialog, enter the number you’d like your phone to dial when it receives the trigger text message you set up above. Then tick the checkbox next to Auto Dial. Tap Done, then tap Done again.

    Note: I’d initially wanted the phone to dial emergency services because that seems like better mischief, but as it turns out (on my Android phone, at least), the phone dialler won’t auto-dial my emergency number. Your mileage may vary. You also might not want to annoy the cops with your automated pocket-dial calls for emergency.

  9. Make sure the task is turned on (you should see a green check box next to it in Tasker if it is), and that Tasker itself is turned on (see the On/Off button in the bottom right corner of Tasker). Now click Apply. Tasker will close, but your new Pocket Dial profile is waiting in the background to spring to life if you ever receive the trigger message. (You could always beef up the profile to set up more specific conditions, or collect more information like we’ve detailed before, but this post is just focusing on pocket-dialling.

To test it out, text the trigger message to your phone. If everything worked properly, your phone should automatically dial your pre-defined number as soon as it receives your text. Devious!

Are You Going to Catch a Crook?

As I said above, this isn’t likely to amount to much. If you misplaced your phone, these tips are likely to give you more useful information than you’ll get from the auto-dial. But who knows – if it was stolen, you may overhear a name or some other identifying information that could come in handy. Happy vigilante-ing!


  • if my phone got stolen the first thing I would do is disconnect the service so I won’t be charged for calls. this would disable this setup and the phone would no longer recieve text messages on your number

    • Wow, that is indeed a dilly of a pickle you’re in… I imagine you’d have to do something complicated like call it first, then disconnect the service…

      …But that would be silly, I mean imagine if you just left it at a friends house or under the couch, but thought it was stolen – it would be much better to go through the hassle of disconnecting the service without a moments thought, wouldn’t it…?

  • If I stole a phone, first thing I’d do is power it off then wipe it clean via iTunes or the recovery menu. Then I’d switch SIM cards.

    What I’d do, aside, Tasker is capable of doing so much more, including sending text messages when one is received, so you can get it to send an SMS containing GPS coordinates. Much more useful than waiting on the phone while some jerk talks about SNCA.

  • Agreed about the GPS. In fact, how hard would it be to set up Tasker or something similar so that the GPS signal was sent periodically, and you could control the length of time between updates by using messages (so you could get updates every 30s if needed, but tone it down to once a day or so if it wasn’t on the move and you didn’t want to waste money or run down the battery).

    Otherwise, there could be an SMS sent every three hours plus every time the phone moved more than twenty feet from its last position.

    Bonus points if the GPS co-ords and update-speeds are displayable and controllable by a simple mapping-and-slider interface. You could even have the updates and timestamps compile into a Google Maps route. And something to make the phone crank up its volume and squeal as loudly as possible, in order to help track it down within the last fifty feet or so.

  • I took a slightly different take, if my phone is powered down, tasker turns on GPS, gets the location and tweets the coordinates to my twitter account “the phone was turned off at %LOC”.

    When the phone is turned on again, tasker sends to twitter again with new coordinates.

    Supposing someone replaces the sim as pointed out above, tasker also sends an sms to an sms2email gateway which then emails me with the location information along with the new sim card number.

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