Watch Your Cell Phone

Do you know where your cell phone is right now? If not, you'd better find out. Because if it's lost or stolen, you'll not only be out of touch, you could also be out a lot of cash! Consumer advocates are now calling for better protection. But until that happens, how can you stop others from reaching out and touching someone, by reaching into your wallet?

Cell phones are what tie us to the world. You can't imagine life without a cell phone, until it's gone. It happens all the time. An estimated 2.4 million cell phones are lost each year in the U.S. Another 600-thousand are stolen. So, if some stranger racks up calls on your phone, who pays?

You guessed it. You're responsible.

We contacted the major cell phone companies. Most told us that you must pay for all calls made until you report the phone missing. Although there are some exceptions.

"We will credit you for any calls that were made up to 48-hours after you lost your phone," says John Johnson of Verizon Wireless.

But grace period or not, consumer advocates are angry, saying stolen phones should be treated just like swiped credit cards. "When somebody steals things from you like your credit card, we don't hold consumers liable or we set a cap on their liability for the acts of a thief. That's not true here," says Carl Hilliard of the Wireless Consumers Alliance. "I think we should have some legislation, which puts at least a cap on the liability the consumers have when their phone is stolen."

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association disagrees, saying we should compare phones to other utilities, not credit cards. In a statement, the group told us, "If one accidentally leaves the lights on at home, the homeowner is still responsible for the electric bill. Similarly, if a wireless phone owner accidentally loses a phone or has it stolen, the owner is responsible."

Adam Greindl was livid when he found out he was responsible for charges made by a cell-thief. He says he did the right thing by contacting his provider right away. But,... "There were no notes recorded on the account that we had even made the call," says Greindl.

So, experts say, it's not only critical to call the cell phone company, but to keep notes about the call. Also, read your contract and... help yourself by keeping your phone locked at all times. "Make it more difficult for the thief to use it," says Hilliard. "If it's difficult, chances are that the phone will be chucked."

If you have insurance for your cell, keep in mind, it's for the phone itself, not the minutes. So, if it's stolen, your phone will be replaced, but you are still responsible for the bill.