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What I Learned About Preserving Memories When My iPhone 7 Was Stolen on The Mexico City Metro

Posted by Leonard on January, 12, 2017

On the night of December 30th 2016, I was robbed on the Mexico City Metro during a short romantic get away with my wife. Enjoying leaving our 5 year old son behind with his grandma, we visited museums, ate great food, and walked all day long. Overall we had a fabulous time, thrilled with our brief child free vacation in this chaotic and wonderful metropolis. And I’d taken a ton of great photos and videos along the way.

Amazing mural of the women of the world at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. A simply fantastic and amazing museum. 3 hours was not enough.

On our last day, we’d visited the Palacio Bellas Artes with the murals of Rivera, Orozco and Sigueiros, gone to the top of the Torre Latino Americano with sweeping views of the entire city from an open air observation deck on the 48th floor, taken a bicycle pedicab around the Zocalo, and enjoyed margaritas at a rooftop cafe. All the while, I’d been capturing time lapse sequences, panoramic photos, regular photos and short video clips on my brand new iPhone 7 plus. The images were amazing, and as a filmmaker, I was excited.

In the early evening we stumbled on the famous Cafe Tacuba where we had a lovely dinner, and after having used Uber to get around the city easily for days, we decided to take the Metro on our last night. In the station, though the trains came frequently, we waited for a third train hoping it would be less crowded. On the platform, we were kissing, I was taking photos of the massive crowds, and we were casually enjoying our last night in the city.

Stepping into the train, I was pushed noticeably hard from behind into the the crowded car. At the moment, I assumed it was the somewhat aggressive but normal flow of the last few people trying to get on. Within seconds, I realized I’d been pickpocketed, and my brand new phone was gone. I’d just lost a brand new ~$900 device, an entire Mexico City vacation’s worth of photos and videos, and perhaps most troubling, some information and sound recordings that could never be replaced.


At home in Seattle, I have a business called Loving Legacy Video. The tagline is ‘Stories That Matter From The People You Love’. My work is guiding and filming autobiographical interviews with elders about the life they’ve lived. One of the challenges I face in my marketing materials is how to gently say to people, “this opportunity won’t last forever, do it before it’s too late”, encouraging the adult children of elderly people to hire me to do the work before their parents memory fades or they pass away. And in some ways, that is exactly what I didn’t do in terms of making sure that the memories and images and sound recordings that were in my phone were not downloaded and preserved when they should have been. These are 2 very different situations, but they both involve protecting memories before it’s too late and they’re gone.

Some lessons I learned: Since I’d recently bought a new iPhone, I hadn’t taken the necessary time to set up my iCloud account and arrange my synch appropriately, and that was as easy as checking and unchecking some boxes in my settings. I’d left the box to upload my photos to iCloud unchecked. I’d left the box to synch my ‘Notes’ unchecked, and biggest bummer was that I’d left the box to synch my ‘Voice Memos’ (sound recordings) unchecked. Those were recordings I’d made of my infant son’s language skills developing. Those were the hardest thing to lose.

Fortunately, as soon as I realized what had happened and before going to the police station, I used my wife’s phone to engage the ‘Find my iPhone’ feature, and using my Apple ID was able to lock the phone, and then eventually erase the phone. Then I contacted my carrier and with its serial number, the phone would become unusable by anyone else going forward. I spent some time imagining the person who’d stolen my phone immediately turning it off to disable the tracking function, and the Find My Phone feature was saying that all devices of mine were offline. (Despite all of this, a few days later I got messages from Facebook and Gmail that my passwords had been changed which was scary, and I’ll never know how they got access to those accounts given the phone was supposed to have been locked…)

In the process of dealing with T Mobile and Apple to best handle the situation in the days following the incident, I did learn about the iCloud feature ‘Photostream’ (available for 30 days after the image was taken) which to my pleasant surprise, had backed up a handful of the still images from the beginning of our trip and which I was able to recover. Had I logged onto wifi at all while in Mexico City, all of my photos up till that point would have appeared in my Photostream feed but unfortunately I had never gone on a wifi network.

From what I learned, my suggestions are:
Remember your Apple ID, it may come in very handy in locating your lost or stolen phone
Photocopy and keep separate your personal info. Had that been my credit card or passport, those copies would’ve been essential in getting back on my feet (should be standard particle for international travelers).
Know that your photos may be retrievable via Photostream for 30 days if you’ve logged on to wifi
Go in and make sure that your iCloud and synch settings are what you want, constantly backing up your info to minimize the pain and loss of images and information in case something similar happens to you.
Engage the setting that requires a fingerprint or code to access the phone
Buy travel insurance, as that likely would’v

e covered at least the cost to replace the new device whereas my homeowner’s policy that would’ve covered it would’ve meant higher premiums if I’d made a claim
Go visit Mexico City, it’s an incredible place
* and take the time to interview your elderly family memories, record their voices and stories, and engage them in talking about their life experience, because if you wait till it’s too late, you’re likely to regret it.

These were a few of the images that I was able to salvage from the trip or were taken on my wife’s phone:

UPDATE: Shortly after my phone was stolen, I got emails from both Facebook and Google saying that my passwords had been changed, when I knew I had done no such thing. I was confused as to how anybody could have accessed those accounts given that I’d locked the phone as soon as it was stolen. I did quickly change those passwords and no damage was done to either account. I did touch base with a close friend who works at Google in an unrelated department who shared the following tips with me from his colleagues as to what to do to best secure and protect your Google or Gmail accounts:

2) ensure you’re able to “remote wipe” your phone if it’s stolen
3) “add a lot of backups”. Not only can you add multiple Google Prompt devices or security keys to your account, you can add something like 10 phone numbers (a primary we SMS automatically, plus backups we contact only on request), printable backup codes, and Google Authenticator (the security app)
4) get “authentication codes” for your Google account, so you can prove it is yourself when using 2 Factor Authentication
5) something called “yubikeys”

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