Long story short: my wife had her iPhone stolen when she misplaced it at work. I was instantly able to log into her iCloud account and follow the device all the way back to a residential address, saving her the trouble of searching around the warehouse for a phone that was no longer there. We locked the phone and sent a polite message asking the ‘culprits’ to return it for a (very small) reward, but failing that we had their address to cross-reference on the employee database.
The next day we saw the phone travelling back to her workplace in the early morning, and when she arrived she found the phone had been anonymously returned with no reward asked for.
This story has a happy ending of course, but Apple’s free Find My iPhone service is also able to deal with the less happy outcomes in a way that minimizes your risk for greater losses. Let’s look into the app and see how you can ‘MakeUseOf’ it when your phone is lost or stolen.
So What is Find My iPhone?
Find My iPhone has been a part of Apple’s iCloud service for a while now, and since iOS 8 is enabled by default. It’s not just your mobile device either – if you have a laptop or desktop, the service can keep a rough track on those too (though not with the same level of details, since they don’t have a GPS chip inside). It’s also used to enable Activation Lock, which renders your device useless even when a thief tries to wipe it clean.
Here’s my wife’s iPhone, in the process of being stolen (this isn’t their home address, this was on the way).
I must have it! How do I enable It?
Since iOS 8, Find my iPhone is enabled by default, but it’s a good idea to check in case you’ve accidentally disabled it at some point.
1. Make sure you’ve signed up and enabled iCloud on your device. From Settings > iCloud you can sign up for a new iCloud account, or if you’ve already got an account connected, scroll down and ensure Find My iPhone is toggled to On.
2. Location service must also be enabled, from Settings > Privacy > Location Services > On
It’s also good to enable the Send Last Location option, which will ensure the last known location is stored in case the battery runs low.
3. Scroll down on the same screen to Find my iPhone at the bottom of the list and click through to enable it specifically there.
On a macOS desktop or laptop, you can enable the feature via the iCloud icon in System Preferences.
So Your iPhone was Stolen?
You should see a list of devices registered to your account, and location discovery will begin. Click on the device once it’s been located correctly.
You should now see it on a map, along with a list of actions you can take. There are 3 choices:
- Play Sound. This plays a “sonar” style sound at full volume, even if your device is set on silent mode. This is especially useful if you can’t find your device around your home!
- Lost mode. This will ask you to enter an alternative phone number at which you can be reached, and will then lock your device with a message to call that number. Note: the option to send a message has been removed. You can only send a contact number.
- Erase iPhone. This is final and more drastic option. It will initiate a low level format of all your data, leaving it like a fresh iPhone straight from the factory. Be very careful when using this, as you will no longer be able to track, lock, or message this device if you use this option. However, it cannot be re-activated without your iCloud login, so the criminals that stole it will not be able to use your device either.
Your first move should be to activate Lost Mode and prevent any calls from being made. This will stop most thieves from getting at your data, or making premium calls.
Second, follow the device via the GPS signal. We don’t suggest trying to be a hero, however — you may be placing yourself in danger. If the phone has settled in a specific residential address, your first call should be to the police, but understand they won’t always be willing to help. If that’s the case, there’s very little you can safely do. You should call anyway though to report your device as stolen, and obtain a report or incident number which you’ll need to make an insurance claim. Many home and contents insurance policies cover devices when they’re out of the home, too.
At this point, you’re going to have to gamble. If it was indeed stolen, and the thief is happy to try every one of the 100000 combinations in a 6-digit lock code, your data may be at risk. Use remote wipe as a last option only if you’re confident you won’t get the device back.
Lastly, be sure to phone your mobile provider and lock the SIM. This will prevent them making calls/texts and prevent any further expenses, but it’s not going to get your phone back.
There is one further piece of mind for you: if the thief wipes the phone in an attempt to resell it (or if you initiate the wipe remotely), it cannot be reactivated without your iCloud details. All iPhones with a registered iCloud account are now useless to thieves, meaning the incident rate of iPhone theft should eventually reduce (assuming thieves are savvy enough to know their crime is in vain).
A Solution for Android Users
Not wishing to exclude those inclined to the other mobile OS – Prey is a free service able to track up to 3 devices, and even has the ability to take photos of the thief using the laptop webcam or front camera. Sadly, Find My iPhone doesn’t let you do this, and due to the nature of iOS you won’t find a similar app that does. Prey does offer an iPhone app, but it offers nothing over the built-in iCloud service, so I don’t suggest iOS users should switch unless you want a single solution for multiple devices, and even then, you should keep Find My iPhone enabled.
Has Find My iPhone helped you? Do you have any experience using Find My iPhone to get your phone back, or even a computer? Let us know in the comments, I’d love to hear how it worked out for you.
Article updated by James Bruce on October 27, 2016