How To Use Find My iPhone To Get Your Stolen iPhone Back

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find my iphone appLong story short: my wife had her iPhone stolen when she misplaced it at work the other day. 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. 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 Mobile.Me service for a while now, and is now upgraded and included in the standard, free iCloud account. You can read all about iCloud here. The most recent update means that Mac computers can also be tracked. Here’s my wife’s iPhone, in the process of being stolen (this isn’t their home address, this was on the way).

find my iphone app

I must have it! How do I enable It?

1. Make sure you’ve signed up and enabled iCloud on your device. From Settings > iCloud you can sign up for, or if you’ve already got an account connected, scroll down and ensure Find My iPhone is enabled (by default it isn’t enabled).

2. Location service must also be enabled – from Settings > Location Services > On

find my iphone
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.

To set it up on your Mac, you need to have the latest OSX, iTunes and iCloud specific updates installed. There should then be a new iCloud control panel icon in your preferences screen.

find my iphone

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What Can I do When My Phone Is Stolen:

Open up the Find my iPhone app from either any other iOS device (you need to download it from the app store first), or log on to from a computer.

find my iphone

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, but clicking on the device, then the small blue “i” will open up the menu of actions you can take. There are 3 choices:

find my iphone app

  • Play Sound or Send Message: This allows you to send a quick “this message is lost/stolen” type message as well as sound an alarm which works even if the phone is in silent mode. Note, this is also a great way to find your phone at home!
  • Remote Lock: This places the device into a locked mode exactly as if you had setup a regular lock screen before it was stolen. You choose the 4 digit code now, so make sure you don’t forget it.
  • Remote Wipe: 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.

Your first move should be to lock the device and prevent any calls from being made. This isn’t going to stop anyone from reformatting the phone, but it will stop most thieves from getting at your data for now or making random expensive calls.

Second, follow the device via the GPS signal. If you’re the daring type, you could try chasing it down. It is probably best not to try anything crazy until you know it’s been stolen though, at which point calling the police with a residential address is definitely an option.

Next, send a message offering a reward and contact details.

At this point, you’re going to have to gamble. If it was indeed stolen, and the thief knows what they’re doing then your personal data is definitely 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 out the SIM. This will prevent them making calls/texts and prevent any further expenses, but it’s not going to get your phone back.

It goes without saying that you should also call the police and get an incident or report number – you’ll need this to claim on insurance. Most contents insurance usually comes with the option to cover devices while they’re out of the house, so if you’re lucky then you can get a new phone.

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 I’m unable to find a similar app that does. The Prey page states they’re currently working on an iPhone version, but it’s been saying that for years. Looks like Android users have a one-up on us here!

I do recommend you enable some kind of service now as a precaution as you’ll never be able to do it when you’ll really need it. Find My iPhone is free, and if it saves you the $400 on a new phone, it’s more than worth it. 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.

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Comments (55)
  • Sagren

    I was mugged and all my belongings was stolen. my iphone 6 which was never recovered and could not even be traced. Phone is backlisted/blocked. Find my phone show’s phone is lock, so their is no way I’m going to find my phone even if it’s lock. No use.
    My phone is not even insured. Is their any other way to locate my phone?

  • gavin

    Do you need authorization from the stolen phone or can you just do it through the phone number

    • James Bruce

      You need to have it already enabled on the phone, with your iCloud account. You cannot just track a phone number, no.

  • Destiny morgan

    Find my iPhone is a life saver! I recommend everybody gets this. I was driving my jeep with the doors off and my phone flew out without me knowing. We immediately started tracking my phone and to find out some tweakers had it and we’re trying to sell it. Lucky my dad and his friend were able to get it back. Definitely download this app, you’ll never know when you’ll need it. I certainly never thought this would happen.

  • Simon

    I left my iPhone 5 on a Virgin America flight. I was connecting back to New Zealand – so got back home and then cancelled the sim with my phone provider and put the phone into lost mode. This was 2 weeks ago and I just received the following e-mail:

    Hi there, for some reason i friend of mine receive and iPhone 5 coming from the USA, this phone is iCloud protected and its linked to your account , i just have on question to you, he wanted to use but of course it depends on you because it was your phone and i dont know how you lost it……..question is, would you agree for some reason to erase the iPhone from your iCloud account?? just let me know please….thanks in advance…

    So in translation – Hi – I am in South America and I have your lost iPhone – can you let me use it? Really?!! – I think it’s great the way iCloud works and stops thieves from using the phone.

    • James Bruce

      Lol – I love that their first thought is “can I keep it?” rather than “how can I get this back to you?” ;)

  • Thomas

    If the phone is in lost mode can they see photos etc?

    • James Bruce

      If the lost mode has actually been activated, then it’s locked with a passcode and they can;t see anything. However, there’s no guarantee the lost mode will have been activated until a data connection is next established.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.