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

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Find my iPhone icon   How To Use Find My iPhone To Get Your Stolen iPhone Back Long 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).

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

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

location servies   How To Use Find My iPhone To Get Your Stolen iPhone Back
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.

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

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 icloud.com from a computer.

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

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.

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

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:

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

  • 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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48 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Steve

“Note, this is also a great way to find your phone at home!”
There is another way of finding your phone at home. Pick up the landline, dial your mobile number and it will make a sound very similar to when you have an incoming call.. as long as it’s not on silent!

James Bruce

Right. But, if it is on silent…

Adriel Tan

It will still play when on silent mode…..

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Reply

ChrisG

I’ve used Lookout for Android which does a similar thing (and has various anti malware features) but it charges a small monthly fee so I might have to give Prey a go.

James Bruce

Thanks for the input Chris. Doesn’t look like it takes pictures though, right?

Reply

Anonymous

As for the advice of going to get the phone… it might be easier to just wipe the device remotely, block the sim and get a new phone on the insurance one probably has. Certainly safer, you never know who you’ll be dealing with if you’re dealing with a thief. It’s not worth dying for a measly iPhone. 

Presumably anyone using iCloud already has their content safe and can restore it to a new iPhone, so make sure you have insurance, let it go and get a new device. No muss, no fuss, no chance of getting hurt for a few bucks. 

James Bruce

True, true. Not sure where you’re from, but I’m in the UK, so the possibility of a thief having a gun at home is quite remote to me. This might be a more serious consideration in America though, absolutely. 

Anonymous

I’m in Europe, also, and it’s similar here to the UK, but even so there is no guarantee a criminal won’t turn to violence. It sucks to let someone get away with theft; I might record the person’s address once it stopped moving and then inform the police and then wipe the device. The Find my iPhone service is excellent and I use it myself, but the threat of potential violence needed to be mentioned, I think.

That said, it’s just a thing. It might be a bit more of an issue if it wasn’t insured against theft, but I’d recommend that and iCloud personally – preventative measures to minimize the loss and write it off rather than trying to “James Bond” it and wind up hurt or something. :)

djlilelle

A SF friend was in Vegas for NYE and had her phone taken from her purse. We’ve been using iCloud and can clearly see where it is in San Diego. She called the cops and they really can’t do anything. Even if we give them the address where it is located. What good is this to actually get your phone back? So frustrating.

James Bruce

That’s very odd. Did they give a reason? I mean, you reported it stolen, and told them exactly where it was? Perhaps there are restrictions in America, I’m pretty sure UK police would at least go check it out when shown proof. Perhaps you just spoke with an idiot that one time – maybe call back again, or walk into the police station and kick up a fuss?

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Reply

James Bruce

I did look at that, but the ability to take photos and request location requires the user to actively accept a request from a push message, which kind of ruins the whole point. It needs to be done covertly, for which no app can currently achieve. Hopefully Apple will program this in natively themselves soon. 

Reply

Daniel

would the remote lock prevent the ‘thief’ from turning the phone off?

James Bruce

Nope. Though it would still be locked when they turned it back on, and any outstanding alerts/remote wipes would then be initiated, asssuming they hadn’t removed the SIM. 

Like I said, if they really know what they’re doing then nothing is going to stop a thief, but half the time a thief is not clever, or they wouldn’t need to steal in the first place. 

Reply

Bill

Doesn’t removing the SIM negate all these precautions?  Doesn’t any thief worth their salt do this first? 

James Bruce

Obviously they dont all do it, or I wouldn’t have got my phone back. 

Reply

James Bruce

Also, you need a special tool to get the iPhone one out. An opportunistic thief might not have one on them. 

And like I said, if the thief was that clever, they wouldnt need to steal in the first place. I think you’re giving too much credit to petty criminals ;)

Reply

Mili

I left my iphone in the taxi and within the half an hour my phone was off even though it was fully charged. I assume someone took it – taxi driver or the customers who used the taxi within this half an hour. I’m checking Icloud everyday but it still seems to be off line. if thief used different sim card would icloud still? just wondering if there is any chance to get my iphone back….

Izzibellebee

Same here…

James Bruce

Hi Mili – I’m afraid if the SIM card is changed then it will no longer be trackable. Sounds like they knew what they were doing, and not just opportunistic. Hopefully you had insurance?

Reply

Miizobezo

Thought I lost iphone, called Verizon for help with NO luck. The man wanted to suspend my service and I told him not to just yet. This site helped me find it!!! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! 

James Bruce

Glad to hear it!

Reply

Rog

We used Find My IPhone but it stopped tracking – does this mean the phone went into sleep mode?   I assume the minute the phone wakes up we’ll be able to get an address where the theif took it

James Bruce

Sorry Rog, sounds they removed the SIM card or turned it off. If they removed the SIM, it will no longer be trackable. If they just turned it off, there’s a chance it may come back on again. 

Reply

Jackie

I used find my iPhone for my stolen iPod Touch. My purse was snatched from me at a club, thankfully I did not drive this night because my car keys were in my purse as well. Funny part is my driver’s license and credit card were found in the club bathroom and turned in with the empty purse. I’m still unable to locate my device. After reading all these comments I realized I had my passwords and different accounts in my notes on my device. So I have decided to remote wipe the device and change all my information. I do not believe there is hope in finding my iPod touch : (

Sophie Maree

Same thing happened to me just the other day.
Yet I had an iphone, I thought it had something to do with the sim, but now i’m confussed. What happens if they take the sim card out, can you still locate them?

James Bruce

No. If the SIM is removed, the phone is no longer accessible. iPod Touch doesn’t have this requirment, and will attempt to report in when it’s next on a WIFI network (if it hasnt been formatted)

Reply

Cece

How can you get an address? My phone shows that it is at Staples though they claim that no one has turned in my phone. Is it possible that it is in the general vicinity and not at Staples? I was also at a boutique five stores down from Staples but nowhere else. Please let me know. Thank you.

muotechguy

You can’t get an exact address from GPS unless it’s moving or has great reception. If the circle around the phone location is quite large, then it may be anyway within that circle. So yes, anywhere within that circle of vicinity.

I would say your best bet is to try sending a message to the phone using Find my iPhone – someone will likely notice it and hand it into the store – or steal it, of course, which will at least make it move.

Cece

Thanks for the quick reply. That helps a lot.

Reply

MC

I lost/someone stole my iphone. I have Find My Phone installed, but in icloud it says ‘offline’. What can I do?

Thanks

muotechguy

Most likely the theif has turned off the phone, or removed the sim-card. Or it’s just run out of battery, in which case unfortunately there isn’t much you can do. There is a chance they will turn it back on though, so there is an option in find my iphone to “email me when found”.

MC

Thanks for the reply. One more question, would you know of any way that I could read texts somehow via online. I would only want to be able to read texts from the time I lost the iphone onwards.

muotechguy

I’m afraid that’s not possible, no. You could perhaps ask the phone company for a record of texts, but I think they charge a fee and only do it for law enforcement cases.

Jackie

MC,

They can go into the settings and turn off the find my iPhone feature too. When Apple sold Mobile Me, and prior to the iCloud change not everyone knew what find my iPhone was. So less of a chance for knowing to go and turn this setting off on the actual devices. Then Apple started offering this for free so since this change many know about this feature. I tried tracking my iPod touch and then realized in my notes i had all my log in info for different accounts or web sites and just did a wipe. I also went and changed all my log in passwords because they could of turned off the find my iPhone and not used it on Wi Fi. It stinks to have so many dishonest individual’s. If I were u I would defiantly change all your passwords, especially if your APS and websites are logged into these things on your iPhone.

Reply

jackie

I lost my phone, i went on iCloud and lock my phone and erase all my information, the only thing i’m wondering is that last time i remember my iCloud is off. so when i erase all my info through find my iPhone does it still work? even when iCloud is off?

thank you

James Bruce

No, iCloud needs to be on for Find my iPhone to work.

Reply

Jeremy

Once you suspend your line through the carrier (verizon in my case) does Find my iPhone still work?

James Bruce

Find my iPhone will display a device as “offline” in this case (quoting apple):

“Your cellular service has been terminated by your wireless service provider. If you contacted your service provider to report your device lost/stolen before locating/wiping your phone, and they deactivated your SIM card or account, you will no longer be able to locate, display a message on, or remotely wipe your iPhone.”

Reply

Sophie Maree

Hey James,

I contacted my phone company to lock my sim, does that mean that I will never be able to locate my device at all? I set up the locate my iphone after I locked my sim.

Regards
Sophie

James Bruce

You need physical access to a device in order to set up Find my iPhone, so I’m not sure how you would have set that up after it was stolen?

James Bruce

Also.. it wouldn’t work anyway. Needs SIM to be active.

Reply

Tanner

My girlfriend lost her iphone not too long ago at the gym, called the front desk as soon as we realized (about 30 minutes after leaving) and told them where she left it, they called back and said it wasn’t there, went to verzion and they used icould to put on Find my iPhone, tracking said it was at the front desk, showed up no one knew what was going on, tracking then said it was in the mens locker room, the same place the guy i talked to on the phone came out of right as i showed up… coincidence?
Either way we found it, and the tracking was actually very accurate (iPhone 4)

muotechguy

Good story. No coincidence, I’m sure. Gym staff are but human…

Reply

Addss

Hi,
My iPhone was stolen by a (not so close) friend !
I went last week to a party. Only close and casual friends. At some point we talked and compared some apps between our phones, I locked/unlocked mine several times, in front of the others, they did the same. However, after some time, everyone of us has been engaged in other activities
At some point I received a call on my other iPhone, and I went outside to be able to understand each other, because it was a pretty loud party ;-)

Anyway, I left my primary iPhone (for business) on the table.
When I came back, surprise, my iPhone was missing. Naturally, I suspected a joke or a prank for one of my closest friends. To not embarrass myself, I just tried to use Find my iPhone and see the state of the missing device.
It was Offline, probably the thief turned it off. I think it was one of us which, when playing around with apps, he saw my LockScreen code when I tapped it to unlock the phone.

I left the party. after a while, I tried again Find my iPhone.
Surprise again ! The iPhone was Online but Location Services Off. I tried to put it in Lost mode, but without phone number and message, just to locate, not to alarm the thief. Result was the same, “Online. Location Services Off ”

After one day, no matter how many times I tried, the thief (probably knowing that I have unlimited plan) continued to use my phone and it appears the same, “Online. No Location Available” (on iCloud, on Web Browser window) and “Online. Location Services Off” on Find my iPhone app , on my other iPhone.
My business phone was iPhone 4S, with iOS 6.1.6 (last iOS 6 update). I didn’t upgraded iOS on this one because I needed a quicker response when I receive important calls or updates, mail documents etc. And, indeed , it worked like a charm !

So not being able to locate and get back my iPhone, I was forced to erase it (at least I hope it was erased OK). As a result, I couldn’t locate it anymore.
Thanks God I had nothing compromising, or business sensitive on that phone! I changed, anyway, all my mail passwords, deleted from iCloud all my reminders and notes etc. Good Bye, good old iPhone !
I have to mention again, I have unlimited plan, voice and data traffic, so I was not afraid of higher payments, but I thought I should go to the telephone company and request a detailed list of calls after I lost it, maybe I could find a clue, with police help, of course. But I initially thought and trust it would be a breeze to find my iPhone with iCloud, Find my iPhone, Data Roaming, unlimited data traffic if, eventually, it would be lost.
And I’m absolutely sure I have all of these services active, all my iDevices have the same security settings (of course, Find my iPhone service, send last location, iCloud services, long passwords – all checked)

But, to be absolutely sure, I tried the same thing on my other (personal, non business) phone. iPhone 4S, iOS 8.1.1, this time.
So I double-checked all security settings I could and deactivated only Location Services, from Privacy.

Results were absolutely identical ! Even in Lost Mode, my only left iPhone was impossible to be found via iCloud (Web Browser) or from my iPad, no matter how many times and what I tried, after switching off Location Services (again, GSM/3G/Cellular/EU Internet – active – unlimited data plan, Data Roaming On, WIFI On, only Location Services disabled from Privacy settings).

( My only big mistake, I think, was to reveal and use my Lockscreen code in front of my friends. But I thought we are all friends, why wouldn’t ?)
I tried even to put my iPhone outside to have a clear view to satellites for GPS. No change !
And a major issue (or forgotten maybe, extremely simple feature) is still to not being able to change Lock screen code/password, once it was set already no matter what iOS is installed (6-7-8…)
So, the big Question remains the same. What is the (REAL) utility of Find my iPhone app/Service, when, just switching off Location Services, even Lost Mode can’t remotely enable it ? Contrary to what Apple claims.

What should I do in the future to avoid a similar situation ? What I missed/messed ? (other than showing my lockscreen code )

Please help me to understand, anyone who can help me and really knows what he/she’s talking about. I’m sick of suppositions, and neverending questions/ideas off topic.

Thank you !

P.S. :
I even put my iPhone outside, under clear sky, for 15 minutes, still nothing new on iCloud.
Of course, after unlocking my phone (Lost mode deactivated automatically), but still nothing (normal, in this case, without Lost Mode) and turning back ON Location Services, my iPhone was magically found :-). I even received a notice on mail, claiming my iPhone was found near my actual position ;-)

So, what’s wrong with Lost Mode, why it doesn’t do what it should ? What I’m doing wrong ??

Please help me understand. Thank you !

Update:
I found yesterday that my phone was bought by someone identified by the police. They asked me what I want to do. I asked buyer’s name, it’s nobody I know, I let him in peace, no further complains. I moved on… but disappointed by claimed features in iPhone (regardless iOS 6-8) which are not working at all (at least for me)…

James Bruce

How recent was this? I ask because: http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201357 – using find my iphone would have re-enabled location services. In addition, a locked phone now requires iCloud account access to be used again, even if the SIM card is removed by the thief, so selling it would have been impossible.

The biggest obvious mistake was showing your lockscreen password, but you know that already. Once they have that full access to your phone, they could change any settings they please and wipe the phone to sell.

Again, this wouldn’t be possible with recent iOS version, but at the time it wasn’t that developed.

Reply

Thomas

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

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