If your iPhone is no longer in your possession, you might never see it again but there are still a few things you can do to help the situation.
Data theft can be just as damaging (if not more so) than losing a very expensive gadget. If you haven’t secured your iPhone correctly, it’s possible a third party could access to your email, bank or social media accounts.
Here’s what to do when the unthinkable happens.
Use Find my iPhone
With the power of iCloud it’s possible to locate your device provided it still has access to some sort of data connection (cellular or Wi-Fi). This won’t work if your iPhone is not using the Find my Phone service (but you’d have to opt out as it’s enabled by default), has run out of battery or was last seen in Airplane Mode. It’s certainly worth a shot.
Head over to iCloud.com, login with your Apple ID and the same password you use to authorise app purchases and click on Find my iPhone. You can also download the Find My iPhone app for another Apple device if you happen to have one. iCloud will attempt to locate your device, so you can decide whether it’s simply slipped down the back of the sofa or if it’s somewhere entirely different to where you last had it.
If you had the setting enabled, you may also be able to see your iPhone’s last known location before it lost power or signal.
If you think it has been stolen or someone else may have found it, you can enable Lost Mode under the device in question. You’ll be asked to provide a phone number on which you can be contacted (not your lost phone’s number!) and hopefully whoever has it might then return it.
If your phone has been stolen but remains traceable, you can hand that information over to the police. There have been a few examples where law enforcement have used Apple’s Find my iPhone location data to recover stolen devices, though be prepared that this may not be the case. One thing you shouldn’t do is try to play the hero and recover the device yourself, which could potentially put you in a dangerous situation.
If you only have a four-digit passcode enabled, you’ve used an easy to guess passcode (like 123456), or you think a thief may already gained access to your phone, you can execute a remote wipe by choosing Erase iPhone. Be aware that you won’t be able to track the phone after doing this, and that all information on the device will be lost. Make sure you have a recent backup before choosing this option.
Thanks to an iOS feature called Activation Lock, your iPhone can’t be used (or possibly sold on) by a thief once it’s been erased. Even after wiping the device, it will require your own personal Apple ID and password to be usable.
Until these credentials are provided, the phone will request to be activated indefinitely. It’s useless to the thief, and it’s highly unlikely even Apple will unlock it.
If you are able to locate your phone using Find my iPhone then Activation Lock has been enabled on your device. Even if you can’t see it, you’d have had to opt out of the service to disable it — and there’s really no good reason to do so.
What If You Can’t Find It?
If you can’t find your phone (and for the very security conscious out there, even if you can) there are still a few things you should do to ensure your most important accounts remain safe. If you have failed to set a security passcode on your phone, are still using a four-digit passcode or have used something really obvious like 123456 then the following advice is for you.
who else's iphone passcode is 5674, cmon i see u
— addi (@johnnybcy) October 9, 2016
Your personal email address is probably more important than you realise. It’s where your password resets go, quite possibly your Apple ID is registered there and I bet you’ve got a bank account or similar financial service that uses it too. Access to this (and any, connected work email addresses) should be revoked immediately upon noticing your phone has gone walkies.
Changing your password is enough to require a re-authentication for your various devices, though if you’re using an application-specific password for logging in (such as those provided with Gmail’s two-factor authentication) then you can just revoke access by logging in and adjusting permissions in security settings.
Twitter and Facebook (among others) integrate with iOS too. Revoke Twitter access by visiting Settings > Apps on Twitter’s main website (above), then clicking Revoke next to each entry. If you for some reason can’t revoke access, simply change your main Twitter password and your phone’s login will then be outdated.
To revoke Facebook, you’ll need to change your password (or revoke the app-specific password under Settings > Security > App-Specific Passwords).
There may be other apps and services you’re concerned that the thief may have access to like Dropbox, Evernote, Slack, Instagram, Snapchat, and so on. Each of these services should allow you to login and revoke access from your iPhone, or if all else fails simply change the password.
Next you’ll want to move on to contacting your carrier and have your SIM blocked, as a thief could be using your mobile number to make phone calls or rack up huge data bills (even in another phone). Hopefully you also have access to your iPhone’s IMEI number (it’s on the original box, and probably also on the receipt too) so you can make a police report and get an incident report number which you’ll need for an insurance claim.
The best thing you can do to prevent problems in case your iPhone ever disappears is lock your phone with a six digit passcode or more adventurous password to delay any potential security breaches. Head to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode to set up fingerprint scanning and a failsafe passcode. Next make sure you’ve got Find my iPhone running under Settings > iCloud > Find my iPhone and enable Send Last Location too.
Finally, don’t choose easy-to-guess passcodes. You can read more about how disabling Control Centre may help protect your phone, as well as a breakdown of the vulnerabilities of the iPhone fingerprint scanner in our Touch ID security article.
If you’ve had your iPhone stolen then we’d love to hear your story – did you get it back? Did Find my iPhone help? Leave a comment below.
Article updated by Tim Brookes on October 27, 2016