Whether it’s health information, emails, credit card numbers, or your entire Backstreet Boys music collection, a phone thief can learn a lot about you, simply by looking at your iPhone. Many of us have come to rely on them for all sorts of things — from managing finances to paying for groceries — so losing your phone is no fun at all.
So if your phone goes missing, you need to look for it and find it as soon as possible. Here’s how you can track it down, starting with the simplest.
1. Look Behind the Sofa
Sometimes a lost phone has not been stolen. You may simply be sitting on it, it may be stuffed behind the couch, under the couch, behind the couch… you get the picture. So start by running your hand along chairs, along the side of the mattress, behind things, under things.
You may find that you just dropped it without realizing. Panic over!
2. Call It
If you have been searching around your home, and you still haven’t found your phone, then do the next simplest thing – phone it. After all, that is what phones are for, right? Give the phone a ring and listen out for that Teletubbies ringtone. Again, easy-peasy.
3. Use “Find My iPhone”
OK, if you have progressed to this stage, then either a) the phone is genuinely lost or stolen or b) the ringer on the phone has been switched off. Time to try something else, but first chill out and take a deep breath.
The thing is that the following methods have to be activated as soon as you purchase your phone, before any possible theft or loss. They can’t be installed or activated retroactively. If you have lost your phone, and you haven’t activated any of these features, then you may be out of luck. The good news is that Apple enables these features by default, so assuming you haven’t turned them off you should be in luck.
Switching on Find My iPhone is very simple. Head to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone. Turn on both options: Find My iPhone and Send Last Location.
As the screenshot explains, “Send Last Location“ ensures that the last known location of the phone is sent to Apple, when the battery is low. That way, you can still see the phone’s last known location on the map, even if the battery has conked out.
Assuming you have the feature switched on, using it to look for your phone is simple. You can either use another iDevice (such as another iPhone or an iPad) or by going to iCloud.com. If you want to use another iDevice, look for the app called Find My iPhone on the App Store.
When you open it up, after a few spins of the compass, you will see a map of your area (make sure you have allowed the app to know your location).
iCloud will then attempt to locate and track your iPhone. If the phone is switched off or out of range, you will see an option to Notify Me When Found. Click that and when the phone is back on and or in range, you will get an email to your Apple ID email address telling you. This means you don’t have to keep watching the iCloud page.
In this case though, my iPhone is on and in range. The map is telling me that the phone is somewhere in my home (or at least it was when the last known location was sent to Apple). So the next thing to do is click Actions at the bottom of the map. This will then give you three options – Play Sound, Lost Mode, and Erase iPhone.
Since the phone is clearly in my house, the best option is to select Play Sound. Even with the sound turned off, this will still work. It overrides the volume option and delivers an ear-splitting sonar-sounding pulse which you will most definitely hear.
On the other hand, if you see from the map that your phone is on the other side of town, another town, or the other side of the world, then it’s time to start using the other two options.
Lost Mode enables you to lock down your device, mark it as “Lost”, and send a message remotely to the iPhone screen to the person holding it. If you don’t have a PIN code protecting the phone (and you should), then you can remotely add one to lock the phone down. If you do have one, you can change the PIN if you think the thief holding it may be able to guess it.
You can also activate Location Services even if a) you hadn’t previously had it on or b) the thief has switched it off. Lost Mode will quietly reactivate it.
When sending a message to the screen, you can offer a reward and your phone number (“a billion pounds and lots of jewels to the first person who brings me my precious!), threats (“I have a very special set of skills“), bluffs (“the police are currently tracking this phone. Stay where you are to be arrested!”) or whatever you think is necessary to get your expensive device back.
Lost Mode also activates Location Tracking, so you can track the movements of the phone, and if the thief switches the phone off, you will be notified immediately when the phone goes back on.
Finally, if the thief tries a factory reset, the screen message will still persist. This basically makes the phone totally unsellable (a small comfort I know, but still).
If you are convinced that the phone is never coming back at all, or you think the thief has access to the information within (like your primary email address) then it’s time to erase the phone. But we will cover this later in the article, as there are other options you can try first, before totally giving up.
4. Use Google
It’s a well-known fact that Google tracks our every move, and some privacy advocates scream and shout about this every day. But if you have lost your iPhone, Google’s location tracking may just save your bacon.
First of all, you will need to have turned on Google’s Location Tracking, and allowed Google access on your phone to your movements. So again, this is a “set it when you buy your phone” option. Simply download the Google app, login, and allow the app access to your location.
Assuming that has been all up and running before, log in here. This will then show you the devices with Google installed on them under the email address you logged in under, simply choose the device you are looking for.
You will now see a list of options.
But the best feature Google can offer are its own maps with your location movements. This is called your “timeline”.
I have blurred out the street names, but where the red arrow is pointing is where the phone was located the last time Google got a fix on its location. Unlike Find My iPhone, the Google method actually gives you the exact address where the phone is pinging from.
5. Ask on Social Media
Before giving up on your phone, it might pay to ask on social media. It’s quite possible that a friend you have just visited may have found your phone down the side of the sofa. It doesn’t hurt to try.
6. Check the “Lost and Found”
If you retrace your steps, you might figure out that you last saw your phone on the bus or train. Or perhaps a shop? Lots of places, especially public transport, have lost and found departments, which you can contact to ask if an iPhone has been handed in.
It’s also worth asking the police, as people hand in stuff there all the time.
An online alternative to the Lost & Found is Missing Phones. A kind and honest person who finds your phone may enter the details of the phone here, and you can look to see if your precious is waiting for you. But to use this, you need what is called the IMEI/MEID serial number (again, an option to be done when buying the phone). Check out our article on how to find your IMEI/MEID number, or if you’ve kept the box you’ll find it written on there.
7. Use Tile
Tile is a new gadget which helps you keep track of things you don’t want to lose. It is quite simply a Bluetooth tracking device, and it can be stuck to anything you want to track. So just stick the tile to your phone, install the app on the phone (and another device to be able to track the first device), and off you go. Choose your missing device on the second device and it will tell you where it is. Or it will play a loud noise. Tile isn’t free, but neither was your iPhone—and compared to it, it costs peanuts!
8. Getting Your Phone Back
Trying to get your stolen property back could end up being a very bad idea. I previously wrote about 18 year old Jeremy Cook, who was shot to death when he attempted to retrieve his stolen iPhone. As the article goes on to say, some people are successful in getting their phones back, but they are very lucky and in the minority.
The golden rule is to go to the police. Take as much supporting documentation as you can, including your IMEI number so it can be easily tracked if the police discover it. If you use the Prey tracking app, you can also activate the phone’s camera and take photos of the person holding it. Print those out too for the cops.
But you may find the police will mark this as low priority. Remember not to break the law yourself by breaking and entering, or threatening anyone you may encounter.
Can’t Find Your iPhone?
If all these options fail, then it’s time to cut your losses, wail and gnash your teeth in despair, then start saving up your pennies for a new phone.
But first, you need to remotely wipe the old phone of all its contents. You can do this through Find My iPhone, but be aware that this is a very drastic step, and one which is non-reversible. But if you know the phone is gone for good, then definitely do this. You have sensitive information like credit card numbers on your phone. You don’t want a thief getting a hold of THAT.
The second thing to do is to call up your mobile phone company, and have the phone blocked. This is simple – it just takes one call, and it stops any thieves from making phone calls on your account. Be sure to closely scrutinize your future phone bills and dispute any suspicious charges.
Nobody likes to lose an expensive bit of equipment, but there are steps that you can take to try and recover it. You never know your luck.
Let us know in the comments below if you have had any success in recovering a lost iPhone!