Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to know how to proceed when you find a lost or stolen iPhone. Fortunately there are a few things you can do to help return the device to its rightful owner.
There’s no “finders keepers” exception when it comes to other people’s property, so holding onto something that isn’t yours could be considered theft. It’s also pointless in the case of an iPhone, since most iPhones can’t be used once they’re lost thanks to a feature called Activation Lock.
So here’s what to do.
1. Is It Charged?
Action: Buy or borrow a charger and keep the device on and charging.
Modern smartphone batteries aren’t great, so most of us have a day at best if we lose our devices before they run out of battery. If it’s not charged, try holding the power button (a single button on the right-hand side) to see what happens.
Provided the iPhone still works, the first thing you’ll need to do is charge it. If you don’t own an iPhone yourself, you’ll either need to borrow or buy a Lightning cable. You can pick up cheap Lightning cables for a few dollars, or alternatively some public spaces (like shopping centers) have “charge stations” that are free to use.
2. Does It Have a Passcode Lock?
Action: Check for a passcode, but don’t try to brute-force it. Check the call log and registered Apple ID for contact details if you can access them.
Once the iPhone starts up, you’ll see a lockscreen. Clicking the Home button at the bottom of the screen will likely prompt you for a passcode (or fingerprint), but there’s a small chance the phone will unlock. This means the owner didn’t set a passcode, which is something all smartphone owners should do.
If the phone does unlock, you can do two things. The first is to head Settings > iTunes & App Store to see what the owner’s registered Apple ID email address is. You can then send an email to the owner, informing them that you have their device.
The second is to head to Phone > Recent and check the call log. You should be able to deduce a suitable contact to call so you can inform them that you have found this iPhone. You should also be able to find the owner’s name listed at the top of the Contacts list under the Phone app.
3. Can It Connect to the Internet?
Action: Attempt to restore internet access by switching the phone on, inserting a SIM card, or via the use of an unsecured network.
If it’s a genuine lost iPhone, it’s likely to still have a SIM card in it. This SIM should allow access to the internet via the cellular network. If there’s no SIM card in it, you may be looking at a stolen phone. If you can get the iPhone online, you have a much better chance of finding the owner.
If there’s no SIM card, the device was probably stolen and you could try inserting one of your own. If the phone isn’t locked to another network, it should connect to the internet.
Wi-Fi is a little trickier. If you found the iPhone and it was off, iOS will not connect to unsecured networks until the passcode is entered. However, if the phone was still on, you may be able to get online via the use of an unsecured open wireless network.
4. Is It in Lost Mode?
Action: Look for a message and make contact using any details provided.
Someone else’s iPhone is useless to anyone other than the owner, provided Find My iPhone is enabled. Activation Lock prevents the iPhone from being used even after a software reset, and the same feature can be used to track down lost devices. You should certainly have Find My iPhone enabled on your own device under Settings > iCloud.
If the iPhone has been put into Lost Mode, the owner has logged in to iCloud.com and marked the device as lost. You should see a message informing you of this, along with a message left by the owner. This should include a contact number or email address you can use to track down the owner.
If the phone manages to connect to the internet, its location will be sent to the owner via iCloud.
5. Try Siri
Action: If the phone is connected to the internet, grill Siri for information.
Provided the phone is online, Siri can do a lot even if the device is locked. This will only work if the phone was on when you found it. Siri is disabled until the initial unlock after powering-up the device. Pressing and holding the home button will trigger Siri, but you’ll need to be clever about what you ask.
A few ideas you could try:
- “Call my wife” — Or husband, or mom, or dad, or boss, etc.
- “Read my call log” — This may show you a recent call, so you can then ask Siri to call the contact (by name).
- “Read my last message” — Will provide the contact’s name as well as the message contents.
- “Who owns this iPhone?” — Should give you the name stored in the owner’s contact entry.
- “What is my email address?” — Also try phone number, Twitter handle, and so on.
Unfortunately while testing, it seems that Siri has a limit on the amount of information divulged before requiring a passcode. Asking Siri to read the call log, then calling any contacts you find might be the best course of action.
Make Contact or Hand It In
To recap, here’s everything you can do to find the owner of a missing iPhone:
- If Lost Mode is active, read the owner’s message and contact them via the details provided. You’re about to make someone’s day.
- If the phone still has a SIM card in it, keep it on and powered up. The owner may still call it.
- If the phone has no passcode lock, you should be able to hunt down an email or phone number that will help you return the device.
- If the phone has internet access, Siri may give away enough information to help you out.
If none of these methods work, you may want to pop the owner’s SIM card out and take a note of their carrier and the number printed on the SIM card. You can then contact the carrier, quote the number, and they may be able to help contact the owner of the device.
If nothing is working, your best bet is to take it to the police station that’s nearest to where you found it. Explain that you’ve found the phone and you’ve tried making contact, but nothing’s working. There’s no “finders keepers” rule when it comes to lost property, and holding on to an item that you know is not yours may still be regarded as theft.
Remember: Activation Lock will prevent you from using a phone that’s protected by Find My iPhone. It’s essentially a paperweight for as long as you have it in your possession.