Technology Explained

How to Return a Lost Phone in Four Easy Steps

Kannon Yamada 28-08-2013

Returning a locked lost phone can feel a lot like stealing one. I recently found someone’s accidentally discarded $450 smartphone. But did I break through the passcode and access the owner’s personal information, including sexts and homemade pornography? No, I didn’t access their data.


For the curious, yes, a phone’s lock pattern can be broken using a handful of tricks, including the Android Debugger What Is USB Debugging Mode on Android? Here's How to Enable It Need to allow USB Debugging on your Android? We explain how to use debugging mode for pushing commands from your PC to your phone. Read More , the grease trail exploit and by using a lockscreen exploit.

Every year, millions drop their mobile into the unknown. In the US, about 50% of lost devices are returned to their owners 7 Reasons To Return A Lost Phone If you happen to find an expensive smartphone on the street, youll probably wonder what to do with it. In short: return it! Read More . The rest get resold or reused – while thievery may seem eco-friendly and ego-friendly, it’s horrifyingly unfriendly to the original owner. Instead of opening yourself up to lawsuits or committing felonies, return it. Mobiles contain family pictures, personal information and more that exceed the physical value of the phone.

But how does one return a phone to its owner?

Easy – if the phone doesn’t use a locking pattern, just open up the contacts list and find a family member. However, a locking pattern complicates things, since you need to unlock the phone to access the contacts list. Even locked, you can still return the device without much hassle. Here’s how I found a phone and successfully returned it quickly.

opened phone case


Background: The Study on Lost Phones

Symantec performed a study on phone theft. They randomly dispersed 50 phones within the Los Angeles area, without a lock-screen pattern. Roughly 50% of these phones made their way back to Symantec. Of these, 96% had been accessed for personal details, such as photos, emails, and more.

The moral of the story: Enable the password or screen lock.

However, phones using a locking pattern can easily be hacked to reveal your private data. It can also interfere with attempts to return the phone.

When it comes down to it, there are two paths of returning the phone that are contingent upon whether or not you have access to the Internet Mobile Station Equipment Identity, or IMEI, number. The IMEI number can unique identify the owner of the phone.


Method #1: Returning a Lost Phone with an IMEI Number

If the phone is unlocked, you can simply pop open the contacts list and dial someone, like a family member. However, if the phone’s owner locked it, you’ll need to engage in slightly more leg work. In my case, the phone’s lock pattern was enabled and traditional bypass methods wouldn’t work — the telltale finger smudges on the screen had been wiped out by tire tracks. After the phone had been dropped, it unfortunately fell beneath the owner’s car.

OtterBox makes amazing protective cases, by the way.

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tire tracks


Acquiring the IMEI (the serial number works too) of the phone depends on the phone’s by make. In the Samsung Galaxy S3 that I picked up, the IMEI number can be found underneath the battery. This isn’t the case on all phones, unfortunately.


After jotting down the IMEI, I called the cellular service provider: AT&T. Unfortunately, they could not give me any personal info. I asked that the carrier forward along a message to the owner of the phone — the phone was left with my apartment complex’s main office. Within a few hours, the owner picked the device up, without issue.

This method works because the phone’s owner must contact the cellular provider to suspend service. However, if you manage to contact the phone company before the customer realizes his loss, they can then relay your contact information to them.


In my case, the Galaxy S3 didn’t receive cellular signal from with my two-story living building. So waiting until the owner called wasn’t an option.

Here’s the basic process that you may need to go through to return a phone, if you have an IMEI:

  1. Write down the IMEI and/or the serial number. Manufacturers sometimes place this underneath the battery, on the side of the device or on the back.
  2. Call the service provider and supply them with the requisite information, normally the IMEI.
  3. Leave a contact number with the service provider.
  4. When the owner calls to suspend service, they will receive the contact number.

It’s not that hard. It’s actually a lot easier than actually keeping the phone.

Returning the Phone Without an IMEI Number

In the event the IMEI isn’t available and the phone is locked, you can either wait until the owner calls his own phone or you can take matters into your own hands.

For a GSM (AT&T and T-Mobile) phone, a phone thief would simply swap out the SIM card and either sell or use the device. The Galaxy S3 in my possession sells for about $400. Beating the lockscreen would only require attaching the phone to a PC or using an exploit. If they didn’t want to access the personal data, they could perform a factory reset using ADB – Android Debug.

Method #2: The Android Debug Method

The Android Debug method (ADB) exploit method can break a phone’s lock pattern. This method requires that you have ADB on your PC. Also, the device must connect via USB to your PC with ADB installed. If properly configured, you alter the phone’s gestures.key file — a serious security problem with Android. The phone will flip back out of locked mode and you can then access the contacts list. Thieves at this point will simply factory reset the device. Don’t do that.

Method #3: The Finger Smudge Method

The oldest, and best known, method of beating the lockscreen pattern is through tracing finger smudges. Holding the phone up to light will reveal such patterns and you can retrace the lines on the screen to beat the lock pattern. You can read about it here.

Method #4: Operating System Exploit

You can also attempt one of many lockscreen exploits that exist in different versions of Android. Many of these go unpatched, so it’s just a matter of finding the right method. Googling the name of the phone and “pattern unlock” may find you the answer you’re looking for.

This is the method that would have let me access the Galaxy S3 formerly in my possession:

I should reemphasize that this method wasn’t needed.

Do Return the Lost Phone You Found!

If you find a lost phone, returning it is easy. If you have the IMEI number, simply contact the cellular service provider and leave your contact info with them. If you don’t have the IMEI, either wait until they call their own phone or you can attempt to bypass the lock pattern.

For those of you looking to recover a stolen device, there’s a variety of methods. Some older strategies revolve around installing software 2 Easy Ways to Recover a Lost or Stolen Android Phone These methods can help you find your lost or stolen Android phone or tablet. Read More . However, the newer Android Device Manager lets you locate a stolen device The 7 Best Android Anti-Theft Apps to Protect Your Device If your Android phone gets stolen, you'll need a way to get it back. Here are the best Android anti-theft apps. Read More without actually installing anything. And Apple users can use the “Find My iPhone” feature So Your iPhone Was Lost or Stolen? Here's What to Do If your iPhone was lost or stolen, here's how to locate, recover, and block your iPhone to protect your data. Read More  to locate their phone.

Returning the phone clears your conscience and gives good karma. Anyone else love returning people’s lost property? Let us know in the comments.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Tanya
    September 25, 2019 at 4:29 am

    My husband “lost” his wallet at this boat ramp we were at going to do a job we couldn’t find the place so he had to return the next day, he did the job and while driving back he thought he seen a wallet so he pulls off the highway and sure enough it was his wallet and a phone next to it, he picked them both up and we are now in the process of finding the owner. I hope we do cause the SIM card is not there and it’s broken but there is a Samsung number under the battery. Wish us luck thank you from Ontario, Canada

    • Kannon Yamada
      October 3, 2019 at 12:36 am

      Hi sorry for the late reply. This is really unusual.

      I don't know how many people lose their wallet and then find it off the highway. Congrats to him for having great eyesight though.

      A phone that does not have a SIM card in it (and doesn't have a built in SIM) might be difficult to trace to a carrier, let alone an individual person. I'm afraid that unless you can unlock the phone, it might not be possible to locate the individual who owns it.

  2. Debbie
    July 21, 2019 at 9:26 pm

    Last night I found an iPhone 8 Plus, it had been run over by a car in a city park. The screen was smashed but the rest of the phone was perfect (the case was awesome). Not worth keeping with iCloud and find my phone locks. Popped out the sim to see who the carrier was, and took it to Verizon. They can find the owner. Much simpler than every listed above.

    • kannon
      July 22, 2019 at 1:36 am

      That's what I recommended doing. This point needs to be more clearly made. When I update the article, this'll be the first thing edited in. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Amber Blankenheim
    June 24, 2019 at 3:53 am

    I had found the device while dumpster diving collecting cans and bottles, the screen was cracked and didn't power up. I took it home and charged it and it turned on and had been reset already. If I knew how to return it I would and if for any reason I can't I wanted to know if I could add it to my devices. Its not my intention to have any thing I didn't earn.. I.
    jistlive where its common for them to upgrade and discard phones and other shit that they don't use.

  4. Doug in VA
    July 22, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    some people do NOT want a smartphone and do not know how to use one. so finding a smartphone relies on using a 'lost and found' listing in CraigsList to have the owner contact the poster (finder) through email. A lot of folks who are older do NOT want a smart phone or don't want to use one. That person may be the finder of the phone.

  5. Sammi
    May 13, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    I found a phone and it's locked by a pattern. Can anyone help!

    • Kannon Y
      May 14, 2018 at 12:15 am

      Did you find a SIM card inside of the phone? That might tell you who the carrier is. If you tried tracing the fingerprint pattern, the SIM card can sometimes tell you which carrier to call.

  6. Sammi
    May 13, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    I found a phone and it is locked by a pattern. Help!

  7. texan
    April 3, 2018 at 5:02 am

    i found a samsung today at the public bus, since they usually dont get return if its left with the bus driver, i decided to take it to the owner personally once my parents arrive, so i was looking in the contacts since it was unlocked and was about to call a person from the list who it appeard to be the wife of the owner. i soon as i press the call button it didnt let me because another call was incoming and it was the owner. However the owner was an old man that did not understand reason, i had messages of telling my mom that once she gets home we can go and return it, but the old man didnt wanted to wait he wanted it now now if not he was involving the police and i dont know about you guys but when someone is trying to do an act of kindness as in other people who entered the bus could of stealing it or the bus driver could and one wanting to return it and they still get mad about it, i mean come on whos fault was it forgetting it in a piblic bus. I walked a long way to return his phone hope he is happy because im not. Never will i do something like that again, i will just leave it there like i didnt even saw it. Is it really fully wrong what i done or was he just being paranoid?

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 5, 2018 at 5:53 pm

      It sounds like the guy who lost his phone was panicking. When people resort to threats, it means they are scared and angry. Most people who act like that aren't behaving normally and that's not an indication of any wrongdoing on your part. That's just how some people act when they're scared.

      For those reading the comments, I'd recommend leaving the phone with the driver and (if the phone is unlocked) sending an email to the phone's owner that you left the phone with the driver. (get the driver's name if possible and maybe even videotape you leaving the phone with the driver if you don't trust them.)

  8. Canadian in Europe
    December 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    I found an Iphone in Barcelona, I called the cellular provider (too late they already cancelled phone and the provider was unwilling to give my contact info to the client
    (*unsure, but I guess legality of possible blackmail situations, and being third party I guess.)
    Contacted Apple with the IMEI # of the phone, they too were unwilling to contact owner of phone to try and return it (*). ran phone thru recovery mode so that I would be able to access and log phone into my wifi so that it could send its location (unsure how phone tracking worked but figured it had to "Talk" to the computer network since it had no cellular plan.
    this was of course after I went out and purchased an Iphone charge cable since the phone was dead when I found it! (dead phones don't tell there location.)
    Was I correct in having to log into wifi or could I have just left it on a charge and turned on to broadcast its location?

  9. Larry
    October 30, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Found a Coolpad phone in my yard. Evidently water damaged. It will not charge or power on. I can access the imei on the back of the phone but have not been able to identify carrier.

    • Kannon Yamada
      October 30, 2017 at 11:36 pm

      If it's water damaged, it's probably not going to work even if the technician does an alcohol wash on it. More or less, if you see a prepaid phone that's been damaged, it's probably worth more to repair than buying a new one would cost.

      It sounds like the sort of device a parent would get a child. I doubt that they have anything of importance on it. Although thank you for doing the right thing and trying to find the owner!

  10. Bob
    September 30, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    I found a Samsung in the park across the street. It was locked and had no emergency medical information entered in it. I waited for 3.5 hours for the owner to call but no success there. I'm in a small town and so called the police. They sent an officer out to pick it up. He said that they should be able to call 911 from the phone which should identify who is calling into 911. That's neat if it works. I lost a flip-phone several years ago. I had a return address stuck to the back and the phone was returned within a few hours.

    • Canadian in Europe
      December 7, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      I put a message on my lock screen that has my my wifes phone number so they can call her if they are considerate.

  11. Jude
    September 29, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    I bought an unlocked AT&T phone from craigslist and went to activate it on COnsumer Cellular. It worked for a few hours until COnsumer Cellular blocked it because the IMEI number said the phone was lost or stolen. AT&T says they can't help me get it back to the owner.

    So the phone is now worthless to me (as a phone) and I'm out a couple hundred bucks. There is no way it can ever be unlocked, is that right? Is it lawful to sell it online as being for parts only?

    I did contact the local police.

  12. Gae
    July 19, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    I found an Iphone yesterday but the battery was dead, today I got a charger at school and when it turned on is not showing any carrier and the screen is lock. What can I do to return it to the owner. How to know who is?

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 19, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      What version of the iPhone is it? Let me guess: an older model like a 4S?

      Try ejecting the SIM card to find the carrier.

  13. Austin
    June 29, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    I found a s8+ and I'm on hold with Verizon rn

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 30, 2017 at 2:28 am

      Good on you for trying to return it. I suspect that taking it into an official Verizon store might be the best option.

  14. Ajay
    June 27, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    The phone I found does not even have a SIM card in it. Though it has CRICKET on it's back cover. Also, it got connected to one of the wifi available in my building hinting it belongs to someone nearby. I could also see the wifi name it connected to. I did put a notice in my apartment building but no luck yet. Any help on returning this or finding wifi owner.

  15. Deborah
    May 30, 2017 at 5:17 am

    I had an idea to make picture of phone number to contact if someone found my phone on the lock screen and hopefully whoever found it would return it

  16. Jill
    May 3, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    I have a locked phone I found but don't know who the service provider is

    • Kannon Y
      May 11, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      you can eject the SIM card and it will normally say who is the provider is on the SIM.

  17. Alain
    May 1, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    Wish it was simple to return. Ran into hiker who found an Iphone 5c a week prior and made the mistake of turning it off (so owner wasn't able to locate it, or call it for return - dumb!) and asked if we knew someone had lost it. I turned it on and noticed it had no signal and offered to keep it charged (have same plug unlike hiker) so it could be located. Once home I realized chip must have been de-activated as no signal (didn't check for finger print passcode) - put a craiglist ad in LOST&FOUND but nothing in couple weeks. Called AT&T having connected phone to get serial number and ECID and THEY WOULD NOT let the original owner know I had their phone as they couldn't access the account without verifying the account, which of course I had no info, since the phone was already de-activated (was when I offered to help). HOW DUMB IS THAT ? Suggested I drop it to a store (none nearby) or police station - sounds to me like it's gonna end up in a pile to recycle... AT&T sure makes it harder then it should - why would they as they likely sold him another $$$ phone and multi year contract to boot! lame...

    • Kannon Y
      May 11, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Hi Alain, thanks for doing the right thing!

      Oftentimes a customer service rep who won't forward a message along to a customer is either lazy or misinformed. There is a federal law that prevents the phone company from sharing information on their customers. However, if the rep misunderstands that, they might think it's illegal to even send information to someone who lost their phone. I don't believe, however, that you can forward your own contact information along.

      In this case, I'd recommend escalating to a higher tier of support. Just politely ask to speak with their manager.

      You could also return it to a store, although whether or not they choose to return the phone is probably up to the individual working at the store.

  18. The Blue Bird
    February 23, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    I returned a I phone a couple of weeks ago, I found it on the train, I felt horrible for the owner, I was kind of afraid to have it on my person for any length of time, I gave it to my Manager immediately, those things have trackers on them, I'll be damped if I go to jail and lose my job over a damn phone, hell nope...

    • Kannon
      February 24, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Hi, unfortunately, law enforcement has never (to my knowledge) tracked a missing cell phone down unless it was part of a serious crime (like murder and sometimes robbery or breaking and entering). I've heard horror stories of people being robbed at gunpoint and the police did not attempt to track the cell phone down. I do not think this is negligent. It's just a matter of how our legal system functions.

  19. Gord Lindsay
    January 18, 2017 at 12:18 am

    How do you know the cellular service provider?

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 21, 2017 at 11:09 am

      Most of the time, the phone will have branding on it. If it's a carrier unlocked phone, you can find the carrier by ejecting the SIM card. You can call the carrier and report the IMEI or any other identifying number.

  20. Gord Lindsay
    January 18, 2017 at 12:17 am

    How do you find the cellular service provider?

  21. Indrajit Ghosh
    December 6, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    My is loss at bus coming from bangladesh to kolkata.

    please help for mobile find out.


  22. Jayson jobe
    November 17, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Found a note 4 with cracked screen how can i return it?

    • Kannon Yamada
      November 29, 2016 at 12:46 am

      It depends on the carrier. I would just return it to the carrier (one of their brick-and-mortar stores) and talk to a manager.

  23. Jayson
    November 17, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Found a note 4 that has a cracked screen and will not answer how can i return it?

  24. Harley
    November 8, 2016 at 6:34 am

    Yep , just returned a crying girls android at a frat party. That was cool

  25. Sophie
    October 14, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    I called the customer service number for MetroPCS and it will not go to a person. If you do not own an account, it hangs up on you. I tried three local stores and no one answered. I guess returning phones are not suppose to happen.

  26. aaron
    July 9, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I called verizon and got sandbagged. They said to bring it to a local store and MAYBE they can help. jerks.

  27. Ryan Galloway
    June 20, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    I found an Iphone 5c a while ago in near perfect condition and tried to figure out the passcode to see if I could find a contact number for the owner to return it. It's a verizon phone and I didn't know if I returned it to verizon, if they would even return it to the rightful owner. The phone is completely disabled now and says "Iphone is disabled connect to itunes". after reading this post I found the IMEI #, so I'll call Verizon and see if they can forward my contact info to the owner. Thanks!

  28. darren chen
    June 2, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    I found a iphone, but it all crack up. I contact the owner, but afraid that they might ask me to pay for the damage of the phone.

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 3, 2016 at 1:17 am

      It's good of you to find the owner, even for a broken phone. They could have photos on it that they need, which can be recovered. Maybe return it to them anonymously?

  29. Kevin
    March 28, 2016 at 4:01 am

    Found a phone on a trail in the mountains. Tried to contact AT&T. They confirmed it was one of their customer's phones but they refused to contact the owner to tell them which visitor center I had left it at. Said they only way they can contact owner is if the phone is dropped off at a corporate (not reseller) store.

    • Kannon Yamada
      March 28, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      They are such jerks. I realize this is a lot of work -- as good samaritan, you shouldn't have to push a boulder up a mountain -- but perhaps you can escalate and speak to a manager? It might be that the person handling the call misunderstands policy.

  30. Michael M.
    February 10, 2016 at 3:30 am

    I just found a Verizon Galaxy S6 half buried in the snow and ice in the middle of the street. Surprisingly it still works! It is lock and has no ICE contracts setup so I called Verizon and had to convince then they could take my into and give it the the owner. She said they could only give them the message if the owner calls to report the phone lost. It's like they don't want to return the phone or something.

    • Kannon Yamada
      February 10, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      That's a big problem with cellular providers -- they don't appear to have an official policy on returning lost cell phones. I think they might actually encourage customers to buy new phones, rather than recovering lost phones.

  31. george
    January 15, 2016 at 8:29 am

    I just found a phone and it seems that the owner never set their lock screen. I look into owner and there's nothing there. I look into the contacts and no name of the owner ether. Luckily they do have their gmail so I sent them a email hoping they'll see it on their computer soon.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 15, 2016 at 9:51 pm

      Have you tried contacting the provider? They can relay your contact information.

      • george v
        January 15, 2016 at 11:46 pm

        I did notice that the ltd was though t-mobile so I contacted their online chat and they suggested I drop the phone off at the nearest t-mobile branded store which I did.

        When I got there I told the guy at the store that I found the phone on the bus and he said that t-mobile would get the customers phone back faster than the bus company would.

        • Kannon Yamada
          January 16, 2016 at 12:05 am

          Thank you George, that's wonderful! You've done the right thing!

        • george v
          January 17, 2016 at 2:00 am

          I got a respond from the happy owner though an email! ;)

  32. Samaritan Too
    January 4, 2016 at 12:22 am

    We found a Samsung Note in the snow while on a ski vacation. We tried waiting for the owner to call the phone (which was locked), posting flyers around the condo complex with our contact info, and even taking the phone to the Verizon store, which was the service provider. Verizon was able to give us the phone number of the cell phone and the owner's name, but they were unable to contact the owner on our behalf, take the phone and return it to the owner, or give us any other contact info for the owner. We left our contact information with Verizon but have not heard anything in a week.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 9, 2016 at 12:49 am

      Well, thank you for doing the right thing.

      It sounds as if the owner of the phone isn't very invested in recovering it. Oftentimes accident prone smartphone users will buy insurance. If they lose the phone, they get an upgrade -- or something to that effect.

      It may be that the owner has already replaced the phone. Hopefully Verizon gets back to you.

  33. Anonymous
    July 11, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    This is overly complicated. Just figure out which carrier and return it to the store. They'll take care of it.

  34. Chris
    March 2, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    Can anyone help me with this?
    Two weeks ago I found a pristine 8gb iPhone 4s lying on the pavement.
    Despite all my efforts I cannot trace the owner.
    I asked at a nearby property and no-one has come forward and I left contact details in case anyone does.
    The phone was locked, so a friend of mine who knows about such things (I don't as I have never owned a smartphone) helped me bypass the lock by syncing the phone to itunes and restoring it - but this erased all the content in the phone.
    No-one has called the phone in the two weeks that I have had it.
    It didn't have a SIM in it, so I have had to add one of my own, so I can't call the carrier and enquire that way and the phone is not locked onto any provider/carrier.
    My friend checked on the web and said that the IMEI number has not been registered so the phone is not blacklisted, and that also means that I can't use the IMEI number to find the owner.
    The phone also does not seem to have been linked to any web stuff, like iCloud or Find My Phone.
    My friend says that I'm the luckiest guy because the phone's owner did not take any precautions and therefore it is impossible for me to trace the owner and that I should claim the phone as mine.
    He said that I could take the phone to an Apple store, but they would just take the phone from me, and even if they could not trace the owner they would not return the phone to me, so I shouldn't do that.
    I really want to find the owner - but how?

    • Kannon Y
      March 2, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      It almost sounds as if the owner wanted to lose the phone. Pulling the SIM card reduces the phone to little more than a tiny tablet or personal organizer. Chances are that this person either did not have a lot of money or they had too much money.

      Unfortunately, because the phone was reset using iTunes, that means all the identifying information on the device has been destroyed. You could attempt to recover it using recovery software, but I don't advise that particular option.

      I think there are bypass methods available for breaking through an iPhone's lock. But keep in mind that I'm uncertain as to the legality of breaking a passcode, even if for altruistic reasons.

      Unfortunately, the phone has been reset.

      Actually, it would be impossible to call the phone because it didn't have a SIM card, unless the user was using it for Skype calls (which is a strong possibility).

      At this point, the only real option might be to report the IMEI to whatever company was the original carrier for the phone and ask them to let the owner know where the phone can be located. They likely don't have service anymore, although they may have since upgraded to the newest model of iPhone and gave the iPhone 4 away. I guess you could also put up flyers around town, but that would be going overboard.

      I'm sorry that you are left with this burden. Apple picking is so common no one who loses their phone expects to get it back. Particularly if it's in good condition. They probably just wrote the phone off as stolen.

  35. Samaritan
    December 19, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I tried to return a galaxy s5 to Sprint and was disconnected twice by a live rep. On the phone... When I got to a Sprint Store at the local mall, I was told to bring the phone to the local head office of Sprint. I am about to give up doing a good deed..

    • Samaritan 2
      December 22, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      I am going through a similar situation with AT&T. My son bought a phone from a guy off of Craigslist. When he went to activate it at AT&T, it was reported lost or stolen. We have contacted AT&T several different ways to have them contact owner to give them our contact information, and they refuse. Shame on AT&T.

  36. Gordon
    December 27, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    My phone can find me @LostFoundOkoban

  37. Clare
    November 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Wondered if you can help. Son had phone (phone 1) stolen in France, reported it to phone company, they supplied new phone (no 2) & new SIM, after 7 days it stopped working, rang phone company who sent courier to collect phone 2 and replace with phone 3. Four weeks later debited £480 from bank saying that we had returned phone 1 as faulty and thus we had phone 2 in our possession and we had been fraudulent. Many phone calls and emails now going to county court they "saying that they can prove that we had been fraudulent". This has now been going on 9 months, we don't believe our son has done anything wrong and the phone company says that their systems cannot be challenged,!!! IMEI numbers have been read and that's it!!! Can anybody give any advice what to ask phone company or how to challenge them it seems to be a David & Goliath situation..... thank you

  38. Randy W.
    November 2, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Found a Galaxy Note II today at the park after a soccer game. I looked at recent calls list, saw a phone number and person that was listed many times, called it. Amazingly it was his good friend's phone and the friend was just 20 feet away from me at a local bakery that I drove too. It made me curious as to how I would have returned it, if it was locked (which it wasn't).

    I wondered if I should unlock my iPhone 5...

  39. Coen
    September 10, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Interesting article! Sometimes it can be hard to trace the owner. If the owner not is calling, battery is empty or you just can enter the found phone. In most cases the operators simply don't know which IMEI number is linked to which user. Also the police is not taking any action when phones are missing, except for writing down the IMEI numbers in case someone brings in the phone.

    In the Netherlands and Belgium we have a central IMEI database ( and [Broken URL Removed]) to bring owner and founder in concact or to report that your phone is missing or stolen. Everyone can report an IMEI number. It is a very powerfull tool to check if a second hand phone is stolen before you buy it on Ebay-like sites. In the future this database will be extended with serveral new services to protect your mobile phone and will be called MobiMY .

    In the Netherlands ImeiXS ( has developed these services called MobiMY that can block every phone in all networks to make stolen phones useless. You can register your own IMEI numbers and block them any time so that no one can use your phone on one of the networks. Besides blocking it is possible to remote locate, wipe, message, block SIM and send messages to a mobile device, even if the device has no data connection, only a network connection. Because of this combination you can keep your phone and information safe against thiefs and make it useless to them!


  40. Tina S
    September 9, 2013 at 4:27 am

    Glad I saw this! Was going to write a similar story after finding an iPhone, yesterday. I was lucky, the owner had not even set a lock screen. He got a call about someone trying to return his lost phone before he even noticed it was missing. :)

    • Kannon Y
      September 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

      Well done! He is very lucky that you found it instead of someone else. Apple Picking is super common nowadays.

  41. Czadd
    August 29, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Method #5: Hold on to the phone until someone calls

    I found a new iPhone at an airport and, rather than trust the airport personnel with it, I brought it home with me. When someone called, I explained the situation and was put in touch with the owner. Then I shipped it back to him.

    Much simpler than some of these other methods.

  42. Virginia V.
    August 29, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Another option is to make an emergency call with the phone, which appears below the number pad on the locked screen. It will probably connect you with someone who knows the owner of the phone well.

    • Melissa
      December 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm

      Virginia - I always thought this would just auto-dial 911. There's a way to set the emergency # to something else?

  43. Nash J
    August 29, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I once found $3000 in an envelope, no ID, no anything. Just the money. I thought about spending it but I didnt. I had it for a week. Then I heard that my landlord at the time had lost some money. I gave it to my father and he inquired and it was the guys money. My father still gets tons of free stuff from the dude.

  44. Erwin D
    August 29, 2013 at 8:27 am

    A lot easier for Android users: make sure you set the owner information on your phone before losing it :)

    Settings > Security > Owner Information: this information will be shown on the lock screen, so give your name and the phone number of a family member, friend or your land line, or give an e-mail address! It really is as easy as that.

    • Don McMahan
      August 29, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      That way they can find out where you live and go burglarize your house while you are out looking for your phone.

      • Erwin D
        August 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

        Did I somewhere tell you to give your home address? I tried it for my name and phone number... you cannot find my home address with that information and if you are really paranoid, you can always just give your first name only, and the phone number of a friend or family member or an e-mail address that is not that easily traceable to you :-)

  45. Pooky J
    August 29, 2013 at 7:46 am

    And anything about Windows Phone?

  46. Alex
    August 29, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Did you not recieve a reward? I would certainly hope you did recieve a reward for a $400 dollar phone.

    • Kannon Y
      October 9, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      The reward was intrinsic. :-)

  47. Randy B
    August 29, 2013 at 4:09 am

    If it's not a prepaid phone you should be able to take it to whichever carriers corporate store and they can contact the owner.

  48. Anthony
    August 29, 2013 at 2:43 am

    This article is slanted towards an Android phone, but what if the phone is an iPhone? If it's locked?

    • Paul
      August 29, 2013 at 6:23 am

      iPhones don't usually get returned ;-)

      • matesimo
        August 29, 2013 at 1:12 pm


    • Anonymous
      October 9, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      How please

    • Anonymous
      October 9, 2013 at 10:54 pm

      Like to handover to the owner no Q but respect how do I find them honest help

    • Anthony
      October 11, 2013 at 3:37 am

      Yeah... that didn't really answer my question, but thanks for playing...

    • Kannon Y
      October 11, 2013 at 4:49 am

      Unfortunately, I can't respond to the anonymous poster, but returning an Apple phone is slightly more difficult, as the IMEI isn't easily accessible on some devices.

      For the iPhone 5, it's easy as the IMEI is engraved on the case. Once you have the IMEI, call the carrier (usually AT&T, but it's on all networks now) and let them know you've recovered the phone and request return instructions or leave return instructions (such as I did in my article).

      For the iPhone 4, you need to eject the SIM card. This may require a needle or a paperclip. BE VERY CAREFUL. Make sure you hit the metal ejection lever with the pin. A paperclip actually might be too wide to fit in the SIM card ejection hole.

      Look around the sides of the phone. You'll see a subtle outline where the SIM card tray is located.

      Once ejected, the IMEI is noticeable on the exterior of the SIM card tray.

      Thank you Anthony, for returning someone's phone. Good luck! And please let me know if you have any additional questions.

    • I-Phone <3
      January 7, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Ask Siri: " What is my name?" if you are lucky, the owner will have some sort of information namewise, or addresswise under their name.

  49. Arthur C
    August 29, 2013 at 12:59 am

    I was unaware of the different methods. Intriguing and disconcerting.
    Thank you for the article.

  50. android underground
    August 29, 2013 at 12:06 am

    "Method #2: The Android Debug Method [...] "serious security problem"

    USB debugging is switched off by default on stock ROMs, so this "serious security problem" only exists if the owner chose to go into the settings to take the locks off.