Find My Phone – What To Do For a Lost or Stolen Phone

If you have a smartphone, you know far too well how much important information they hold. A user’s contacts, private messages, banking apps, pictures: all of this is at risk if your phone should be stolen. Furthermore, smartphones are expensive. Having to get a replacement, whether it be for a lost phone or a stolen phone, is a financial hit.

Apps like Apple's Find My Phone might help, but they don't always fix the loss. Although having a cheap smartphone might help lessen the monetary hit if a thief grabs your device—and they aren’t a thief’s top pick to steal—cheap phones still have your data and information on them.

Whether it's an Apple iPhone 12 or a Google Pixel 4A, a stolen smartphone is a terrible situation. But there are still ways for you to keep your information safe—and potentially even recover your smartphone. Before something as this happens, it is always a good idea to follow security tips to protect your investment. It's easier to be proactive than it is to be reactive.

However, life happens. Thieves exist and they unfortunately are quite good at what they do. Besides that, as people, we're forgetful; everyone is bound to misplace their phone at one point or another. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the following steps so that they can be taken quickly if you ever find yourself without your device.

Make Sure You Don't Have a Lost Phone

This may sound silly but realizing you’re without your phone can cause real panic. Make sure that you're not just dealing with a lost phone before taking more drastic measures. If there is a friend with you, try calling your own phone.

If you can’t hear it ringing, try using the locator apps installed into your phone. These have to be set up ahead of time to work, but each phone provider has their own version of this tool to find a lost phone: Apple users can try Find My iPhone, Android users have Google Find My Device, and Samsung users should give Find My Mobile a shot.

If you remember having your phone at a specific location, it's worth going back to check and see if you left it behind or if it fell out of your pocket. If you have an Apple Watch and an iPhone, you can ping your lost phone if it's within a certain range. Furthermore, for Apple products, whether it be an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Airpods, you can mark the device as lost in the Find My iPhone app. This will put a display on the home screen with your number, notifying anyone who picks it up that the phone's been lost so that they can contact you.

Using Locator Apps or the Find My Phone Feature If Your Phone is Stolen

Chances are that if thieves have stolen your phone, the thief will turn your phone off to avoid being tracked.  It's still worth trying to find your device with your phone's locator apps. The results could range from general locations to specific streets or addresses. 5G phones with 5G connectivity, for example, give much more specific GPS results that could help you locate your device.

However, if you do successfully use your provider’s phone locating app and see that your phone is somewhere that you haven’t been or is on the move, it’s likely your phone has been picked up by someone else. Don’t attempt to get your phone back on your own; that poses a big safety threat. Instead, try locking your phone through iCloud and contacting the police.

Lock (or Erase) Your Smartphone Through iCloud

Many phone providers allow for devices to be locked or even cleared remotely.  Follow the steps for the phone that you own to erase the information from your device.

Apple

Apple requires that you set up the Find My app on your phone before the remote lock and erase features are available. Make sure that you set this app up immediately on new devices to help you in the future. Keep your iOS software up to date as well so that you can ensure the app will work properly when you need it. Once the app is set up, you can log on to iCloud, find the missing iPhone on your account and mark it as lost.

This will automatically lock your device and set a passcode. You are also able to display a message on the lock screen; for example, your (limited) contact information. If your phone hasn't been stolen and was just picked up by a passerby, they can reach you to let you know that they have your phone. Marking your phone as lost will also keep track of its location and suspend payments through Apple Pay.

You also have the ability to completely erase your iPhone remotely, which will cut off a thief’s access to your data. It will erase your information completely from the device. However, be aware that once you erase your iPhone, you will no longer be able to track your device or use the Find My iPhone locator app.

This means don't erase your Apple iPhone unless as a last-ditch effort. Once it's done, although your data will be protected, the likelihood of you getting the device back is slimmer. It's a trade-off. If you have a cheap smartphone that's easily replaceable, the choice might be easier than if you just scrimped and saved to get the new iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Android

Like Apple, Android phones requires that Find My Device already be set up. The device also has to be turned on and connected to data or Wi-Fi.  Sign in to your Google account on Android’s website and choose the missing phone. This will send a notification to your lost Android phone and, in turn, give you information on a map about where your device may be.

Android notes that the location may not be completely accurate. Furthermore, if the phone cannot be located currently, the phone’s last known location will be displayed instead.

You have three primary options through Android: play a sound, secure your device, or erase your device. Playing a sound will ring your phone at full volume for five minutes, regardless of the prior volume settings. This is particularly useful if you think you may have lost your device. But even for a stolen phone, ringing may still act as a deterrent.

You can also choose to lock your phone with your password. Set a password if you don’t already have one. Android also gives users the option of adding a phone number to the lock screen when securing the phone.

Finally, as a last resort, you can also erase your Android device completely. This permanently deletes all data on your phone. Be aware that after you erase your device, Find My Device will no longer work to locate the phone. This will protect your data but, again, make it harder to find.

Samsung

Samsung phone users will have to set up the Find My Mobile app prior to losing a phone. Find My Mobile will only work if connected to cellular data or a Wi-Fi network. However, Samsung users also need to opt in to the features that they want to have available to them later, like the ability to send the phone’s last known location.

To use the app on a stolen phone, log into your Samsung account on the web-based Find My Mobile service. If your phone's current location can be found, this information shows on the device. You'll also be able to see its network connectivity and battery life.  You have the option to remotely lock your device through Find My Mobile and display a message and phone number.

One feature unique to Samsung devices is that you are also able to prevent from turning off the device. This way, the thief cannot interfere with the tracking of your phone.

Erasing your phone remotely is also an option, just like with other providers. This will remove all data from your phone. It also performs a factory reset, which restores your phone to its original settings.  However, know that this will remove your Samsung account from the phone, making tracking not feasible.

Samsung also suggests trying to remotely back up your data through the Cloud before erasing. Your data won't be lost and can actually be switched over to a different phone. The data from your stolen Samsung Galaxy S20, for example, can easily be transferred to your new replacement device—maybe a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or a Samsung Galaxy Note 20. You can get a new phone knowing that all your old data will still be available if you're able to remotely back up the stolen phone.

Protect Your Finances

Banking apps for smartphones made online banking even easier. But it also makes your bank accounts more accessible to thieves if your phone ends up in the wrong hands. If you use online banking frequently, it's a good idea to contact your bank and let them know that your phone has been stolen. Your bank can help you place a temporary freeze on your account if you're concerned about spending from your phone.

Similarly, if you save a card to your Amazon account and forget to log out of your account on your phone, a thief could make purchases via your stolen device. Using a computer or a family member's phone, log on to any accounts that have saved cards and delete them off of the accounts temporarily. If you've successfully locked your phone using the above steps, this is a minor concern. But it's worth going the extra mile to protect your finances.

Contact Your Cell Phone Provider

As soon as possible, contact your cell phone provider or wireless carrier to report your phone as stolen. Your provider has the ability to disable your phone remotely without erasing the data, which would still block access for a thief. Ask your cell phone provider for your IMEI number, which is your phone’s identification number. When you call the police to report your device as stolen, they might ask for that information, so you'll want to know it.

It’s important to contact your provider right away. Until you report your phone as stolen, you will be responsible for all charges from the phone. This means that if the thief should somehow get access to your phone and use it to make calls, send messages, or make purchases, you will likely be on the hook for those costs. If you are able to find your phone, your network provider may also be able to reactivate it, giving you back full access to your recovered device.

Call the Police About Your Stolen Smartphone

Finally, as with any stolen item, you should contact the police to report the phone as stolen property, even if it's a cheap smartphone.  They may ask for your phone number, serial number, or identification number to help locate the phone. You may also be asked to share your location with them so they can get a general idea of where the phone was taken and where it could be.

It’s important to report it as stolen property no matter what. Report it regardless of if the phone can be recovered again, or whether it's a cheap smartphone or the best smartphone on the market. Call the police to protect you from being held responsible for future use of the phone.

Beyond being a loss of property, a stolen phone can also be a risk to your security. Time is of the essence; act quickly if you think your phone has been stolen to keep yourself and your information as protected as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I find my lost phone?

The best way to find your lost phone is to try to signal it with one of the apps listed above. If it's on, you have a good chance of being able to figure out your phone's last known location. You can check locations you've been at if you think you know where you lost it. There's no surefire way of finding a lost phone, but these are your best chances. If you truly can't find it anywhere, mark it as lost in your device's Find My Phone settings. This notifies anyone who picks it up that it's lost and provides contact information.

Can I track my lost phone if it's switched off?

No; if the phone gets switched off or was already switched off before it was lost, you can't actively track it. Cellphone towers can only ping a smartphone if it's on and communicating with the towers. You'll be able to see the last known location of the phone if it's been turned off, but you can't follow its current location.

Should I call my stolen or lost phone?

If you believe the phone is lost, yes. Call your phone from another device to see if it rings. This can help you locate your phone. However, if you believe the phone is stolen, no, do not call it. You shouldn't try to talk to the thief on the phone without police assistance. You also don't want to alert them to the fact that you're trying to find your phone if at all possible. This would likely only increase the chances of the thief turning off your phone or taking the battery out, both of which would make it harder for you to find.