It’s the worst feeling: that moment you realize your smartphone is missing.
Panic ensues, and you begin the frantic search around you, lifting sofa cushions and retracing your steps. But wait, did you even bring it in the home from the Uber? Oh no.
Of course, it’s bound to happen at some point, when it’s a small device you carry with you literally everywhere. But with some models north of $1,500, this would be one pricey thing to lose.
And that’s not the worst of it, as the cost to replace the hardware itself may be pale in comparison to exposing all your data – including potentially sensitive information about you (or your company) – should it fall into the wrong hands.
You at least had a lock on the phone, though, right? You sure?
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And what about those irreplaceable photos and home movies you recently shot on your device, but didn’t back up. Those detailed notes you had about a billion-dollar idea. Messages with friends and relatives you never deleted, just because.
OK, so don’t go into mourning just yet, as there are a few things you can do to retrieve a missing smartphone.
First steps to find your phone
Before we cover the various ways to leverage “Find my phone” options, your first call to action – after you take a deep breath, of course – is to get to another phone and call your number.
Whether you still have a landline or need to ask a friend or neighbor for a phone, dial your number and fingers crossed you hear it ring.
If it’s on silent, you may still hear it vibrate if on a hard surface.
Pro tip: If you own a smart speaker, you can say either “Alexa, where is my phone?” (for Amazon Echo devices) or “OK Google, where is my phone?” (for Google Nest products) and it should ring loudly – even if it’s on silent.
No dice? Try the goodness of strangers
Text a message to your phone from a friend’s device, with a message that would appear on your lock screen (assuming you’ve locked it with a PIN, fingerprint scan or facial recognition).
There are good Samaritans out there, who may pick up a phone you accidentally dropped while walking the dog.
Write a message on how they can reach you, such as an alternate number (best idea) or email address (better than nothing, but don’t expect anyone to jump through hoops to reach you).
Locate your phone
Thankfully, your smartphone has a built-in feature that lets you locate it on a map, display a message, remotely lock or ring it, erase data on it, and more.
You would have been prompted to enable this upon set up of your phone. Hopefully you did, but there’s only one way to find out.
What it’s called may vary a little on the type of phone you have – Find My Phone, Find My Mobile, Find My Device – but the path to finding your device will be similar.
How to find your iPhone
If you have another Apple device, such as an iPad or iPod touch, you can launch the Find My app (on Apple Watch, it’s called Find Devices), or if you don’t have another Apple device, go to any web browser and type in iCloud.com/find.
Now type in your Apple ID (email address) and password. It must be the same Apple ID associated with your missing iPhone. You can also use the Find My app on a device owned by someone in your Family Sharing group.
Click the tab that says Find iPhone. If you have more than one Apple device, select the name of what’s missing, like “Marc’s iPhone,” from the dropdown list at the top of the screen.
You will now see it on an overhead map, represented by a green dot. If it’s been turned off or is offline, or the battery is dead, you will see its last known location.
Actually, if you turned on Find My network, you can see your device’s location even if it’s not connected to a Wi-Fi or cellular network. This is Apple’s encrypted anonymous network of hundreds of millions of Apple devices that can help you locate your device or item.
Now you have three choices: Play Sound (to make it ring loudly), Erase iPhone (which deletes all your info), or Lost Mode (if it’s really lost and not on your bathroom counter).
When you click Lost Mode, you’ll be prompted to lock your device with a 6-digit PIN. Then, follow the onscreen steps if you want your contact info to display on your missing iPhone, or if you want to enter a custom message asking the finder to contact you. Select Activate.
Apple Pay is also disabled for your device, plus any credit or debit cards tied to your iPhone are suspended.
In Lost Mode, you’ll also see your iPhone’s current location on the map (as well as any changes in its location) and even if Location Services is turned off on the device, it’ll be temporarily turned on to track your device’s location.
But never try to retrieve a stolen iPhone on your own. It’s not worth the risk. Instead, contact the authorities with the information.
How to find your Android phone
You have similar tools to track down a lost or stolen Android device, such as a Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel phone.
Go to android.com/find and sign into your Google account (top right of page) for the option to remotely erase your device.
Now you have a few options listed on the left-hand side of the screen:
- Maps Timeline: See your Android smartphone on a map, and even track its movement. Click the little “i” icon to see the exact date and time it was last seen.
- Play Sound: After selecting this, the Android phone will play a sound for 5 minutes, even if it’s set to silent.
- Secure Device: Clicking or tapping this will lock your device and sign out of your Google account. You can also display a message or phone number on the lock screen.
- Erase Device: If need be, you can opt to erase all content from this device, but once you do this you cannot locate it.
Finally, if your phone really is gone for good, it’s recommended to change the passwords to all your online accounts that may be associated with your phone (or passwords you marked down in the Notes app of your phone).
And it doesn’t hurt to contact your carrier, as they can also disable service to your phone.
Finally, let the authorities know of a lost or stolen phone and file a police report in the event of fraudulent charges made with your device.
Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Or subscribe to his weekly Tech It Out podcast at https://marcsaltzman.com/podcasts.