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What should you do when your phone is lost or stolen?
Losing your phone or having it stolen can be devastating. There are the obvious ramifications that’ll affect your wallet, but there are plenty of other things to worry about too. Your passwords, photos, personal correspondence, and credit card information could easily fall into the wrong hands.
See also: The best security apps for Android that aren’t antivirus apps
If you’ve had your phone go missing, there are some key things you must do as soon as you realize it’s gone. And if your phone isn’t missing, make sure to take some of these steps to be better prepared if you lose it at some point.
The first thing you should do upon losing a phone is check your phone's Find My Phone function. Google and Apple both have native Find My Phone options that are on by default. Failing that, your best bet is to report your phone lost or stolen to your carrier so the IMEI can be blocked and then try to track it down as best as you can.
JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS
What to do after your phone goes missing
Okay, so your phone has gone missing, and now you’re here to figure out what to do. Take a breath because there are some things you can try. The first thing we recommend is checking out your phone’s Find My Phone functionality. Both Apple and Google have it, both are baked into the operating system, and both are on by default. We’ll show you how to use each one.
Use Find My Device on Android
- Click this link to go to Google’s Find My Device website.
- Assuming your phone is still on, the website will show your phone’s general location so you can track your phone in real-time from the map.
- From here, you have three additional options.
- Play Sound — Play Sound will ring your phone at maximum volume, and it even works if your phone is on silent. We recommend using this one when you’re in the same vicinity as your phone to help pinpoint its location better.
- Secure Device — This option locks your device with a PIN or password. It prevents people from getting at your personal information. We recommend using this option as soon as possible to keep people out of your personal information.
- Erase Device — Erase Device factory resets your phone and removes any personal information from it. We only recommend this option once you’ve deemed your smartphone lost forever.
- Pro tip — Even if your phone is off, Find My Device can usually still show you the phone’s last known location. It’s worth checking even if you suspect your phone isn’t on.
Use Find My Device on iOS
- Click this link to go to Apple’s Find My function on iCloud. Log into your iCloud account if necessary.
- If your device is still on, you’ll see it listed along with its location on a map. You can use this tool to track your phone to wherever it is.
- From here, you have three buttons that do different things.
- Play Sound — Play Sound will ring your phone at its maximum volume, even if the phone is set to silent. We recommend using this when you’re near your phone on the map to pinpoint its location further.
- Lost Mode — Lost Mode locks your Apple device and prevents people from getting into it. We recommend using this immediately.
- Erase “Device” — This factory resets your device to delete any personal information. We only recommend this option once you have deemed your device lost forever.
- Pro tip — Apple’s Find My function stores your phone’s last known location. Thus, even if your phone is turned off or the battery is dead, it’s still worth checking to see where the last known location was.
This, and the Android version, should work for most people. Both platforms have fairly robust Find My Device systems in place. Only folks with very old phones or folks who manually shut off the Find My Device will need to try something else.
Other things you can try
Okay, so let’s say that the Find My Device methods are a bust. Maybe you have an older smartphone, and it’s not enabled by default, or the websites are having some sort of technical difficulty. There are some other things you can try in order to find your phone.
Try using your smartwatch
Both Wear OS and Apple Watches have a function that lets you ring your device. If your phone is close enough and your watch is still connected, you can ring the phone immediately using a smartwatch.
On Wear OS
- From the watch face screen, swipe down to get to your quick settings.
- Find the Find My Device toggle and tap it.
- The phone will start ringing at its maximum volume, even if you had the phone set to silent.
- Pro tip — Some smartwatches may have different icons for this. We tested this method with a Galaxy Watch 5, which uses a vertical rectangle with a magnifying glass. Your watch may be different.
On Apple Watch
- Open the Find Devices app on your Apple Watch.
- Tap the Play Sound function.
- Your phone will ring at its maximum volume, even if you have the phone set to silent.
We’ve found this method useful for a lot of instances, including minor ones where you’ve left your phone somewhere in your house and can’t find it. This is also, by the way, an excellent reason to own a smartwatch.
Text or call your own phone
Look, a lot of people get their phones stolen, but sometimes phones really do just fall out of your pocket at that restaurant you were at. Try calling or texting your phone. We recommend texting first so that if anyone sees the text, they know to expect the call and they know it’s from the phone’s owner.
People who answer such phone calls will likely help reconnect you to your phone. The only downside to this method is getting someone to pick up the phone when you call. Some folks simply won’t out of respect for the phone’s owner.
Retrace your steps
If the above steps aren’t working, your next best bet is the old-fashioned method of going where you were before and checking to see if your phone is at a previous location. Maybe it fell out of your pocket at that restaurant you ate at, or it may be lying under a theater seat.
Yes, this isn’t a technologically advanced way to find your phone, but with all of the tech-focused methods out of the way, that means it’s time to do some legwork. We recommend tracing back your steps in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent spot. We also recommend checking in or under your car since my phone falls out of my pocket there all the time.
Report the loss to the police and your carrier
There are a ton of reasons to do this. For starters, your carrier will blacklist your phone’s IMEI, making it useless. If anyone stole your smartphone, you’d be able to render it useless to everyone short of shipping it overseas, which most thieves won’t do anyway. Plus, the thieves won’t be able to use your phone to place calls or texts if they get passed the safeguards.
If you already know your mobile number, you can follow these steps to blacklist your own IMEI, and t
Your IMEI should also be on or in the box your phone came in. Barring that, you should be able to get it by visiting a carrier store and asking.
Additionally, the FCC recommends reporting stolen smartphones to the police. The police won’t launch investigations for just one stolen smartphone, but pawn shops and similar businesses often check the IMEI to ensure the phone isn’t stolen and that it’s paid off. If someone tries to hock your stolen smartphone and the IMEI is in the database, there’s a decent chance of recovery.
Double check Find My Device
Yes, we recommend trying to Find My Device multiple times. An enterprising thief may read an article like this and immediately turn the phone off in order to prevent its location from being tracked. However, they have to turn the phone again someday. Otherwise, they have a useless brick.
As soon as that phone gets turned back on, it’ll start broadcasting its location again. You may catch the thief with it a few days later after they assume that the heat has died down and you’ve given up. Even if the thief only turns it on for a couple of minutes, it may update the last known location for Google and Apple’s Find My Device services, giving you a clearer picture of where your phone might be.
The police won’t launch an investigation for your phone, but they may accompany you to your device’s current location to recover it if you ask nicely.
Accept the loss
If nothing works, it’s time to move on. There are some things you need to do once your smartphone is considered a lost cause. You’ll need to do a handful of things to ensure your data remains intact.
- Deauthorize your phone — Netflix, Spotify, Google, Microsoft, and most banking apps let you log out of your device without needing the device on you. There are too many to list here, but at the bare minimum, you should sign out of your device from your Google, Microsoft, and banking accounts so bad actors can’t get in.
- Change your passwords — A lot of folks use password managers these days, and a thief with your phone can still log in to a lot of stuff with a password manager. Thus, the only way to keep people out of your phone is to change as many of your passwords as you can.
- Monitor your accounts — That includes login attempts, bank accounts, and even your credit report. Some apps, like Credit Karma, let you do it for free. Someone else has your whole life via your phone, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your whole life for a while to ensure it’s still safe.
- Purchase a new phone — Buying either a new phone or a used phone is an important step. It lets you log into your apps again to ensure everything is there. Plus, your Google account uses your most currently active phone for 2FA purposes, so you’ll need to get a new phone to ensure the thief isn’t walking around with the only way to get into your Google account.
It’s tough to lose a phone, and if you did, you have our condolences. However, following the above steps helps minimize the damage.
Prevention for next time
There are some things you can do to ensure this goes more smoothly next time. After all, losing a smartphone for any reason is a random occurrence, but you can still plan for it in advance. Here are some tips and tricks to make sure your phone is easier to find next time.
- Ensure Find My Device is turned on — Modern Android and Apple devices have this on by default. However, folks walking around with older smartphones may want to double-check and make sure it’s turned on.
- Set a strong passcode with biometrics — Every smartphone owner should lock their phone with a passcode of some sort. Many folks use biometrics, which works pretty well. A PIN, passcode, pattern, or other method is nice to have as well. Someone can’t steal your data if they can’t get to it.
- Consider getting insurance — Insurance is a weird topic. It’s one of those things where you don’t know if you need it until you need it. So we don’t push this too hard, but it’s something to consider. Samsung (Care Plus) and Apple (Applecare) have insurance plans. Carriers often have insurance plans, and Best Buy’s Geek Squad does as well. Square Trade is another popular option.
- Use a secondary Find My Phone app — There is more than one way to skin a cat. Some third-party Find My Phone apps have features that Google and Apple don’t. Some examples include the ability to use your front-facing camera to see where your phone is and can even display messages on the screen with a phone number to call if someone finds your phone. We have a list of third-party Find My Phone apps if you want to browse.
There are actually two ways. All modern Android phones have Google’s Find My Phone enabled by default. Additionally, Samsung phones have Samsung’s Find My Phone that you can access by going to findmymobile.samsung.com. You do need to be logged into a Samsung account on your phone for the second option to work.
Not really, no. Google and Apple’s Find My Device options typically store your device’s last known location, which can be helpful sometimes. You’ll have to wait for someone to turn the phone back on to track its location again.
Google and Apple’s Find My Phone are both free services. Additionally, reporting your IMEI stolen to your carrier and the police costs nothing, and if the phone is ever found by the police, they should return it to you.
You can, but it’s not very reliable. Most sites will ping your phone’s location, and privacy settings on your device often give such websites bad information. There are free IMEI trackers online if you want to try it, but we didn’t get reliable results from any of them, so we don’t recommend it.