You reach into your pocket to text a friend and your heart sinks. Your phone isn't there!
You had it this morning on the train and used it at lunch, but sometime between after-work drinks and now it vanished.
What should you do? The first step is to stop panicking. We're here to help!
In this guide, we’ll show you all the steps you need to take first to protect your bill from any nasty surprises.
Then, we’ll walk you through your options for finding your phone. If it doesn't turn up, we have some tips on what you need to do next.
First Things First
Call Your Phone
Always give your phone a call from another number. If someone has found your phone, seeing a number show up on caller ID might prompt them to answer.
Ask a Friend to Call or Text
If you have a loud custom notification or ringtone set for a friend, ask them to call or text. You might hear it better than the default tone used by the tracking tools below. If you think you might have left it at a person’s house, having that person call or text might help them find it for you.
Check Those Hard to Reach Places
Phones have a funny way of slipping into odd places. Check the couch cushions, between the seats of your car or under the bed. If you have young kids, check their favorite hiding places too.
No luck? It's time to...
Call Your Carrier and Suspend Service
Even if you're not ready to give up, it's important to call your service provider and let them know your phone is missing. Most will leave a note on the account and many will suspend your service at no extra charge. If you find your phone later, you can call back in and reinstate service.
Just remember, if you're on a contract, the time that your phone is suspended won't count toward your Early Termination Fee or phone unlocking requirements.
How To Locate Your Phone
Since you've notified your carrier and don't need to worry about someone running up your bill, it's time to try and track your phone. Not sure where to start? We'll cover the major options, starting with the easiest ones.
NOTE: Once you activate these location tracking features, you might receive a notification that someone has found your phone. ALWAYS thoroughly inspect the email or message to verify that it is legit (not a spoof like this) before entering submitting any personal information.
If you have an Android...
Android Option 1: Google Find My Phone
Android devices include a phone finding feature built-in. As long as you’ve registered the device to your Google account, you can track it, make it ring or lock it down with a few clicks. All you need is a web browser!
If you have access to Google Chrome, just sign into your Google account and search "find my phone” in Google.
At the top of the results, you’ll see a window with last location of your phone and options to ring the phone or lock it down.
The first link in the search results, Google Find my Device will allow you to add a lock message and call prompt to your phone or perform a remote reset of the phone as well.
Don't have a browser handy but have an Android tablet or backup phone? You can install the Google Find My Device from Google Play to access the same features.
Android Option 2: For Samsung Owners
If you own a recent Samsung phone, they have their own Find My Mobile feature built-in to Android. You must enable it first, so unless you have it might not be much use.
Features of Samsung Find My Mobile include:
- Review the last 50 calls made from the device
- Notification of the new phone number if someone swaps the SIM in the phone
- Phone locking with a customized lock screen to call the owner
- Remote phone wiping
If you don't have it enabled, we definitely recommend enabling it on your replacement device as it offers similar features to most paid options at no extra charge.
If you have an iPhone or iPad...
Apple Option 1: Find My iPhone
Apple offers a phone tracking feature on all iOS devices. If you enabled it on your phone before you lost it, just fire up your web browser and head to icloud.com/find.
You can also use the Find My iPhone app from the iTunes Store on another Apple device.
From here you can ring your device, check its last known location or enable Lost Mode.
Lost Mode enables you to set a custom message on your missing phone’s lock screen and provide a callback number to help retrieve your phone. It also disables Apple Pay on the device to prevent unauthorized purchases.
Apple Option 2: Find My Friends
If you have a spare iPhone running iOS 8 or later - or have a friend with one - Find My Friends offers an alternative to Find My Phone.
Simply load it on the alternative phone and send a tracking request to the email account associate with your iCloud account. Once approved, you can ping your lost phone and find its last reported location!
If you have a Windows Phone...
Microsoft Find My Phone
Using a Windows Phone? Microsoft’s Find My Phone tool is the first place to check! Just head to account.microsoft.com/devices and sign in with your Microsoft account.
Choose your phone from the list of devices and click Find My Phone.
From here you can ring your phone, lock it with a custom recovery message or start a remote reset.
Before you remote reset your phone
If you remote wipe your phone using any of the tools above, you can no longer track the device! While it’s important to consider the safety of your important information, wiping too early might mean not finding your phone. The best time to reset is ultimately up to you.
Also, for phones with microSD card support, keep in mind that wiping your phone data may not clear the microSD card. Be sure to check our Calling off the Search section for extra tips on securing your accounts and information.
Google Places Timeline
If you have a Google account on your phone and GPS or location services are enabled, you may have more information available through Google. Using the Google Places Timeline, you can track any known check-ins associated with your Google account.
The ability to track phone movement or remember where you went before you realized your phone was missing might help piece together the final location for you.
Most major phone carriers offer a tracking service or location app. While many of them cost a small fee to use per month, activating the feature long enough to find your phone is undoubtedly cheaper than replacing it. Call your carrier and see if they have any options.
Can't Find It? Here's What To Do Next
With the main tools out of the way, we’ll dive into common steps you should consider before giving up. While they might seem obvious, it’s easy to overlook simple steps when you're panicking about your missing phone.
Before You Embark on Your Phone Finding Adventure
While expensive, a phone is replaceable, you are not. Be safe while looking for your lost phone. This is particularly true if you do not recognize the last known location reported by your phone.
Avoid dark alleys and other places out of view of the public. If your phone was stolen, someone could use it to bait you to a location.
Ask for help. If you have a recent location confirmed for your phone, ask local law enforcement to come along. This adds safety and clout should the person not plan on giving back your phone. At the least, ask a friend or family member to tag along for the hunt. Let someone know where you’re going. If you insist on investigating solo, be sure someone knows where you’ll be and how long you expect to be gone.
Retrace Your Steps
The biggest problem with losing a phone is that you rarely realize it’s missing right after you leave it behind. Retrace your steps and check with any places you might have visited. With any luck, business owners might have found the phone and set it safely aside.
Taxis and public transit are some of the most common places people leave phones. If you’ve used one recently, don’t forget to give the taxi service or transit authority a call!
Check with Local Law Enforcement
If you’re lucky, someone might have turned your lost phone in with the police. If they have it, you’ll probably need to verify the model and IMEI or serial number before you can retrieve it. Our guide on blacklists and finding your IMEI should help you find the information you’ll need.
Check with Local Pawn Shops
If someone found your phone and tried to turn your phone into some quick cash, you might find it at a local pawn shop. Most record the IMEIs of any phones purchased recently. If they don’t have it, they can take down your IMEI to notify you or law enforcement if someone comes in with your phone.
Check Your Cloud Storage Services!
Have Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive or another popular cloud storage app on your phone? There's a good chance it has features to automatically backup photos and videos taken with your phone.
Unless someone factory resets your phone, removes the accounts or disables the setting, you should check the photos uploaded to your cloud storage for tips on locating your phone. While you might not end up a celebrity in China like Matt Stopera, every bit of information you can gather helps!
Calling Off the Search
If you've given up finding your phone, there's still a few steps to take before finding a replacement. These steps will help to reduce the risk of anyone using the information they find on your phone and avoid surprises on your bills or bank statements.
Report Your Phone Lost with Your Carrier
Even if you've suspended your phone through your carrier, call and report is lost or stolen. Ask the carrier to blacklist your phone to reduce the chance of it being resold or used. If you have insurance through your carrier, they’ll also help you to file a claim and reduce the cost of getting a new phone.
Report Phone Lost with Law Enforcement
Even if you checked in with them to see if they had your phone, confirm with them that the device is officially lost or stolen. Many law enforcement agencies work with the blacklists and local businesses to recover stolen electronics and keep them from being resold. If your phone pops up for sale online or in the area, they might recover it for you.
Call Your Bank and Report Any Cards Stolen
If you've stored any card information on your phone, call the bank or credit card company and report them stolen. Be sure to request replacement cards with different numbers. This is particularly true if you’ve ever used NFC payment features such as Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, Google Pay or Apple Pay.
Change the Password for Any Apps Installed on Your Phone
While a lock and remote wipe of your phone should keep anyone from accessing your accounts, you can never be too safe. Think about the apps you’ve installed on your phone and change the passwords for those accounts.
Common considerations include:
- Social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc
- Cloud storage: iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, etc
- Banking Apps
- Online stores: Amazon Appstore, Google Play, iTunes, Ebay, Craigslist, Kijiji, Etsy, etc
Monitor All of Your Accounts
Pay particular attention to your online accounts and bank accounts for the next few months. If you notice anything remotely suspicious, get in touch with the account provider as soon as possible.
Found Your Phone? AWESOME! But You’re Still Not Done...
Before you celebrate and get back to Candy Crush and posting selfies, there’s a few things you should consider.
Factory reset your phone.
Just because someone seems nice and returned your phone or stashed it somewhere safe doesn’t mean they actually are nice. Back up any photos, videos or contacts you need to save and then take the time to wipe your phone. This will ensure if anyone placed any nasty apps or surprises on your phone you won’t need to worry about it.
Reset your passwords anyway.
It’s good practice to reset your passwords regularly. Doing so once you’ve found your phone will ensure that anything they might have accessed is now locked out.
Consider adding more protection incase you lose your phone again.
The tools features from Apple, Google and Microsoft are cool. But, there are better tools out there. While it has a yearly fee, iHound has great reviews. Looking for more powerful? Cisco’s Meraki offers settings and options that’ll make power users drool.
Preventing Future Phone Loss Woes
The problem with most tools designed to help you find a lost or stolen phone is that they only work if you have them installed. But, if you’re like most people, you don’t think to install them until you’ve already lost your phone!
Want to be sure you have every option available the next time your phone is lost or stolen? Check out our guide securing your new smartphone.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I don't have a smartphone?
If you're using a standard mobile phone or feature phone, you have little at your disposal. Your best option is to call your carrier and ask if they can locate your device. If your phone has GPS functionality, there’s a good chance they’ll ping it for your for a small fee.
What if my battery dies?
Your phone must be powered on and have a connection to use many of the tracking tools and features available. Even enabling airplane mode is enough to thwart many of the features. If you can’t find information right away, waiting a few hours to see if someone plugs in the phone might provide more information. Just be sure you’ve secured your accounts and your carrier knows your phone is missing if you decide to wait things out.
What if my phone is out of my coverage area or Wi-Fi range?
Even with GPS enabled, your phone must have a way to report its location back to the tools listed in this guide. If your phone does not have a signal, it will use any Wi-Fi networks it connects with instead.
Can I locate my phone using the IMEI?
While law enforcement might have tools to track a phone based on its serial number, these things are expensive and not available to the public. You can ask local law enforcement if they can help, but don’t expect much luck unless you already know the location of your device.
What if someone factory resets my phone?
Most device tracking features rely on accounts activated on the phone. This means that a factory reset will likely make your phone vanish from any tools at your disposal.
What if someone replaces the SIM in my phone?
As long as they do not modify the accounts on your phone, you should be able to use the Google, Apple and Microsoft tools listed in this guide. Carrier apps might work, depending on how they track the location and the carrier of the SIM swapped into your phone.
What if my device is consistently reported at a location but people claim it isn’t there?
Think in 3D. Just because there is a door at the location your phone pinged from doesn’t mean it’s the only way to access the building. This is especially true for multi-floor apartment buildings or blocks of businesses. GPS coordinates are only as accurate as the sensor in your phone. Check above, below and around the reported location.
Don’t go vigilante. Yes, they might have your phone. However, you’re liable to cause yourself more trouble than the phone is worth if you skirt laws. If you have documented proof that your phone has reported in from that location, law enforcement might escort you to the location. While the person might be comfortable lying to you, lying to police is a different matter.
If I remotely unlock my phone, can I unlock it if I find it?
Yes. This feature doesn’t disable the device completely. As long as you can verify your identity and know the passwords to the accounts on the phone, you should have no problem unlocking your phone if you find it.
Can I remove my phone from the blacklist if it is found?
In most cases, yes. However, the requirements differ between carriers. In all cases, you’ll start the process by calling your carrier and letting them know you found your phone. Once you request them to remove it from the blacklist, they will probably ask for some or all of the following:
- Account number
- Security passphrase
- Personal identifiers
- Phone IMEI
- Proof of phone purchase
Have a crazy story about losing your phone? Did we miss a trick that’s helped you in the past? We want to hear about it! Leave us a comment in the box below.