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Find My iPhone: What to Do When You Lose Your Phone

by Sean P. Aune | December 15, 2013December 15, 2013 6:00 am PST

It is every mobile device owners worst fear: Losing their beloved device. What do you do first? Where do you turn? What exactly is an IMEI number and why do I need it? Sadly I can now offer you up some firsthand experience. And to make it even more intriguing, it happened to me while outside of the United States.

While on vacation in the United Kingdom – in Manchester, to be exact – I discovered that I had lost my iPhone 5. My suspicion is that it slipped out of my pocket in a cab, but as all of the famous black cabs in Manchester are independently owned, I had no central number to call. I did call some centralized lost and found services, but to no avail. With the mobile data turned off, and no hope of being able to use a phone locator, it was on to my own footwork to try to solve this puzzle and minimize the damage.

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Find My iPhone

First and foremost, if your lost device happens to be an iPhone as mine was, log into your iCloud account and use the “Find My iPhone” feature. This was my first roadblock as I had actually turned off my mobile data to prevent international roaming from kicking in. As it was not connected to the Internet I had no hope of finding it until it connects again.

I did go ahead of go through the process of locking it and setting it to wipe itself once it connects, but that doesn’t prevent someone from browsing it prior to connecting to Wi-Fi or mobile data.

Yes, I am one of those people who doesn’t use a passcode as I very rarely leave my home or office. While traveling I should have, but I didn’t, and I fully admit that is my fault. So tip number one while traveling, make sure to set a passcode combined with making sure you have Find My iPhone set up on your device.

If you have a device other than an iPhone, than you are going to more than likely need to use a third-party phone locator service. This is something that will require you to be proactive, but it will definitely be worth your time and effort should you ever find yourself in this situation where you need to recover your lost iPhone.

For those of you on Android devices, Google has added a phone locator service included with its Android Device Manager that will show your device’s location on a map as well giving you the ability to ring it and even wipe its memory. Windows Phone users also have a built-in phone locator service that you can find instructions for using online.

Retrace Your Steps

While it seems like common sense, it still needs to be said. Where was the last place you specifically remember seeing your phone? What did you do after that moment?

For me I know I used my lost iPhone in a specific store to look up a picture, and the only place I was after that moment was one of the independently owned black cabs. I highly doubt I was pick pocketed, so that leaves me only with the phone dropping out in the cab, or on the street getting in or out of the cab. As it was not owned by a company, and I didn’t have the name of the driver, that left me with no real options but to consider it lost for good.

In your case, is there a store you can call? A car company? Look up the phone number of wherever you were last and see if you can call them and ask if they have a lost & found.

Call Your Carrier

My next step was to call my carrier and report the phone as lost. At this point Sprint deactivated the phone so no charges could be racked up on it. Seeing as I was overseas at the time that could have ended up being very expensive if the person started using it. The only drawback to this is that until I activate another phone I can’t even access my voicemail, but that is a small sacrifice to save tons of charges coming in.

Sprint checked to make sure no activity had happened since I noticed it missing and nothing had happened, so I was clear on that part at least.

Change Your Passwords

After taking care of Sprint – and ordering a new phone – I started the annoying task of changing my passwords. Although the phone is set to wipe as soon as it connects to the Internet, I felt this was the wiser choice. I immediately changed all of my email passwords, and the accounts I use through Google Apps I just had those revoke the tokens for those devices. If your company uses Google Apps, ask your admin to do the same.

File a Police Report

As this happened in the U.K., I really didn’t know what the policy was in such matters, so I thought of the one place that would know for sure and headed to an Apple Store not too far from my hotel.

The staff was very helpful and provided me with phone numbers for the police and told me generally how the process works here. While there was nothing they could do as the phone wasn’t online, it was still worth the trip to the store to gather some much needed information.

When leaving the store I spotted a pair of constables on foot patrol and approached them to see if they could take my report or point me to the nearest police station. They were able to do the latter and I made my way there, and this leads me to the most important lesson of the day.

Make Note of Your Device’s IMEI Number

The police, no matter where you are, need your phone or tablet’s unique IMEI number to verify a device is not only yours, but so it can also be added to that country’s national database. As I did not have my IMEI number written down, I called my family to find the original box. When they were unable to locate it, I called Sprint and they were able to provide me with it.

Now that the police have the IMEI number on their records, it has been added to a national U.K. database, so if it shows up anywhere in the police system, they will be able to notify me that they have it in their possession.

This has taught me a valuable lesson and I am now making note of all the IMEI numbers of all my phones and tablets. Yes, if you lose a device you may not have easy access to it, but a friend or family member should be able to gain access to your list to help you out.

The IMEI number is located in a sticker on your phone’s packaging as well as in the phone’s settings. So make sure you write this down and keep it in a safe place that can be easily accessed.

Mind Your Gadgets

In my defense, I have had some form of mobile phone since the late 1980s, and this is the first one I have ever lost one. If I look at it from that angle, and spread the cost out over the years, it isn’t quite as painful, though I am still upset it happened. I try very hard to take care of my property, and this has been an expensive lesson, but one I will definitely learn from.

Luckily I am also obsessive about backing up all of my data to the cloud. I actually have multiple backups running through services such as iCloud, Dropbox, Google and SugarSync. I’m not going to lose any data, and while I am obviously going for overkill, you really only need to pick one to do the best job for you that meets your needs.

Final Tips for Finding a Lost iPhone

Hopefully this is not an event many of you will ever have to experience, but should it happen to you, I hope my own personal experience will make your trials a little easier in finding your lost iPhone. The two biggest takeaways for me from this lesson: Make sure you have your IMEI number somewhere you can easily find it, and make sure that you have a phone locator service such as Find My iPhone set up and running on your device.

What advice do you have for anyone who has experienced a lost iPhone?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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