How to Find Your Lost Phone
Smartphones have become an essential part of life. We use them to text friends, hold video conferences with coworkers, shop, take photos, play games, and check our bank accounts. We store large amounts of personal information on our phones as well, information that could be used to commit identity theft and fraud were it to fall into the wrong hands. So when a phone goes missing, it feels like you’ve lost a part of yourself — an expensive part you want to get back as soon as possible.
Fortunately, a lost phone doesn’t have to stay lost. Google, Apple, and Samsung all provide “find my cell phone” services to help you to track missing phones and remotely delete data if necessary. Here’s how to locate a lost cell phone, and how to proactively protect your phone from loss or theft.
How to Find Your Phone the Old-Fashioned Way
Here’s what you should do after losing your phone. Often a misplaced phone is only a few yards away from you or has fallen into the hands of someone who sincerely wants to return the phone to its owner. As soon as you realize your phone is missing, take the following steps:
- Look around. Your phone may have slipped onto the floor, between sofa cushions, or slid under a car seat.
- Call your phone from another device. If you’re lucky, you may hear it ringing or vibrating and can track the device by ear. If someone is trying to return your phone, they will probably answer the call.
- Retrace your steps. Where and when did you use your phone last? if you were out and about, revisit shops and restaurants to see if anyone found and turned in your phone.
- Text your phone from another device or an online free text messaging service. In the text, offer a reward for your phone’s return and some way of contacting you. Don’t provide your physical address or similar sensitive information. Instead, use an email address you rarely use.
How to Find Your Apple Phone
iPhones are expensive, in-demand phones, especially iPhones with 5G capability. Their popularity makes iPhones a potential target for thieves, so it's important to know how to protect your phone and track it should it go missing.
Be sure to activate password authentication and Apple’s Face ID, so other people cannot access your phone. Yes, it’s a little inconvenient to have to unlock your home screen every time you use your device, but the added security is invaluable if your phone goes missing.
If your Apple device goes missing, you can track it using Apple’s Find My iPhone app. The app is preinstalled on every iOS device and should be automatically enabled. To check the status of Find My iPhone on your device, take the following steps:
- Tap Settings, then your Apple ID, then Find My.
- On the Find My sheet, tap Find My iPhone if it has somehow been turned off.
- Tap on Enable Offline Finding and Send Last Location to help you locate your missing phone.
If your phone goes missing, you can track it using the Find My iPhone app on any other tablet, phone, or computer running iOS. The app will show the location of your phone on a map with directions on how to get there. You can also use the app to play a sound on your phone, which comes in handy if you know the phone is nearby. In a worst-case scenario, you can erase your phone's data remotely.
How to Find an Android Cell Phone
Android phones use Google’s Find My Device service to track, lock, or erase a missing phone. Again, be sure to protect your phone with a PIN and fingerprint authentication. In most cases, you will not want to use Android’s facial identification option, as it is not as robust as Apple’s Face ID.
Android uses Google’s Find My Device service, which like Apple’s Find My iPhone allows you to track, lock, and erase phone data remotely. When you sign in to your Android phone with a Google account, Find My Device should automatically activate. To be sure, open Settings, select Security and Location, and then Find Device. Toggle the switch on if for some reason it’s off. (For Android phones without the Security and Location option, open Settings and go to Google, then Security, then Find My Device.
To finish setting up Find My Device, go to android.com/find using any browser, choose your phone from the list of your devices, and click Set Up Secure and Eraser. A push alert will be sent to your phone. Tapping the alert will finish the setup process.
Should your phone go missing, return to android.com/find, where you’ll have the option of tracking the phone, remotely locking the phone, or erasing all data on the phone. Selecting the Secure Device option will lock the phone, sign you out of your Google account, prevent unauthorized use of your Google Pay account, and display a message of your choice on the phone’s lock screen. When you find your phone, entering your PIN will gain you access to the phone and remove the lock screen message.
Thieves may turn off stolen phones to prevent tracking. If this happens, Google will send an email alert to you when the phone turns back on and is connected to a cellular service or Wi-Fi network.
How to Find a Lost Cell Phone Using Samsung’s Find My Device
In addition to Google’s Find My Device, Galaxy users can use Samsung’s own Find My Device service. Samsung’s service offers everything Google does, as well as the ability to force remote backups so you can save data before erasing it on the missing phone. Samsung also lets you see if someone has swapped out your SIM card.
To use Samsung’s Find My Device service, use another device to visit findmymobile.samsung.com. Sign in with your Samsung account information and select your device to see a map with your phone’s current location. Use the options to lock your phone, suspend Samsung Pay, display a message on the lock screen, and prevent the phone from being turned off. This last is important, as you cannot track a phone that’s powered down.
Next, use the service to force a remote backup of your phone, so you'll have your data even if you lose your device. You should also turn on Extend Battery Life, which disables pretty much all phone features except location tracking. if you do all this before a thief turns off the phone, the device will remain on, transmitting its location to the service every fifteen minutes.
Samsung also offers the SmartThings Find app for Galaxy phones with Android 8 or higher. Available through the Galaxy Store, the app is able to find a lost device even when it is offline by crowdsourcing the task with nearby Galaxy devices. If those devices detect your one they will report its location to the app.
How to Find Your Phone Without Risking Your Safety
Once you’ve tracked your phone to its destination, contact local law enforcement and tell them where your phone is. Do not attempt to confront a thief yourself: doing so could put you in harm's way. Let the police handle it.
It's also wise to be careful when communicating with someone who says they found your phone. Avoid sending personal information such as home addresses. Use phone numbers or email addresses, and ask to meet in a public space. Remember, you don't know who has the phone or what their intentions are.
Replacing Your Lost Phone
If there is no hope of recovering a lost phone, the services listed above give you one last, nuclear option. When all else fails you can remotely erase your phone’s data, preventing anyone from abusing your personal information.
Contact your carriers and report the phone as lost or stolen. The carrier will add the phone to a blacklist to prevent its use, and will likely recommend you suspend your service as well. Doing so means you lose any hope of finding the phone through a mobile connection, however, so only take this step if tracking the phone no longer seems viable.
If you have phone insurance or a mobile protection plan, file a claim with your carrier and pay the deductible. The carrier will refer you to their third-party insurance provider, who will work with you to replace your phone.