Note: If you have already lost your phone, and have not set up “Find My iPhone,” feel free to scroll down to the section titled “It’s (Not Necessarily) Too Late.”
The iPhone is an amazing device. I remember the age of the Palm Pilot, and various other electronic organizers. Several different gadgets each meant to help you with one specific aspect of your life. This one is a calendar, that one is a phone book, this one is a dictionary. And then of course there were the handheld gaming devices: the famous GameBoy, the lesser known Nomad… And each thing demanded not only space in our luggage and in our pockets, but they all demanded batteries.
Never mind the fact that these were half a dozen objects that could easily be lost, and when they were, your weekend was ruined. And now, think of it, so many of these functions, which were once handled by separate devices, are easily seen to by devices we all carry with us all the time: our phones. And of course, while there are several different smart phones, the iPhone is the one everybody thinks about; it’s the one that really pushed to make the smart phone the standard phone, as opposed to a novel curiosity or a luxury item. If you’re like me, you’ve come to depend on your phone so much, you don’t know what you would do if you lost it.
Fortunately, as the expression goes, there’s an app for that. If you aren’t using Find My iPhone now, you really should configure it on your phone. Also with iPad, iPod, and Mac versions, Find My iPhone does exactly what the name says: it uses GPS technology to locate your device if it has been lost or stolen. Below are some of the ins and outs of Find My iPhone (such as that all important “Lost Mode,”) so you can immediately starting making the most of this indispensable free app.
The police can’t protect consumers. People need to be more aware and educated about identity theft. You need to be a little bit wiser, a little bit smarter and there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. We live in a time when if you make it easy for someone to steal from you, someone will. — Frank Abagnale
Before You Lose Your Phone
Before we discuss the ins and outs of this incredibly useful app, let’s talk about some things that you need. Normally, this is the part where I start talking about the correct emulators or cables or other peripherals you need to make the app work. That’s not what I mean this time, because this app was designed entirely in house, so of course it works perfectly on all Apple devices (at least, on devices running iOS 5 or later, or computers running OSX 10.7.5 “Lion” or later).
No, I want to cover some things that you’ll want before the unthinkable happens: before you lose your phone. There’s not a lot that you have to do to save yourself a lot of headache down the road, but I can’t tell you how many friends have lost expensive devices because they didn’t take a few advance steps. Until my friends started losing devices, even I didn’t think too much about preparing myself this way, and if I were forced to put my reason into words, it would be something like this: “I’m not planning on losing my phone.”
Be honest, have you had similar thoughts? And of course, once you say it aloud, it sounds stupid, because nobody plans on having their iPhone lost or stolen.
So, in the fore-warned is fore-armed department, here are some tips if you’ve not yet lost your phone:
- Set a lock code for your device. No, this won’t solve all your ills, but in combination with the iPhone’s settings to lock the phone down after too many failed attempts (and even to wipe the contents after 10 attempts), this will greatly reduce your odds of anything on your phone getting compromised.
- Configure “Find My iPhone” (we’ll get into specifics on that below).
- Copy down the IMEI, Serial Number, and other unique numbers for your phone.
- Keep this list of numbers somewhere you can find it. Email it to yourself, or keep it in a physical note in your meatspace desk.
That’s it. Just following those few tips above will save you a lot of headache down the road.
Using Find My iPhone
Although Find My iPhone is free, and highly recommended, it does not come pre-loaded on your phone. (This useful app? Of course not! But don’t worry, News Stand and the Apple Watch app will be taking up hard drive space FOREVER!)
But no worries, you can find it on the App Store pretty easily. As always, don’t just check the name: make sure you get the one that says it is by “Apple” (it’ll even be marked as one of the essentials.)
Technically, this app is only what lets you find your other devices. (Or, if you install it on your Mac or your iPad, it helps you find your phone!) In order to set up Find My iPhone, there’s actually nothing you need to download. Just go through the following steps:
- Go to Settings.
- In Settings, find the iCloud menu.
- Sign into iCloud (all your devices will need to be signed in under the same account)
- Scroll down to the “Find My iPhone” option, and switch it on.
There are several things you can do with this app: If you have simply misplaced your device, Find My iPhone can make the device play a loud tone, so you can find it. Find My iPhone has a great mode called “Lost Mode.” This allows you to lock your iPhone remotely and track your device.
Using Lost Mode, you can even provide your contact information to the missing device, so if someone finds it, they can contact you about getting it back to you. (This does not automatically happen. I mean, if someone has stolen your iPhone, you don’t necessarily want them having your address.)
And finally, Find My iPhone can let you erase your device. Think of this as the Nuclear Option. If there’s no way you can actually get your device back, this will restore it to factory settings: All of your Apps, documents, pictures, saved payment methods, contact information… everything will be gone.
Of course, once you wipe the device, you won’t be able to track it anymore, so like I said, this is only to be done as a last resort.
Find My iPhone: My Phone is Offline
Of all the “Find My…” products, the iPhone version has it easiest, because the phone has a cellular connection, while that isn’t always going to be true of your iPad or iPod. This means that, as long as your phone has signal, you can find it, track it, even wipe it. Of course, if your phone does not have a signal, if its battery is dead, or if you had it in Airplane mode when you misplaced it, it’s not going to be quite as functional as in other cases. However, once the phone again has 1) power and 2) a signal, you’ll know about it.
Also, even if it can’t connect to a cellular tower, Find My iPhone will still be able to find your iPhone when the phone connects to WiFi.
So, if the phone is offline, and you, say, activate the Nuclear Option (erasing your device), then it won’t take effect immediately. But when next the phone has power and a signal, it will.
Note: It may be possible that you find your phone after you erased it remotely. If it had a signal, you’re out of luck (but hey, at least you found your phone!) If it did not have a signal, though, you may still be able to retrieve any photos or other files that you had on it, but you’ll have to follow these very specific steps.
- WiFi-proof your house. (Turn off your router and otherwise make sure that none of your device’s trusted networks are available to it.)
- Turn off your iPhone (if not off already)
- Remove the SIM Card.
- Power on the iPhone.
- Plug the phone into your computer. Perform a back-up, then disconnect it from your computer.
- Once that’s done, allow your phone to go online and get wiped. Plug it back into your computer, and restore it from the last backup.
I cannot guarantee that this will work, but it will give you a good, fighting chance.
It’s (Not Necessarily) Too Late: What to Do if You’ve Lost Your Phone Before Setting Up Find My iPhone
If you’re still reading, you’ve most likely found this article after a frantic search. You’ve lost your phone, and don’t know what to do.
There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that if you haven’t configured your phone for Find My iPhone already (see the “Before You Lose Your Phone” section, above), then you will not be able to use Find My iPhone. The good news is that you’re not entirely without options.
Basically, numbers are your friend here. When you call your local law enforcement to report your iPhone lost or stolen, you want to make sure they have some of the more important numbers from your phone, such as the serial number (which can help them identify the physical unit once they’ve located it) and, more importantly, the IMEI.
IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. It’s a fifteen digit number, and every mobile device has a unique one. Alternately, you may have an MEID number (Mobile Equipment Identity number), which is a hexadecimal figure (meaning it uses 0-9 as well as A, B, C, D, E, and F in its coding). Now, there’s nothing you can do with these numbers (at least not legally), but your local law enforcement or even your phone company may be able to locate your phone with this number, the same as with Find My iPhone.
If you didn’t copy these numbers down before you lost your phone, don’t worry: as long as you have Apple ID (and you can’t really do much on your phone without one) you can the MEID, IMEI, CDN, etc. of every device connected to that account. Here’s a handy page from Apple spelling out all the different ways to get this information (for getting these numbers when you don’t still have the phone, scroll down to “Other Information.”)
Above is some information about Find My iPhone, it’s lost mode, and even what to do if your phone is offline when you lose it. If you have any questions about any of the above, or if there’s anything you’d like to add, feel free to mention it in the comments.