How to Handle (and Maybe Recover) a Lost or Stolen iPhone

Apple marketing graphic featuring Lost Mode on iPhone and iPad

It’s one of your worst nightmares. You walk out of a restaurant or bar and realize you forgot your iPhone on the table. You rush back in, but your iPhone is gone. It’s not in the lost and found, and nobody saw a thing. Now your device with all your personal information on it is in someone else’s hands, and you’re left worrying about what they might find.

Sure, it’s recommended that we all turn on auto-lock for our devices, but some people buck the system and disable screen locks. Or maybe you use “1111” as your lock code – the thief will figure that one out.

So what do you do when your iPhone goes missing? While you presumably have your data backed up (right?) and can restore it to a new iPhone, you still need to worry about stopping your old one from being used. Below we outline the basics of how to handle a lost or stolen iPhone so you can keep your data safe – and possibly even get your device back.

Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone login screen
If you currently don’t have Find My iPhone turned on, do it now. This Apple page explains how it works. In short, Find My iPhone is a combination of security settings and an application. You enable Find My iPhone in your iCloud settings and then use the application to take action on your device.

Find My iPhone screen in iPhone settings

To turn on Find My iPhone, open the Settings app on your iPhone and tap on iCloud. From here, scroll down until you see Find My iPhone and tap on it. Here, make sure Find My iPhone and Send Last Location are turned ON.

Next, make sure you have the Find My iPhone app installed on your iPhone, as well as on any other Apple devices you own. This way, if the iPhone is lost you can use the other device to locate it and lock/wipe it.

Find My iPhone screen with map showing location of devices

The first method for finding your iPhone is only useful if you already had this feature turned on when you lost your device. If you didn’t, then jump ahead to Method 2.

Method 1: Find My iPhone Turned On

If you were smart enough to have Find My iPhone turned on BEFORE losing your device, then this process becomes a lot easier. If your phone turns up missing, it doesn’t matter if it might be stolen or gone altogether.

First, you need to use the Locate Your iPhone feature. This can be found inside the Find My iPhone app, as well as online at iCloud.com. If your device is turned on, it should appear on the map. If it ran out of battery or was turned off, the setting you turned on above will ping its location at the time the power went off.

Locate Your iPhone satellite map showing device location

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Click on the circle that aligns with your device and click the circle “i” next to the name. You’ll get a pop-up giving you three options:

1. Play Sound
2. Lost Mode
3. Erase iPhone (iPad)

If you just misplaced your iPhone and need to find it, just click the Play Sound option and your device will play a tone, whether it’s in silent mode or not. If you lost your iPhone but have hopes of retrieving it, click Lost Mode. This will lock your device against being activated and restored, as well as being accessed.

Locked iPad screen with Lost Mode notification

When doing this, you’ll be asked to enter a phone number where you can be reached. This will display on the device until you unlock it. The device can then be unlocked with your passcode. When this happens, you’ll receive an email stating that your device has been found.

The final option on this screen is the Erase iPhone option. This is for when you know your device is lost and there’s no hope of getting it back. In this case, your best option is to wipe your device. This removes all your personal data and locks the device against being activated or restored.

Lost Mode on iPad screen showing map with device locations

Just click the Erase iPhone (iPad) button and your device will securely remove all your data. If you get it back, you’ll have to unlock it in your account and restore it from backup.

Method 2: Find My iPhone NOT Turned On

If you lost your iPhone and you didn’t have Find My iPhone turned on, there’s still hope.

First, change your Apple ID password on another device or at iCloud.com. This makes sure the next person can’t get your data or possibly delete synced data.

Next, change passwords for any service you have active on your device, and, if possible, end sessions for your iPhone.

Finally, find your iPhone serial number either on your original iPhone box or by visiting your Support Profile. You’ll need this for the next step.

Everything Else

Whether or not your device has Find My iPhone turned on, you need to call the police to report it stolen. Even if you have insurance on it, most companies require a police report to be filed.

All you should need is your personal information and the iPhone’s serial number. After you’ve done this, all you can do is hope it gets returned and you can restore it back to its original state. If you do get it back, don’t forget to alert the police that the case can be closed.

The moral of the story here is twofold:

1. Back up your device frequently, and
2. Turn on Find My iPhone NOW.

With this feature you can make sure the data on your lost or stolen iPhone remains secure.

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