Your smartphone is an extension of you. It’s your lifeline. You rely on your phone to keep in touch with family and friends and to get you through your day. From calendar notifications to messaging, productivity and navigation apps, you depend on your phone to get you where you need to go and what you need to get done.
Since your phone goes where you go, things happen. Maybe you’ve left your phone behind, it slipped from your pocket or fell out of your purse at a restaurant, in a taxi, or on the subway. There’s nothing worse than getting that sick feeling that something is wrong, panicking as you shift through your pockets and your bag, only to realize that your phone is missing. Now what? How do you go about finding your lost phone?
Thankfully, there are a few actions you can take to be proactive and increase your chances of having a lost phone returned to you. Read on to learn about the different options available in your search to recover a lost phone.
If you’ve ever experienced the loss of a phone, you’re not alone. With an average of 70 million smartphones being lost each year, this problem is more common than you might think. Where have you found yourself in a lost phone situation? Popular places for lost phone incidents include on the roof of a car, inside changing rooms at clothing stores, and (to no surprise) as we are zipping along through airport security!
There are some people who are more inclined to lose their phone, while others are affected by what is known as the “upgrade effect,” which is described as individuals who are more likely to be clumsy or careless with their phone when the latest and greatest phone release comes along.
While we hope you’ve simply misplaced your phone in a commonly lost place like a purse or car, we’ve done the research for you. Here are 3 simple steps you can take to increase the odds of your lost phone being returned to you in the event your phone is misplaced in a public space or worse, stolen.
Note: In this blog post, we provide instructions for the two most popular smartphone operating systems, which you’re most likely using already. We cover Apple’s iOS operating system, which is the default for all iPhones. We also cover Google’s Android operating system, which you’ll find on a variety of smartphones, including from device makers, such as Samsung and LG.
Both Google and Apple’s operating systems (OS) have the ability to remotely locate a lost phone. For phones running on Google’s Android OS, the feature is called ‘Find My Device,’ and you can enable it by navigating to the ‘Security & location’ option under ‘Settings.’
On Apple iPhones, the feature is called ‘Find My iPhone.’ To enable this, click your name in Settings, select ‘Find My,’ and make sure ‘Find My iPhone’ is turned on.
If you’re trying to locate your lost phone, you can log into your Google or Apple iCloud account on the web to track the phone remotely on a map. Once you’ve located your phone, however, we don’t recommend that you retrieve your lost phone in person, especially if you suspect it was stolen. Instead, play it safe and contact your local authorities for help.
More Options: Play a Sound, Wipe Remotely, Get Directions
In addition to remotely locating your device, Google and Apple both have additional options available to you in ‘Find My Device’ and ‘Find my iPhone,’ respectively. Here’s the full list:
Play a Sound
Maybe you’ve simply misplaced your phone nearby. Maybe it’s buried under the sheets on your bed or it fell into that crease in the couch where the remote goes. Well, fear not, you can play a sound to easily find it. To do this in Apple, select the device in ‘Find My iPhone’ and choose the ‘Play Sound’ option. Keep in mind that this won’t work if your phone battery is dead or turned off, however.
To play a sound on an Android phone, select the device from ‘Find My Device’ and select the ‘Play Sound’ option. This will make your device ring for a full five minutes, even if you had it set to vibrate or silent mode. Likewise, if your phone is turned off or dead, this option won’t work.
If you think you’ve misplaced your phone in a nearby public space or at a friend’s place, then you might be surprised to learn how easy it is to locate your phone and get driving directions to get you on your way faster!
Have an iPhone? Log into ‘Find My iPhone’ and click on the ‘Devices’ tab. Select your device from the list and then choose the ‘Directions’ option. Apple will then open driving directions in Apple Maps.
For Android, log into ‘Find My Device’ and select your device on the map. This will open up GPS coordinates in Google Maps, and you can get driving directions from there.
If you don’t think you’ll be reunited with your lost phone, you can still protect your data by remotely wiping your phone. Hopefully you’re prepared and have a backup in the cloud, because this option permanently deletes all of your data -- including photos, login credentials, and credit card history. While this is everyone’s least favorite option and often the very last resort, it’s better than anyone else getting your financial data and personal identifying information.
To remotely wipe your iPhone, log into ‘Find My iPhone,’ and select the device you want to erase from the ‘Devices’ drop-down. Choose ‘Erase This Device’ to confirm and begin the remote wipe.
If your phone happens to be offline, then the remote wipe will start once the phone has been turned back on. Once the remote wipe is finished, you will not be able to find this device in ‘Find My iPhone.’
To do this for Android, log into ‘Find My Device,’ and select your device. Select ‘Enable lock & erase’ and make sure this option is turned on. Select the ‘Erase device’ option to begin the remote wipe. Note that this option doesn’t affect data that’s stored on SD cards (that’s the physical storage chip in your phone). Once the wipe is finished, you won’t be able to find this device in ‘Find My Device.’
But Wait! Did You Know? You Can Enable Location History to Find Your Lost Phone, Even Offline!
Although remote tracking is useful in finding your lost phone, enabling location history is an extra precaution you can take to ensure that your lost phone’s last location is logged even if your phone’s battery is dead or turned off.
If you have Google’s Find My Device feature turned on, you can see ‘last seen’ data of your phone before it has gone offline. However, Google has a useful Timeline feature that enables you to see detailed location history of the phone, which can be beneficial to your search.
In your settings, navigate to ‘Location,’ click the ‘Advanced’ drop-down menu. From here, select ‘Google Location History,’ and make sure it’s turned on. When this feature is turned on, Google will record your location history even when you’re not using Google Maps.
It should be noted that iPhone users can also enable this feature if they have Google Maps installed on their phone as well. To do so, pull up the navigation menu in the Google Maps app, select ‘Your Timeline,’ and follow the on-screen instructions to enable location history.
Now that you’re set up, you can log into your Google account and visit Google Maps on your browser to see detailed location history.
Location history in iPhone works a bit differently than on an Android. Although location history can be turned on to log places you’ve visited previously, it’s important to note that this feature is designed to help third parties and doesn’t actually help in finding your lost phone.
Instead, you’ll want to find and turn on the ‘Send Last Location’ setting on your iPhone. This sends the last location of the iPhone to Apple when the battery is critically low. So, if your phone is turned off or the battery dies, you’ll be able to find this information when you need it most.
In ‘Settings’, select your name, and select ‘Find My’. Make sure ‘Share My Location’ is toggled on. Drill down to ‘Find My iPhone.’ On this screen, ‘Find My iPhone,’ ‘Enable Offline Finding,’ and ‘Send Last Location’ are all toggled on. From here, you’ll be able to log into iCloud and use ‘Find My iPhone’ to see the last location your device logged.
Enabling a passcode on your phone is a great way to increase device security and keep thieves out of your personal data. The tradeoff in doing so, however, makes it significantly more difficult for a good Samaritan to get the information they need to return the lost phone back to you.
The good news is that there’s a workaround that won’t compromise your need for device security. Adding alternative contact information to the home screen triples the odds of your lost phone being returned.
The easiest way to do this is to use an image app editor to add an email address or alternative phone number and save it as your phone’s lock screen wallpaper. However, you can also set this up in Android and iPhone as well.
How to Add a Lock Screen Message in Android
In Android, navigate to settings. In your Display settings, click the ‘Advanced’ drop-down menu to display a list of additional settings. From here, select ‘Lock screen message’ and create your custom message.
How to Add a Lock Screen Message in iPhone
In iPhone, go to settings and make sure your ‘Find My iPhone’ settings are enabled. If you have misplaced your phone, you can then log into iCloud and turn on ‘Lost Mode’. In this mode, you will be given the option to add a phone number where you can be reached and custom message.
Example Lock Screen Message:
If found, please contact:
For added security, Apple Pay will be disabled when you turn on Lost Mode. Once you have located your phone, enter your passcode, and you’ll be back in business.
If you think your phone is lost forever, don’t despair. Just remember that losing a phone can happen to anyone, and thankfully it can be replaced.
If you don’t have location services turned on and you believe that you won’t be reunited with your lost phone, your next step is to contact your phone carrier and report the phone as missing. Your carrier will be able to suspend service and prevent others from using it—but keep in mind that by doing so, you’ll be unable to track your phone via GPS in the event that it does come back online.
It’s also a good idea to check your online accounts—think financial, social media, subscription accounts or any account that a thief can access and lift data from you—and log out of them in case they have been compromised. Although this shouldn’t be a huge issue if you have a passcode, you can easily use any browser to log into your different accounts and change your passwords. Many services today offer the ability to revoke device access to your account, too.
Although it’s never fun to lose a phone, hopefully now you’re armed with a variety of information to protect yourself and increase your chances that your phone is returned to you.
Remember to do the following when you set up your next phone:
Gain Peace of Mind by Covering Your Device
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