If you’ve lost or misplaced your smartphone (or tablet), it’s critical that you act quickly. Every second counts, especially if you suspect that your device was stolen. Here are the steps you need to follow immediately, even if you think you simply left it at a restaurant or in the backseat of a taxi.
The steps are pretty similar whether you have an iPhone or Android device, but we’ll note some differences.
Step 1 - Assume the Worst
I know, this sounds bleak. While it’s possible that you are going to get your phone back, it helps to go into this assuming you will need a new one, and that the following steps you are taking are to preserve your identity (and your dignity). Getting your phone back will be a huge bonus, but right now, you need to act to protect yourself.
It sounds terrible, reading that out loud, but hear us out. Your phone has access to your email (and tons of other accounts), right? If someone gets access to your email, they can reset any password they want and log into any account tied to that email. That includes your bank account, your social media, your web hosting accounts, and literally anything else. If someone owns access to your email, they own you, figuratively speaking.
Step 2 - Remotely Lock and Wipe Your Phone
If you’ve set up Apple’s Find My iPhone setting for your iPhone or iPad, or you’ve set up Google’s Find My Device app, you can track the location of your phone, assuming it is on and the GPS/Wireless data is turned on.
For iPhones, log into your iCloud account in order to do this. For Android, go to Google’s Find My Device page. From either platform, you can usually get the exact location of your device. If it’s somewhere you recognize (at the restaurant you were just at, or at the office, for example), lock the device and call the location and have it located before someone else finds it. If you don’t recognize where the device is or it’s on the move, lock the device and wipe it if possible.
If you didn’t set up Find My iPhone or Find My Device, you might be able to find and manage your device from your carrier or the phone’s manufacturer. Here are a few links to use as a reference:
- Apple - Find My iPhone Activation Lock: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201365
- Verizon - Lock My Device: https://www.verizon.com/support/suspend-service-faqs/#lost-stolen
- Samsung - Find My Mobile: https://findmymobile.samsung.com
- T-Mobile - Lookout Mobile Security: https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-4257
Step 3 - Report It Immediately
Tuck away your pride here, you’ll need to report that you lost your phone. If you control your phone plan (as opposed to your phone being given to you from your workplace), contact your carrier and let them know. They can stop your phone from using their network which might slow someone down for stealing your information.
Here are some of the larger U.S. carriers, as a reference:
- AT&T: 1-800-331-0500 or www.att.com/suspend
- Sprint: 1-888-211-4727 or https://www.sprint.com/en/support/solutions/device/report-that-your-device-is-lost-or-stolen.html
- T-Mobile: 1-877-746-0909 or https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-1211
- Verizon: 1-800-922-0204 or https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/suspend-service-faqs/#lost-stolen
If your phone is provided to you from where you work, you’ll want to contact them immediately too, so they can take proper action. If you use your phone for your job in any way (checking emails, getting messages, etc.) you’ll need to tell them. At this point, it’s a liability and not only is your data at risk, but some level of company data is at risk too. Most businesses should have the ability to revoke access to company data and email remotely, or they may even be able to remotely wipe the device or the work profile on the device.
Step 4 - Change Your Passwords
Here are the big three accounts to change IMMEDIATELY:
Log into these three accounts (if you have them) and update your passwords.
Remember, all of your passwords need to be unique, strong, and secure. Don’t EVER use the same password twice. Ever. We cannot stress this enough.
Next up, change out your passwords in this order:
- Email accounts (if you have others besides your main Apple/Google/Microsoft accounts)
- Banking/financial accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, Paypal, merchant accounts, etc.)
- Cloud storage accounts (e.g. Dropbox, Amazon, Box, iCloud, Google Drive, Onedrive, etc.)
- Hosting/Domain-related accounts (e.g. GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Cloudflare, etc.)
- Social media (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- eCommerce stores (e.g. Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, ebay, etc.)
- Services/utilities (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, your electric company, insurance companies, etc.)
Expect to spend a lot of time doing this, and be sure to take your time. You’ll want to be extremely thorough and ensure that every password is unique, and carefully document everything you do.
If You Suspect Your Phone Has Been Stolen, Report It to Authorities
We’ve saved this for the last step, but it’s probably a good idea to do this once you’ve changed your most important passwords. That being said, this step tends to not offer much as far as getting your stolen phone back.
Here’s the thing—if you track your phone and it is where you left it (for example, at a restaurant you were just at), then go ahead and call the restaurant and have someone find it and keep it somewhere safe for you. If your phone was stolen, or appears to be on the move, or it is somewhere that you couldn’t have left it, don’t try to retrieve it.
If someone stole your phone, they are probably aware that you can track it. Don’t risk it.
Call the police and report it. There is no guarantee that they will be able to retrieve your phone (there’s no guarantee that they will even try, even if you provide the location), but it’s still a good idea to report it. It is a crime, after all.
Maybe, just maybe, someone picked up your phone and plans on being a good Samaritan and is taking it home to try to figure out how to get it back to its owner. You can’t really depend on that though—locking it and wiping the data is still a good practice. You could try calling your phone to see who is on the other side, but be extremely cautious. Again, if someone intentionally stole your phone from you, assume it is gone.
If You Find a Lost Phone
If you find a stray phone in a public place, the most helpful thing you can do is to give it to the staff at that place. For example, if you find a phone at a store, report it to customer service. Most people will instinctively backtrack and trace their steps to try to recover it. Help them out by leaving the phone at a location they would have lost it. Don’t try to take it somewhere else to help solve the mystery, you are only adding extra complexity, even if your intentions are good.
We hope you never lose your phone, but if you have, we hope this guide helps.