By Tracey Dowdy
How many phone numbers do you know? I bet a lot fewer than you did 10 years ago, since they’re all stored in your Contacts and you don’t have to remember them. When was the last time you went inside a bank? I bet that’s been awhile too, since most of us now bank online. In fact, the list of what we don’t use our phones for is probably shorter.
But what happens if you lose your phone? With so much personal information accessible to whoever finds it – never mind the expense of replacing it – it’s important to find that phone as soon as possible.
Fortunately, smartphone providers are people who have probably also lost one or two things in their day, so they recognize the importance of finding your phone quickly and easily. Here’s how the three main mobile operating systems handle a lost device.
Every iPhone has “Find My” services integrated into the phone, enabling you to track your phone through iCloud. Simply enable “Find my iPhone” in your iCloud settings (Settings>iCloud>Find My iPhone) and should you lose the phone you can lock, locate, and even wipe the phone remotely.
To track the phone, use the “Find My” app or go to the iCloud website, log in with your Apple ID, and click on “Find My iPhone”. Devices are displayed on a Google Map so you can simply click on your phone’s dot to put the phone in “Lost Mode”. From there you can set a new password to prevent access or choose to enter a custom message for anyone who finds the phone. Even if the individual does a factory reset, the message remains and the phone can only be unlocked by using your original Apple ID and password. Lost Mode also activates a tracking history so you can monitor the location of your phone while you look. The Play Sound button will activate a two-minute tone on your phone, which is convenient if you know the phone is nearby but can’t remember exactly where you left it.
If all else fails and you can’t find the phone, you can remotely erase all data, leaving only your contact information and a brief message displayed for anyone who finds it.
Google’s Android Device Manager allows you to track your lost phone without an app as long as the phone is powered on, connected to your Google account and has access to the Internet.
Go to Android Device Manager on your computer, log in with your Google ID and the location of your device will be displayed on a Google Map. At this point you can choose to have the phone ring or erase all data, returning it to Factory Settings.
You can also track your phone via Google Maps. Log in with your Gmail account, select the day that the phone went missing and a list of the phone’s locations for that date are displayed. Click “Show Time Stamp” at the bottom of the calendar, choose the latest time and the map will zoom in to that location.
Android users also have the option of remotely installing the “Lost Android” app if it wasn’t installed before the device was lost. Search for the app in the Google Play store, click Install, select the device and click “Okay”. Next, send a SMS with the text “androidlost register” to your phone. Go to the “Android Lost” website and login with your Google ID. Select “View Map” and the location of the phone is displayed.
As a last resort you can erase the phone and wipe all data, resetting your phone to its original factory settings.
Find My Phone is the Windows solution to tracking a lost phone. Go to the windowsphone.com website and login. In the My Phone menu, click on Find My Phone and follow the prompts in the dialog box.
If you think the phone is nearby in a pocket or stuck between sofa cushions select “Make it Ring”.
If you can’t hear it or the map displays that the phone is further away than you thought, choose “Lock”. If you don’t already have a password on your phone you’ll be instructed to set one up. You can leave a message with contact information for anyone who finds the phone, and once it’s returned, you can unlock it with the password you’ve set.
As a last resort you can erase the phone. Note: Choosing erase returns the phone to Factory Settings so you’ll no longer be able to use “Find My Phone”.
If you have your phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number you can call your service provider and ask them to track your phone. The number is unique to the phone even if the SIM card is replaced. Even if they can’t locate the phone they’ll be able to block access and prevent anyone else from using it.
Keep in mind many service providers like Verizon offer apps specifically created to help find a lost phone. Verizon Support & Protection, an app available to Android and iOS smartphone customers who are subscribed to Verizon Total Mobile Protection is a great example. The basic version is free for Verizon customers and the Premium version is $10 a month.
As with many situations, a good offense is the best defense. Be proactive by ensuring features like “Find My Phone” are enabled on your device and start tracking as soon as you realize your phone is missing to minimize the risk of your data and personal information being compromised.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.