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How to find a lost cell phone

So you’ve lost your phone. We all been there. Maybe you lost it during a night of revelry. Or perhaps the chaos of your day-to-day was too much to handle. It could be in a million different places. Under the couch, the dry cleaners, or the beach where you loosely remember sand angels and whiskey. Maybe you’re prepared for this situation. More likely, though, this little debacle has left you with only vague ideas about how to recover it.

If you’re like many of us, you may not possess the foresight to preconfigure apps like Android’s Device Manager, or even swap your sim card into that old phone repurposed as your “party phone.” And that’s okay. Those precautions are a little over the top, anyway.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to track a lost cell phone. It’s still possible to find that phone (and save all that potentially damaging content stored on it) without previously downloading an app. Here’s our guide to finding that lost phone. In the spirit of equality, we’ll also cover all the bases for those who are still using those flip phones.

Jump to: How to find your not-so-smart cell phone


If your lost phone happens to be a smartphone, there are a number of clever apps out there designed to help you get it back ASAP. Both iOS and Android have similar abilities when it come to locating your phone. Your smartphone will have retrieval features that allows the phone to ring at maximum volume (even it it was silenced), as well as the option to lock the phone and send messages. Both operating systems also allow users to remotely erase all data stored on phone. Unfortunately, both phones are only trackable when they are powered on. If you loose your phone and it happens to be out of battery, your best bet is to follow the instructions we provided for analogue phones.

We do recommend caution when communicating to anyone who’s on the other side of this lost phone process. Be careful to avoid giving away any personal information, such as your home address, until you know you’re dealing with someone you can trust.


Unlike iOS, Android has multiple ways to find your iPhone. The best option is to configure Device Manager before you lose your phone. We’ve written previously about Device Manager and it’s ability to call you. The newly updated device manager functions similar to Apple’s Find My iPhone. It’ll let you add a message that will be shown to whomever picks up the device, as well as a single contact number that enables them to get in touch with you. Device manager does require a quick set-up and is therefore not the best option for someone who’s already lost their phone.

Android Device Manager Screenshots

Device manager will, in the event that your phone is gone for good, let you protect your personal information (and all of those photos you don’t want anyone else to see!) by wiping all the data from your phone.

Plan B is a third party alternative. Unlike Device Manager, the app allows you to find your lost android device without downloading special software onto it beforehand. Just install it over the web via your Gmail account (required), and Plan B will send you e-mails every 10 minutes on the whereabouts of the device. The app uses cell towers to triangulate your phone’s location, so it’ll work even if GPS is turned off.


The best way to get your iPhone back is Apple’s native feature Find My iPhone. The included app on every iPhone displays your phone’s location on a map. You’ll have a computer or another iPhone to deploy this feature. Unfortunately, these features are only available when your phone is powered on.

Find My iPhone

Simply log onto iCloud and open the Find my iPhone App. The App will locate your phone on a map and give you the option to play a sound, send a message to you phone with “lost mode”, or erase the contents of the iPhone. Selecting “Erase your iPhone” will delete your phone’s content. Fortunately, all of these retrieval features can be activated without any preconfiguration.

Find my iPhone is also able to locate your Mac, iPods, and iPads, too. It’s an incredibly effective tool for tracking down your phone. Don’t believe us? Check out this story about cops apprehending a criminal by using the app.

RelatedHow to backup your Android

How to find your not-so-smart cell phone

1. Call your cell phone. Listen for the ring or vibrate and try to locate the phone through plain old human detection. If your phone is truly lost and in someone else’s hands then they are likely to answer if they intend to return the phone. If you don’t have access to a phone try using wheresmycellphone.com or freecall.com. Both sites will call your phone for free and allow to leave a message or talk to whomever is on the other side.

2. Retrace your steps. Do a full-fledged visual search. If you couldn’t hear a ring or vibration when you called it, don’t immediately assume that you’re phone is somewhere far away – the battery could be dead.

3. Text your phone. If you believe someone has stolen or possibly found your phone then send a text message to your phone with your contact info and a reward offer if you choose to do so. You can use many online services to send free text messages, such as txt2day.com.

4. Alert your service provider. If you’ve lost hope of finding it, then call your wireless carrier and let them know your phone is lost. Ask if they offer a GPS locating service. If not, ask them to suspend service to your phone to avoid any possible fraudulent charges.

5. Register your lost phone. If you have your phone’s serial number written down somewhere, register it with MissingPhones.org.

6. Prepare for the next time you lose your phone. Maybe you’re one of those people who’s always losing your phone. You may want to register for a GPS tracking service such as AccuTracking. We also recommend Belon.gs, which is a free QR code based lost and found service.

This post, originally published January 28, 2013 by Drew Prindle, was updated to reflect the current retrieval features for iOS and Android.

[Header Image: Tom Grundy/Shutterstock]

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