So you’ve lost your phone. We’ve all been there. It was just in your pocket a minute ago — and now it’s gone, lost to the phone fairies, forgotten between the seats of your couch, or misplaced somewhere during your busy day. Maybe it’s just in your other coat, or maybe it’s already in the hands of someone who found it on the sidewalk. Either way, all you want to do is get it back.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to get a hold of your missing phone. If it’s a smartphone (or even a tablet) running iOS, Android, or even Windows Phone, chances are good it already has the software needed to hunt it down — or there’s an app you can install to find your phone. Here’s our guide on how to find your phone or a similar device, including the old-fashioned way if you still own an aging flip phone.
If your lost phone happens to be a smartphone, all three of the major smartphone platform providers (Apple, Google, and Microsoft) now include phone retrieval technology in their smartphones, just in case you ever end up losing it but forget to install a “find my phone” app. Usually, the way these apps work is through the account associated with your device. For Android devices this is your Google account, for iPhones this is your iCloud account, and for Windows Phones this is your Microsoft account. All three allow you to remotely lock and wipe your phone, make it ring, and set up special messages to alert whoever finds it.
Of course, these features are only as good as your phone’s battery. If your smartphone dies, it’s about as easy to find as your wallet or anything else you might misplace.
We also recommend caution when communicating with anyone who has found your smartphone. 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. Stick with sending phone numbers or email addresses to communicate how the good Samaritan can return your phone. Here’s how each of the three operating systems work.
Android not only offers Google’s own service for finding and managing your device remotely, but also a number of third-party apps designed for finding your smartphone. The easiest to use is Android Device Manager, which is built directly into your Android smartphone through Google Play Services — it can also be used in a browser, or downloaded from the Google Play Store. Most devices running Android 2.3 or later should be able to use this feature. It’s as easy as searching “Where is my phone” in Google to start looking for your smartphone. We’ve previously written about Device Manager and its ability to call you, set up a new password, make your phone ring, and the variety of other functions it uses to notify someone. While you can configure Android Device Manager ahead of time, the service should be available in the event you lose or misplace your phone. It will use Wi-Fi or GPS to help you hunt down your device.
If you can’t find your smartphone, you can always wipe it to prevent sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands. Your device will need an internet connection, however, and enough juice to communicate with you.
There are also third-party apps that you can install to help find your phone. Lookout Plan B and Cerberus Anti-theft are both great apps that can be installed remotely to get even more information regarding the whereabouts of your phone. Both provide a number of additional features, such as more granular control on how you track your device, screenshots of what your device is doing, photos from the camera to possibly catch the would-be thief, and other, more detailed notifications that Android Device Manager doesn’t offer. If your device is rooted, there are even more features available to prevent someone from resetting or turning off your device until you can recover it. Lookout Plan B hasn’t been updated since 2013, however, so it might not work as well on a smartphone running a recent version of Android.
If you own a Samsung device — such as the Galaxy S6 — there’s also the reactivation lock feature, which allows you to render a stolen or lost device unusable unless someone enters you Samsung account details. The reactivation lock even rules out factory resets, which Android Device Manager and other services cannot as easily prevent.
Another option for certain Samsung smartphones is the Find My Mobile service. It can be used to locate a missing phone, lock it down, or wipe it completely. You’ll need a Samsung account, and the Remote Controls options enabled on your phone. To check and see if Find My Mobile is available for your smartphone, go to Settings > Security. If you see Find My Mobile in the menu, you can use the service; enable the Remote Controls options via Settings > Security > Find My Mobile > Remote controls.
The best (and only) way to get your iPhone back is through Apple’s native feature, Find My iPhone. The app comes pre-installed on every iOS device, and can display your missing device on a map to help you easily locate and manage it. You’ll need a computer or another iOS device with the Find My iPhone app to deploy this feature, however. Sadly, these features are only available when your phone is powered on and connected to the internet.
To use the feature, simply log into iCloud and open the Find my iPhone feature. The Apple service will locate your phone on a map and give you the option to play a sound on your device, send a message to your phone with “lost mode,” or erase its contents. All of this can be done without any additional configurations.
Find my iPhone is also able to locate your Mac, iPod, and iPad. It’s an incredibly effective tool for tracking down just about any iOS device. Don’t believe us? Check out this story about cops apprehending a criminal by using the app. This is just one among many similar stories where phone-tracking software helped save the day.
Apple also utilizes another form of security, known as Activation Lock, to keep your iPhone safe from theft. Like the reactivation lock for Samsung smartphones, Activation Lock requires you to enter your Apple ID and password before you can disable Find My iPhone, wipe your device, or reactivate it.
Windows Phone owners, don’t fret. If you’ve misplaced your smartphone, you too can recover it with the help of Microsoft’s built-in service. The company has built a lost phone feature directly into Windows Phone 8.1 and later iteration thereof, allowing you to easily find the location of your phone or activate its ringer remotely. It doesn’t require additional configuration after you add your Microsoft account either, though it will only work if your device has power and is connected to the internet.
All you need to do is go to Microsoft’s devices page. There, you should see all your phones and tablets, which you can then locate through the service. You can even add devices that are not currently on the list, remotely lock your devices, and wipe devices you think might have fallen into the wrong hands.
How to find your not-so-smart cell phone
Step 1: Call your cell phone. Listen for the ring or vibration and try to locate your phone through tried-and-true human detection. If your phone is truly lost and in someone else’s hands, then they’re 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 websites will call your phone for free and allow you to leave a message or talk to whomever is on the other side.
Step 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 your phone is located far away — the battery could simply be dead.
Step 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. There are many online services that allow you to send free text messages, such as txt2day.com.
Step 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. Carriers have differing policies about this, but it’s always worth a try, even for a smartphone.
Step 5: Register your lost phone. If you know your phone’s serial number, or have it written down somewhere, register it with MissingPhones.org.
Step 6: Prepare for the next time you lose your phone. Maybe you’re one of those people who’s always losing their phone. You may want to consider registering for a tracking service such as AccuTracking.