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Lost and found: Here’s how to locate your iPhone when it goes missing

It’s an all too common scenario. You and your boys (or gals) go out for a few drinks on a Saturday night. One drink turns to two, then three, and somewhere — probably in between the four shots of horrendous well whiskey and your oh-so-fantastic karaoke rendition of Jewel’s You Were Meant for Me — you go from a seemingly casual night out to completely painting the town red. Your iPhone, the essential piece of tech that’s basically become an extension of you, disappears somewhere without a trace.

Fortunately, Apple is hip to this sort of thing. The Cupertino-based company has conveniently been offering the Find my iPhone feature and accompanying mobile app since June 2010, allowing users to remotely locate, lock, or wipe their iPhone using iCloud or another iOS device. Using Find my iPhone is simple, requiring little more than the initial setup and activation, and can really save you should you discover your precious device is nowhere to be found. The software even works on other devices including your iPad, iPod Touch, and even your Mac. It won’t prevent you from losing your phone, but it may help you find it so long as you active the feature prior to losing your device. Now, just make sure to check the crevices of your couch one last time…

Related: How to track a cell phone |iPhone 6 and 6 Plus tips and tricks

Step 1: Check the requirements

Although optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Find my iPhone is available on all devices equipped with iOS 5 or later. The utility is completely free and compatible beginning with the iPhone 3GS, third-generation iPod Touch, iPad, iPad Mini, and all the latest versions thereof. A valid iCloud account is also required and devices that lack network coverage must be connected to a registered Wi-Fi network to be located.

Step 2: Download and install the app

Tap the blue App Store icon located on your iOS homescreen, search “Find my iPhone” within the Search panel, and select application from the list of results. Afterward, tap the blue Get button in the top-right corner followed by the resulting green Install button to download and install the app. Alternatively, download the app from iTunes and sync it with your iOS device.

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Step 3: Activate Find my iPhone

Once installed, tap the main Settings icon, followed the iCloud option near the center of the Settings menu. Enter your Apple ID in the resulting pop-up window if prompted, or tap Get a free Apple ID and follow the onscreen instructions to set up your free iCloud account. Swipe to the bottom of the menu once signed in, select the Find My iPhone option, and toggle the on-off switch to the right of Find My iPhone before tapping the Allow option in the resulting pop-up window. Repeat the process using the same iCloud account information for any iOS device you wish to activate.

Fortunately, Find My iPhone does more than just allow you to track your iPhone in a pinch. The feature also enables Activation Lock as of iOS 7 and later, which securely stores your Apple ID in Apple’s activation servers and automatically links to your device. Said feature then requires your password be entered before anyone can turn off Find My iPhone, erase your device, or reactivate it. It requires no action on your part and serves as yet another security measure designed to prevent theft and unauthorized use of your phone.

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Step 4: Lose your iOS device

Obviously, this doesn’t come highly recommended, but finding your iOS device once lost is likely the reason you chose to use the app in the first place.

Step 5: Locate your iOS device

Once lost, you can either use another iOS device or your iCloud account via the Web to locate your lost or stolen device. Keep in mind it’s not possible to locate the device if didn’t activate the Find my iPhone function before losing your device.

Using another iOS device

Tap the Find my iPhone icon from the home screen (the icon resembles a old-school radar display), enter your iCloud login credentials in the appropriate fields, and tap the blue Go option located in the pop-up window. Once logged in, select the lost or stolen device from the list of devices setup with Find my iPhone to view the device’s location.

Additional options for remotely wiping the phone and forcing it to play a sound — accessible via the Actions option located at the bottom of the display — are also available, along with a intuitive Lost Mode that provides options for locking the device with a four-digit passcode and displaying a contact phone number of your own choosing directly on the lock screen.

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Using your iCloud account on the Web

Open your favorite browser and navigate to the iCloud homepage before signing in with your Apple ID and password. Afterword, click the large Find My iPhone icon, click All Devices at the top of the window, and select the lost or stolen device from a the resulting list of activated devices.

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Additional options for remotely wiping the phone and forcing it to play a sound should appear in the upper-right corner, along with a intuitive Lost Mode button that provides options for locking the device with a four-digit passcode and displaying a contact phone number of your own choosing directly on the lock screen.

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Step 6: Take action

Once you locate your iPhone or iOS device, use one of Find my iPhone’s built-in functions to help recover the device. Tap the gray Play Sound button featuring the speaker to force the your phone to play a high-pitched ping continuously for two minutes or tap the gray Erase iPhone button followed by the Erase iPhone confirmation to completely wipe your device of all content and user settings.

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If running iOS 6 or later, tap the middle Lost Mode button followed by the Turn On Lost Mode confirmation before entering a phone number where you can be reached. Then, tap the green Next button in the upper-right corner, enter your desired message in the text field, and tap the green Done button to enable the message.

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There’s no guarantee the ringing, erasing, or messaging will help you get your device back — regardless if you know it’s precise whereabouts. Rather than confront the potential thief yourself, it may be wise to contact your service provider and the police, informing them of the situation and your intentions to recover the device. You never know when things might escalate like they did in San Francisco back 2012.

This article was originally published on Sept. 27, 2013.

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