How to find a lost mobile phone

  • November 19, 2022

We’ve all experienced the existential panic of losing our smartphone, even if it’s just for a moment. The sensation of dread goes way beyond losing a wallet or house keys, as, in addition to your smartphone’s monetary value, it also packs critical and private information about you and your family in one place. The idea of a stranger accessing this personal information is chilling.

There are plenty of ways to find your lost iPhone or Android device because your smartphone or tablet running iOS or Android already has the software needed to hunt it down. There are also a variety of third-party apps you can install to track your smartphone.

Finding lost smartphones

If you happen to lose track of your iOS or Android smartphone, both Apple and Google feature built-in phone retrieval technology as part of the native software package that works via your device account — Google for your Android account and iCloud for your iPhone. Both allow you to remotely lock and wipe your phone, make it ring, and set up special messages to alert whoever finds it. These features work great as long your phone’s battery holds up.

Exercise caution when communicating with anyone who has found your smartphone. Avoid revealing 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 a finder can return your phone. Here’s our guide on how to find a lost phone or a similar device for each operating system. The following example uses Android 13.

How to find a lost Android phone

The easiest way to locate a lost Android handset is to use the Find My Device feature, which is built into your Android smartphone through Google Play Services — it also can be used in a browser or downloaded from the Google Play Store. Most devices running Android 2.3 or later can use this feature.

Always enable Find My Device on your Android smartphone. Using the feature is as easy as searching for, “Where is my phone?” in Google, which will prompt the service to search for your phone. We’ve covered Find My Device and its ability to call you, set up a new password, and make your phone ring from afar, along with a variety of other notification functions. While you can configure Find My Device ahead of time, the service should be available if you lose or misplace your phone by using Wi-Fi or GPS to help you hunt down your device.

Step 1: Go to Settings > Security. Alternatively, you can also go to Google. Both methods will take you to the next step.

Step 2: Tap Find my device. Alternately, you can also open Settings and type “find my device” in the search box. When the setting appears, tap on it.

Step 3: Toggle on the Find My Device setting. It should always be on. Then, tap to open either the web app or a phone or tablet app. These utilities will show you where your phone is on a map.

Step 4: See your device location pinpointed on a map.

Prepare before theft or loss

If you can’t recover your smartphone, you can always wipe it to prevent sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands. Your device will need an internet connection and enough juice to communicate with you.

With Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google introduced Factory Reset Protection (FRP). It’s designed to prevent thieves from using or selling a stolen phone. If you factory reset a phone with FRP enabled and someone tries to set it up as a new phone, they will be prompted to enter the username and password for the last Google account registered on the device. If they can’t, then the phone remains locked with your data protected.

Android also works with several third-party apps designed to find your smartphone. For example, Prey Anti Theft features remote access and control, allowing you to gather more information regarding the whereabouts of your phone. It provides more granular control over how you or the cops can track your device — GPS coordinates, MAC address, photos from the camera to help catch the thief, and other more detailed notifications that Find My Device doesn’t offer.

How to find a lost Samsung phone

Another option for some Samsung smartphones is the Find My Mobile service. You can use it to locate, lock, or wipe a missing phone. You 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, do the following.

Step 1: Go to Settings > Biometrics & security.

Samsung settings for Biometris and Security.

Step 2: Tap Find my mobile and toggle it on. Enter your Samsung account info or create an account.

Samsung Find My Mobile setting.

Step 3: You can then opt in to features like Remote unlock, Send last location, and Offline finding.

Various settings for Samsung Find My Mobile.

How to find a lost iPhone

Apple has a proprietary app called Find My iPhone that is dedicated to helping you find a misplaced or lost iPhone. The app comes installed on every iOS device and can display your missing device on a map to help you easily locate and manage it. You must use another iOS phone, tablet, or computer that also has the Find My iPhone app installed.

Step 1: Select Settings > Your Apple ID (name).

Step 2: Select Find My > Find My iPhone. Make sure that the toggle for Find My iPhone is always left On (green).

Settings on iOS 16 showing Apple ID, select Find My, select Find My iPhone

Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Step 3: Toggle on the Find my network and Send last location switches. Those help you pinpoint where you last left your phone in case internet services are currently off.

iOS 16 Settings Find My toggles, then showing Device Info

Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Step 4: Launch the Find My app, then select Devices from the bottom tab.

Step 5: Select your iPhone or iPad that you want to view the location for.

Step 6: You can also play a sound to locate your device, get directions to locate your device, set up notifications when the device is left behind, mark a device as lost, or remotely wipe the device.

iOS 16 Find My app showing device location and various available options

Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Customize and expand on location methods

Apple’s Find My utility gives you options to play a sound on your device, mark the device as lost, and send a message to your phone in lost mode. You also have the option to erase the device in case it fell into the wrong hands. Find my iPhone can locate your Mac, iPod, iPad, Apple Watch, or any Apple device.

Your iPhone maintains a high level of security in case of robbery by using an Activation Lock. Enabled by default, the Activation Lock requires that you tap in your Apple ID and password before you can disable Find My iPhone, wipe your device, or reactivate it.

Apple’s AirTags are another good way to keep track of certain iOS devices.

How to find your not-so-smart cell phone

With simple cell phones, there aren’t as many programmatic or app-based options available to assist you in finding a lost handset. However, there’s always a basic protocol to follow when you lose your phone. Try doing the following.

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.

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 Do not share any personal information.

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 they don’t, ask them to suspend service to your phone to avoid any fraudulent charges. Carriers have differing policies about this, but it’s always worth a try, even for a smartphone. This FCC page has a handy list of numbers.

Step 5: Register your lost phone. If you know your phone’s IMEI number or have it written down somewhere, register it with Immobilize.

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.

Losing your smartphone is definitely a scary experience, though sometimes it’s just been simply misplaced somewhere around the house. Thankfully, pretty much every smartphone has a built-in feature for locating it if lost or stolen, and it’s pretty easy to activate it. It’s highly recommended to turn that “find device” feature on once you get a new phone or tablet and leave it on. You may not ever need it, but it’ll be there if something happens — better safe than sorry!

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