You’ve probably arrived at this article because you’ve lost your iPhone, or even worse, think it might have been stolen. The good news is that Apple has software that can make it easy to track down a lost iPhone, and if it has been stolen you can use that software to wipe the iPhone and lock it down so that your data is protected.
In this tutorial we will talk you through how to use Find My iPhone to discover the location of your iPhone or iPad. (In fact you can also use the same software to locate your Apple Watch, EarPods or Mac.) We also explain how you can still track the last location of your iPhone even if the battery has died or it is no longer connecting to the internet.
Finally, for situations when your iPhone has been stolen and cannot be recovered, we explain how to lock the iPhone down, wipe your data and make sure that services like Apple Pay can’t be used.
Find My iPhone
Find My iPhone is free, easy to set up, and quite possibly the most valuable app on your iPhone. It also works on your iPad, Apple Watch and Mac, so you can keep track of all your Apple devices.
Assuming you’ve already set up Find My iPhone, your iPhone will be connecting to the internet and broadcasting its location. So you can use another iOS device or just visit iCloud.com to find it.
Whether you’ve left your iPhone in the back of a cab, think you might have left it in the office, or, worst-case scenario, it’s been lifted from your pocket, you should be able to use Find My iPhone to track it down. Here’s how.
You will either need to ask a friend if you can borrow their iOS device, or visit iCloud.com on a Mac or PC.
Using an iOS device
- If you’re using an iOS device, locate the Find My iPhone app. (Drag down from the top of the screen and type Find: you should see Find iPhone in the Applications section.)
- Click on that icon to open Find My iPhone. Now enter your Apple ID and Password – this will be the login you use whenever you buy anything from the App Store or iTunes, or when logging on to any other Apple services. You will have set up an Apple ID when you got your first Apple device. (Memory lapse? Here’s how to reset a forgotten Apple ID.)
- You will see a compass and the word Locating on the screen of the device as the iPhone tracks the location of your devices.
- You may see a few options, such as allowing Find My iPhone to know your location and turning on Send Last Location. We suggest you agree to both of these options. (More on the latter in the next section.)
- Now you will see a map of your various devices.
- Tap on the map to zoom in closer to the location of your ‘lost’ device.
- Now that you’ve located the device, tap on it, and you will see you have a few options. You can play a sound, for instance: useful if you’ve lost your iPhone at home somewhere (and had the sound turned off so calling it wasn’t working).
- Depending on the age of the iPhone and the iOS version you can either switch your iPhone into Lost Mode, which will lock it down and transmit its location (more on Lost Mode below); or for older iPhones, Lock, which will lock the iPhone and notify you when it’s found.
- Or in a worst-case scenario, you can Erase your iPhone so your data can’t fall into the wrong hands.
- Once you’re done, sign out of Find My iPhone on your friend’s device.
- On a Mac or PC, visit iCloud.com.
- Log on using your Apple ID and Password.
- Click on Find iPhone. (This will actually find all your registered Apple devices.)
- Sign in again with your password and wait for your devices to be located.
- Located devices will be indicated by a green dot on the map.
- Click on the green dot, and then the (i) beside the device name. This will zoom into the location of your device and let you Play Sound, activate Lost Mode, or wipe your iPhone.
- You can also gauge how much battery life is left.
- You can add a number at which you can be reached as well as a message for the person who finds the iPhone. Hopefully as a result the iPhone will be returned to you.
- If you’re concerned that the iPhone has fallen into the wrong hands, you can either lock it, so that it can’t be used but will continue to transmit its location, or you can erase the iPhone.
What you should never do is attempt to retrieve your iPhone if you think it has fallen into the wrong hands. There have been cases of people attempting to recover stolen iPhones using Find My iPhone and being hurt, or worse.
There was even a case of a UK man tracking down and killing the person who stole his son’s iPhone. (He claimed he lashed out in self defence after being stabbed by the mugger, pleaded guilty to culpable homicide, and was jailed for six years.)
However, you might be able to use the information provided by Find My iPhone to help the police with their enquiries. There is a section below that explains how to do this.
As long as your iPhone was registered for Find My iPhone you will be able to use Lost Mode to lock down your device.
If it’s an iPhone running iOS 6 or later then you will be able to track the device as long as it is on a previously used Wi-Fi network (what about mobile network?).
If you have Apple Pay set up on your device this will be disabled and any cards set up will be suspended. When you retrieve the iPhone you will be able to reactivate your cards via iCloud. Read more about how to use Apple Pay here.
Here’s how to turn on Lost Mode to lock your device:
- Sign into Find My iPhone as per the instructions above.
- Locate the device you wish to lock and tap on it.
- Tap Lost Mode.
- Follow the onscreen instructions.
- You will be asked to create a passcode if you don’t already have one on your lost iPhone.
You will be asked to enter a phone number that will appear on the device’s Lock Screen – this is so if a nice person finds the iPhone they can contact you.
- You may also be able to add a message, so you could tell the person that the device is lost and ask them to contact you at the number given.
- Once Lost Mode is on tracking begins so you can see your device’s current location and see any movement on a map. This will work even if Location Service was turned off on the device (it will be temporarily turned back on).
- If your iPhone was turned off Lost Mode will start working as soon as it is turned on (as long as it is able to get online again).
If you get your iPhone back you should be able to unlock it using your passcode, but if there are any issues you should be able to get it unlocked at an authorised repair centre.
Find an iPhone which is off or offline
If you hadn’t noticed that your phone was missing and you suspect that the battery has now died or someone may have turned your iPhone off, there may still be a way to find it thanks to the Send Last Location feature mentioned above.
There is an option to turn on Send Last Location in Find My iPhone. With this turned the last known location of your iPhone will be stored for 24 hours after the battery runs out. This isn’t on by default but when you open Find My iPhone on your iPhone you will see an alert asking you to enable it.
If you have Send Last Location enabled you will be able to see where your iPhone was when it ran out of battery or was turned off. Which will at least indicate if it was in your office, in the pub you went to after work, or somewhere else entirely (which may indicate it was stolen, or that you left it in the back of a cab/on the train).
Here’s how to turn on Send Last Location:
- Tap Settings > [Your name]
- Tap Find My iPhone.
- Ensure Find My iPhone is set to On.
- Set Send Last Location to On.
Right now it isn’t possible to locate an iPhone or iPad that is turned off, however, according to a report by CNBC in November 2016, Apple has patented technology that would allow a stolen or lost iPhone to be switched on remotely and transmit location information to its owner through the Find My iPhone feature.
We’re not sure when or if this feature will be employed by Apple in their current or next generation iPhones, but we will be sure to update this article if we learn more.
Find a family member’s lost iPhone
If you have set up Family Sharing you will be able to locate a family members device using Find My iPhone.
You will need your family members Apple ID and password when you go through the steps to lock their device.
Find a lost person
To locate a person using Find My iPhone you would need to know their Apple ID and password.
If it’s a member of your family and you have signed up for Family Sharing you will be able to see the location of the other person, as well as share their music, films, apps, photos, location and more. The only issue is that you will use a shared payment method – which means you might end up paying for their purchases. Find out how to use Family Sharing.
A better option might be to use Apple’s Find My Friends app, which lets you see where your friends and family are – as long as they approve.
How to find iPhone without Find My iPhone
If you check in Settings > [Your Name] > and find that Find My iPhone isn’t turned on there’s not much you can do to retrieve your iPhone, but you can take some actions to protect your data.
- Text your iPhone in the hope that a kind person finds it and sees the message including how to contact you.
- Change your password associated with your Apple ID. (Here’s how to change your Apple ID and password.)
- Change the passwords for your email, FaceBook, Twitter and any other services you use.
- Let your mobile network provider know that your phone is lost or stolen so they can disable the account.
- If you have Apple Pay set up call your bank and ask if your card can be suspended. (While Apple Pay can’t be accessed without your fingerprint or Passcode, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry).
- Report the lost or stolen iPhone to the Police (see below).
Reporting a stolen iPhone
If you want to make a claim on the insurance for your stolen iPhone you will need a Police Crime Number, so you will have to report the iPhone as stolen.
When you report a lost or stolen iPhone to the police you may need to give them the serial number of your iPhone. You obviously don’t have the device itself to check but you may still be able to find it. Here’s how to find an iPhone’s serial number:
- If you have Find My iPhone set up you will be able to find the serial number by going to Settings > Your Name and tapping on the device in question. You will need to enter your Apple ID password and also answer two questions that you have previously provided questions to, but once you are in you will see the serial number for that device.
- If the iPhone is synced with iTunes you should be able to find the serial number in iTunes.
- If you have the device’s original packaging you should be able to see the serial number beside the barcode.
- If you have your receipt for the iPhone the serial number should be on it.
How the police can use Find My iPhone
Unfortunately, even if they can see that your iPhone is located somewhere on a particular street or housing estate the police are unlikely to go in search of it, because as good as Find My iPhone is, it’s not so good that they can be confident about turning up at the right address. The police can only enter an address if they have reason to believe the stolen property is definitely there.
It is feasible that the data you have obtained via Find My iPhone could be useful in their enquiries, though, so you should share it with the police.
As we said before, do not attempt to recover the iPhone yourself, even if the police are not prepared to go to the address Find My iPhone is suggesting the iPhone is located at.
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but prevention is the best cure. If you were lucky enough to get your iPhone back despite not having Find My iPhone turned on, make sure you set up Find My iPhone so that next time the process of locating it, and if necessary wiping it, is a lot easier.
If you haven’t already set up Find My iPhone this is how to do it:
- On your iPhone or iPad tap Settings
- Click on your name at the top of the list to enter iCloud (if your phone is running an older version of iOS click on Settings > iCloud.
- Scroll down to Find My iPhone and tap
- Turn on Find My iPhone and Send Last Location.
How to protect your iPhone
And here’s a few tips to avoid future theft of your iPhone, and ensure that if the worst does happen your data can’t be jeopardised.
- Set a screen lock with a pin longer than four digits
- Back up your iPhone so you don’t lose things like photos.
- Use Find my iPhone
- Don’t make yourself a target. Don’t get your iPhone out in public, or at least not when you are walking down a dark road in the dead of night – apart from anything it may mean you are less engaged with your surroundings (especially if you have headphones on)
- Most thefts are opportune thefts due to you leaving your iPhone behind so make sure that you keep all your belongings with you