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 remotely install to find your phone. Here’s our guide on how to find your phone or similar device, including the old-fashioned way if you still own one of those flip phones:
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 your smartphone, 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, ring the phone, and set up special messages to alert whoever finds it.
Of course, these features are only as good as your phone’s battery. If the 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 different OSes work in order to find your smartphone.
Next page: How to find an Android smartphone
Android has not only Google’s own service for finding and managing your device remotely, but also a number of third party apps available for finding your smartphone. The easiest to use is Android Device Manager, which is built right into your Android smartphone through Google Play Services. Most devices running Android 2.2 or later should be able to use this feature. It’s as easy as searching “Where is my phone” on Google to start looking for your smartphone. We’ve written previously about Device Manager and its ability to call you, set up a new password, ring your phone, and all sorts of other ways to notify someone. While you can do some configuring ahead of time for Android Device Manager, the service should be automatically available in the event you lose or misplace your smartphone. It will use Wi-Fi or GPS to help you hunt down where it went.
If you can’t find your smartphone, you can also wipe it to prevent sensitive information getting into the wrong hands. Your device will of course need an Internet connection and powered battery to communicate with you.
There are also third party apps that you can remotely 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 about the whereabouts of your phone. Both allow a number of additional features, such as more granular control on how you track your device, screenshots of what the 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 the device until you can recover it.
If you own a Samsung device, there’s also a reactivation lock feature, allowing a stolen or lost device to be rendered unusable unless your Samsung account details are entered to confirm its safe return. This even includes factory resets, which Android Device Manager and other services cannot as easily prevent.
Next page: How to find an iPhone
The best (and only) way to get your iPhone back is through Apple’s native feature Find My iPhone. The included app exists 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 iPhone with the Find My iPhone app to deploy this feature. Unfortunately, these features are only available when your phone is powered on and connected to the Internet.
Simply log onto 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, send a message to your phone with “lost mode,” or erase the contents of the iPhone. All of this can be done without any additional configurations.
Find my iPhone is also able to locate your Mac, iPods, and iPads, too. 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.
Next page: How to find a Windows Phone
Windows Phone owners, don’t fret. If you’ve misplaced your smartphone, you too can recover it with the help of a built-in service. Microsoft has included a lost phone feature right into Windows Phone 8.1 or later, allowing you to easily find the location of your phone or set off its ringer. Just like all the other features, it requires no additional configurations after adding your Microsoft account, but 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, and you’ll see all your phones and tablets available to search through the location service. You can even remotely lock and wipe devices that you think might have fallen into the wrong hands.
Next page: How to find a basic cell phone
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 you 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. Alertyour 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.
5. Register your lost phone. If you have your phone’s serial number written down somewhere, register it with MissingPhones.org.