The second most frightening thing an iPhone user can experience, besides dropping and breaking their screen, is having their iPhone lost or stolen. And considering how connected people are to their smart phones – living their lives online, the loss is keenly felt. One minute you’re in 2011 checking in at Foursquare and Twittering about how good your lunch was, and the next you’re stuck in 1975 looking for a payphone to call AT&T to deactivate your missing phone. And if it was stolen, you’ve suddenly going through feelings of being violated, withdrawal symptoms of not being able to use your phone (and let’s face it, we’re all addicted), and worry that your personal information is at risk.
So, what’s one to do when that iPhone goes missing? Well, the best thing you can do is remember the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There are several things you can do ahead of time to not only track your missing phone and find it, but to insure your valuable data is wiped in case you don’t.
1) Enable the AutoLock passcode feature
Sure, having to input a password into your iPhone every time it goes to sleep is a hassle. But remember that if you lose it, you’ll want to protect yourself and having that Autolock passcode will protect you since if someone inputs the wrong passcode 10 times, the phone automatically wipes all data. And you can set your autolock passcode as either a simple 4 digit passcode for convenience (with over 10,000 different combinations) or you can use a more complex passcode with letters and numbers by disabling the simple passcode option for more security.
2) Find My iPhone App
Next is to download and install the free Find My iPhone app. This app will enable you to go online and track your missing iPhone using the app and the phone’s GPS chip and Google Maps. In addition, the Find My iPhone feature will also send you an email if the device is activated after you’ve had it turned off. The way it works is that you download the app and then add a MobileMe account under your Mail and Calendars section. Then register your phone through the app and it becomes trackable.
Apple is also announced plans to offer Mobile Me free to iPhone users as part of their new iCloud service in the fall, but the good news is that Find My iPhone is free to all users now. The thing about FindMyIphone though, is that you have to have an iPhone 4 to start using the service. After which, you can add other Apple devices including iPhone 3Gs, iPad, or iPod and track them as well. This leaves me a bit confused. If Find My iPhone can find an 3GS, then why not let 3GS users qualify right away? But that’s the rules.
3) Alternative iPhone Tracking Apps
But Apple’s service isn’t the only phone tracker out there. Other app options include – iLocalis, Device Locator, Fone Home, Mobile Spy 3.0, and Gadget Trak. They all work in similar fashion with some being free, and others being subscription based. iLocalis, for instance, not only offers tracking, but can also remote wipe your device should it be lost or stolen. The downside with iLocalis, however, is that you must jailbreak your iPhone and download it through Cydia. Device Locator has an interesting function that will make a noise or even lock the phone down to make it useless to a thief. It’s $4.99 for the app, but after that, it’s free to use. Fone Home has an option I love – it takes a picture of the culprit who has the phone using the iPhone 4′s front facing camera. It then allows you to track the phone online and find who has it.
4) Disable your iPhone’s SIM chip
Regardless of what app you use for tracking your phone, once it goes missing, immediately call AT&T or Verizon. Tell the operator your phone has been lost or stolen and they can deactivate the phone’s SIM chip. This will prevent whoever has your phone from using it to make phone calls or buy Apps. (It’s also a good idea to immediately change your iTunes password). Now, all of your information/settings that you entered on the iPhone are still there for someone else to access, sadly, but hopefully the auto lock wipe feature will handle that. Corporate users, and those who use Microsoft Exchange have an option though … and that’s the Outlook Web Access. With Outlook Web Access, users can log in, go into options, click on Mobile Devices and select Wipe All Data from Device. Once it’s wiped, you will receive confirmation and your worries are abated.
5) Change your iTunes password
Also, to be on the safe side, it’s always wise to change all your passwords for your apps and email (and especially iTunes) and advise your friends and family that the phone has been stolen so they are aware.
6) I Found Your iPhone Good Samaritan website
There are some good Samaritans out there who want to do the right thing and as such, I Found Your iPhone (http://ifoundyouriphone.com) is another source for trying to locate your lost phone. Once you register with name, email, model phone and optional serial number (again do this as prevention), the service allows you to create a custom wallpaper which directs whoever finds your phone to contact you through the site. If someone finds your phone and contacts the site, you will have a message on your personal page with the finder information. You can then contact the finder and make arrangements to retrieve your phone – you may even provide a reward if you wish.
7) Contact info sticker
A low tech measure is to put a sticker with your contact email and offer of a reward inside your phone case or on the back of your phone. That way, if a good samaritan finds it, you may get it back. And services like Stuffbak can help you do just that with preprinted labels and membership listings to reporting and recovering your lost or stolen phone. Users have also texted their own missing phone offering a reward for a safe return. Some think that keeping your IMEI number is a good idea as well and it’s always a wise idea to keep that information for your records. You can get it usually by pressing *#06# on your phone. But the bottom line is, if you can’t track it by Mobile Me, then AT&T or Apple are unlikely to do anything about it with you IMEI citing fears you’ll sue them later for bricking your phone. However, there is a service that may do it for you. According to one source, users with lost or stolen phones can email the IMEI to firstname.lastname@example.org. We haven’t tried this but according to FBHacker, your mobile phone will be traced and recovered within 24 Hrs through GPRS.
8) File a police report
Lastly, if you’ve failed to take preventative measures, the only thing you can really do is file a police report and hope for the best. We’ve heard of some people getting creative and offering a reward or setting up a sting under the guise of a contest in order to lure the culprit who took your phone, but that can be dangerous. It’s best to let the police handle it.
And in the end, if you’re contract is up, the culprit may have done you a favor, freeing you to get a new phone subsidized by renewing your contract. And with rumors that Apple will be announcing an iPhone 5 (or some say it’ll be called the 4GS) within the next few months, that could be the silver lining in what is otherwise a very dark cloud.