Chances are the most valuable thing you have on you at all times is your iPhone. Its street value could be as much as $1,400 depending on the model, which makes it worth more by a long shot than the average person carries in cash in their wallet. Given its small size and lightweight, it’s a popular target for thieves and pickpockets, especially since the device has a very high resale value and can be easily hocked anywhere from a street corner to eBay.
If your iPhone gets nicked you may feel like curling up into a ball and crying, but if you think quickly there’s a good chance you can get it back–if you planned ahead. So let’s look at the anti-theft steps you should take when you get your iPhone and then we’ll look at what you should do if your iPhone gets stolen.
What To Do BEFORE Your iPhone Is Stolen
The #1 step you want to take is to enable the “Find My” App.
Find My is the anti-theft software made by Apple–it’s a free app built into iOS. Anyone who has an iPhone (or iPad, iPod touch, or Mac–Find My works on all of them) should set up this app right away. With it, if your device is ever lost or stolen you can see its location on a map, lock the device remotely, and even choose to wipe it remotely.
With iOS 7 and higher Apple has strengthened the iPhone’s anti-theft software called Find My. Before iOS 7 the thief could erase your iPhone or turn off the software tracking features at his will, but now Apple requires the iPhone owner’s registered Apple ID and password to be entered before Find My can be disabled.
But in order for Find My to work at all it must already be set up on your iPhone–SO DO THAT TODAY. If it’s not installed on your iPhone, you’re out of luck if it’s stolen.
What To Do AFTER Your iPhone Is Stolen
- Go to iCloud.com. If your iPhone is stolen the first thing to do is find a computer right away and log into iCloud. It doesn’t matter if the computer is a Mac or a PC. It just needs a modern web browser. Go to www.icloud.com and enter your iCloud user name/Apple ID and password. This will be the same iCloud/Apple ID you used in the Find My app.
- After you have logged in, find the Find My button and click it.
- At the top of the screen, you’ll see the label “All Devices”. Click it.
- From the drop-down menu select your stolen iPhone.
- The iPhone info window will pop up. Here you’ll be able to see how long ago the iPhone last checked in. You’ll also find three buttons below that: Play Sound, Mark As Lost, and Erase This Device.
- Play Sound will allow you to activate the iPhone to play a sound. This is only really useful if you lost your iPhone somewhere around the house, not if it’s stolen and in another location.
- Clicking Mark As Lost will prompt you to enter a phone number where you can be reached. This phone number will then be displayed on your stolen iPhone’s screen. You can also enter a message that will be shown on your stolen iPhone’s screen. But both of these options are more for lost iPhones rather than stolen ones. It’s not like the thief will be ringing you up to tell you he has your stolen iPhone (unless he wants a ransom). But Mark As Lost does one other thing: it automatically locks your iPhone, which means the thief can’t get into it even if you didn’t have a passcode set before it was stolen.
- Erase This Device is a last step nuclear option that should only be used if the information on the stolen iPhone is more valuable than the iPhone itself. If you proceed with Erase This Device all the iPhone’s content and settings will be erased, which prevents the thief from hacking into the phone to get your info, but then the iPhone will not be able to be tracked or located anymore.
My recommendation is that if you want to see your iPhone again, you steer clear of using any of these three options in the iPhone info screen. What to do instead?
You’ll notice that the background of the Find My web app on iCloud.com is a big map with dots on it. Each green dot represents the location of one of your devices. When you select your iPhone from the drop-down devices list the map will automatically center on the dot that represents your stolen iPhone. This is the location your iPhone is now at.
A Word Of Warning: Don’t Be A Hero
Don’t be a hero. I know, you’re angry that some loser stole your phone, but don’t go running off after it like some vigilant just because you now know where it is. The fact of the matter is you don’t know who stole your phone and they could be a lot more dangerous than you think they are in all your raging glory.
So once you know where your iPhone is, note the address or–even better–take a screenshot of the Find My page on the web. Then call the cops and give them all the information. It will often be enough evidence they need to show up at the perpetrator’s premises to search for your stolen iPhone.
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.