How to Remotely Locate, Lock, & Erase Your iPhone or Android

You swear that your phone was just there a minute ago—whether in your pocket, on the cafe table, or the seat of a cab. Perhaps it was snagged when you weren’t looking, or it was misplaced somewhere during your busy day.

We’ve come to depend on our phones for so much that it’s nerve-wracking to spend hours wondering if it’s been left in the pocket of your other coat or is now in the hands of some kindly stranger.

Instead, you want to take action to get it back.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to track your missing phone. If it’s a smartphone (or even a tablet) running iOS or Android, chances are good it already has the software needed to hunt it down.

Here’s our guide on how to find your phone or similar device—even the old-fashioned kind:

Locate, Lock, & Erase Your Android Phone

The easiest way to find your Android to use is to use the Android Device Manager—through which you can locate your lost phone or remotely erase any sensitive information. 

Didn’t install it? No worries, the Android Device Manager is built right into your smartphone through Google Play Services, and available to most devices running Android 2.2 or later.

Note: For the following steps, your location settings must be enabled on the device. If it’s not already enabled, don’t worry. Simply log into Android Device Manager and you will see the location of your device on a map:

  1. Pull down the notification bar.
  2. If the GPS button at the top is glowing, your location settings are on. If it is grayed out, they are off. To turn them off/on, press the button.

Step 1: Search 

If your location settings are already enabled, then start by searching “Where is my phone” on Google to begin looking for your smartphone. This should bring up an image like the one below.

Google's “My phone location” Image via hackcrow.com

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.

Step 2: Ring At Full Volume

If you left your phone on silent and think it might be hiding just out of sight, you can set it to ring at the highest volume for five minutes:

  1. Log into Android Device Manager
  2. Click on the Ring button.

If that doesn’t give you enough time to locate it, you can always press the button again.

Step 3: Lock & Erase

If you can’t find your smartphone, you can also wipe it to prevent sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands. Your device will, of course, need an internet connection and a powered battery to communicate with you.

To remote lock and/ or erase, you’ll need to enable the function. Here’s how to do so remotely.

  1. Go to Android Device Manager
  2. Click on Setup Lock & Erase
  3. Click Send
  4. You should see a new symbol at the top of your screen
  5. Drag down the notification bar and tap on the notification that says Android Device Manager: Set up remote lock and factory reset 
  6. Tap Activate
  7. Review which options you want to allow: Remote Lock or Factory Reset

If already enabled, the steps are the same as locating your phone or making it ring: Go to Android Device Manager and select either Lock or Factory Reset.

In case it doesn’t go without saying, resetting your phone will erase all of your settings, data, and apps! You might want to do so only as a last resort.

Additional Android Apps To Help Locate Your Phone

If you’re considering which third-party applications might be of use, 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 screenshots of what your 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 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.

Locate, Lock, & Erase Your iPhone, iPad, & iTouch

The best (and only) way to get your iPhone or other Apple device back is through Apple’s native feature: Find My iPhone. This app is preinstalled on every iOS device, and can display your missing device on a map to help you easily locate and manage it.

Unfortunately, there are two caveats: You’ll need a computer or another iPhone with the Find My iPhone app to deploy this feature, and you can only do so when your device is both powered on and connected to the internet—so, devices in airplane mode are out of reach and out of luck.

Step 1: Search 

Searching for your Apple device is as simple as logging into iCloud:

  1. Using any Apple device, go to Settings (on the Home screen)
  2. Tap on iCloud
  3. Turn the switch on next to Find my iPhone/ iPad/ iTouch
  4. Tap OK

If you’re lucky enough to have found your device right off the bat, you might want to stop it from being tracked by the Apple device you just logged into. To do so, just toggle the Find My Phone switch back to off once it’s back in your hands.

Step 2: Play a Sound, Select Lost Mode, or Erase

Once you’re logged into iCloud, it’s a simple step to choosing more options: 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.

Apple's Image via iphonesian.com

Lost Mode is particularly useful if you’re not ready to take the irreversible leap into total-erasure. You can use it to set a passcode that keeps strangers out, as well as display a phone number that allows the finder to reach you. If the device is online, it will take effect immediately. If it is offline, it will take effect as soon as it connects to the internet.

A Word of Warning Before Chasing Down Your Device

While we sure appreciate the ability to track and locate a phone that’s been accidentally lost between the couch cushions, you might want to think twice before hitting the pavement to chase down one that’s potentially be stolen—or even sharing personal details with the kindly stranger who found your device.

If You’re Positive the Phone Was Stolen

Then call the police to report the theft and avoid any potential confrontation. Even if they don’t go after the thief (and in large districts, they may not), most states keep a database of the serial numbers of all lost phones. If they come across your cell while investigating another crime, they may return it to you.

Next, call your cell provider and have all service—incoming and outgoing calls, texts, and data—suspended. That will ensure a thief doesn’t see new personal messages, and it will prevent him or her from racking up long-distance calls for which you could potentially be billed.

If it’s an office-issued cell phone, or if you use it for work and it contains sensitive information, you’ll need to report it to your IT department as well. Many offices use encryption programs to protect company information and can remotely erase office-issued phones.

If Someone Found Your Phone

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.

Instead, of sharing your home address, stick to meeting in a public place—and remember that even adults benefit from bringing a buddy.

Don’t Forget To Protect Your Accounts

Our smartphones aren’t only valuable because of their initial cost, but because they generally store the passwords to every account and service we use day to day.

Even if you have remotely locked or erased your device, there’s still a chance someone was able to get into your Facebook, Gmail, bank, or other accounts.

Thankfully, most of the big apps out there—Facebook and Gmail, included—let you view current sessions and logout of devices remotely from the web.

For example, if you head into your Google Account settings, you can see all the devices that currently have access to your data and remove any of them with a click. On Facebook, open the Settings page from the menu, click Security and then Edit next to Where You’re Logged In—you can terminate any of these sessions immediately.

Just know that these actions don’t boot a stranger off your phone, they only mean he or she will have to enter your passwords again to regain access.

For those that don’t, you can still change the relevant passwords by accessing your accounts from a computer or another mobile device, which should be almost as effective. Just be sure to pick an entirely new password, not just tacking an extra digit on the end of your old one, and monitor accounts closely for any unauthorized activity.

Last Resort: Look Into a Low-Cost Replacement

Once you’ve exhausted all options and accepted that you may never see your phone again, you might experience some serious sticker shock when you have replace it. That’s because most wireless carriers subsidize phone purchases when you sign up for a contract, so you can get, for example, the latest iPhone for a few hundred dollars.

But, if your contract isn’t up for renewal? That same phone will run $650 to $800.

Instead, ask around for an older model phone, or dust off that Motorola Razr that’s still in the back of your junk drawer. Usually, you can usually take that to your carrier, who will activate it with your old number at no charge.

Another option? You can typically get a refurbished smartphone at about half the price of a new one.


Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.


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