What To Do When Your iPhone is Stolen

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My son's iPhone was stolen this week at school. This was the first time I had to personally deal with an iOS device theft and there are a few really important things to consider in those first few minutes and hours after the device is stolen. Here are the things you need to do:

  1. Login to "Find My iPhone" from either an iOS device (even a kind stranger's device is ok, they just need the "Find My iPhone app-just make sure you logout of the app when you are done) or even just a web browser ("Find My iPhone" is a web app available when you login to your iCloud account from any web browser)
  2. Track the location of the stolen device using "Find My iPhone" and take a screen shot of the current or last known location
  3. This is the most important step...either turn on "Lost Mode" or select the "Erase iPhone" option. More on which one to choose in a bit.

My son's iPhone was stolen from his locker during gym class at school. We suspect the thief saw his locker combination and stole it while he was in gym class. He will be using a lock with a physical key and will be wearing the key around his neck during gym from now on. In our case my son's iPhone was setup with a passcode and had TouchID, so we knew that the contents of the iPhone were secure. But that wasn't the only concern. You can get a lot of information from the iPhone just from lock screen and by asking Siri even when the iPhone is locked. iMore has a really good article about the options for locking down your lock screen and Siri to limit the data a would be thief could get from your locked iPhone. In our case we didn't lock down these options as tightly as we could. That is a trade you make. It is really handy to be able to get to Siri and see text messages from your lock screen, but it also gives the thief that same access.

My wife and I were in Las Vegas when my son's iPhone was stolen. My son immediately emailed me using another device to tell me his iPhone had been stolen so I could track the device and lock it down (I taught him well). So while I was having breakfast at the Mirage I was able to very quickly go to the "Find My iPhone" app on my iPhone and take a screen shot of the iPhone's last location. It was in the driveway of a house not too far from my son's High School. Within a few minutes and before I could do anything else the thief had turned off the iPhone. My next step was to put the iPhone into "Lost Mode." Lost Mode disables Siri and all the lock screen notifications and it will display a message on the lock screen of your choosing. In my case I wrote a message saying that this iPhone has been stolen from X High School and is activation locked. Please return the phone to X High School front office. I then contacted the school and gave them the last know address of the device and they were going to look into what student lived at that address and take it from there. I did not call the police, but this is also an option especially if you absolutely know the current location of the device. Do not under any circumstances go to that location yourself to try and retrieve your lost device. No device is worth risking your personal safety for.

Lost Mode vs Erasing the iPhone

This is probably the most important decision you will need to make...whether to put the iPhone into lost mode or to just erase the device. If you erase the iPhone you will lose all ability to track the device, so you will probably never see your iPhone again. However, if you have not secured your device with a passcode or you think the person who stole your device may have your passcode then you really should immediately erase the device. Lost mode is the better option if you have properly secured your device with a passcode or password because you will still be able to track the device. Whether you decide to put the iPhone into lost mode or erase it, do not under any circumstances remove the iPhone from your iCloud account. When you sign into iCloud on an iPhone it "activation locks" the device. This means that the iPhone can't be erased by a thief and used by anyone else unless they are able to enter in your iCloud/Apple ID and password. The only thing the thief can do with the iPhone now is sell it for parts (or use it as a paperweight). So just leave that iPhone attached to your iCloud account from here on out. It might be a good idea to rename the device to something like "My Stolen iPhone" so you won't accidentally remove it from your account the next time you upgrade your iPhone.

Closing Thoughts

As I write this my son's iPhone is still lost. The iPhone has not been turned back on, but as soon as it is (if it ever is) it will be put into lost mode and I will be notified with its location. There is another option I should mention. You can contact your cell carrier and report the iPhone as lost. This will disable the account to prevent calls, texts and data use but it will also prevent the phone from using the cell network which will make the iPhone much harder to track if it is ever turned on again. So if your iPhone is properly secured with a pass lock it might be a good idea to leave it attached to your cell carrier for a few days...at least until you replace the device with another phone. You may also want to go in and change any of your account passwords that use your lockscreen notifications (things like iCloud for iMessages and maybe Twitter and FaceBook). If the thief was able to gain access to even a single email account they could potentially gain access to these accounts. For example, if you don't use a strong password on your Twitter account (something that someone might easily guess with having a bit of personal information...like access to your lock screen) then I would change the password to those account immediately. Apple also has a support article that has a lot of good information about how to deal with a stolen device.

Good luck...

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