How to track your phone if it gets stolen

By Kirstin Buick
14 January 2016

Modern technology is making cellphone theft a tough game for criminals.

Modern technology is making cellphone theft a tough game for criminals. 

YOU reader Charmain recently shared how the Find My iPhone app helped her track down her stolen iPad -- thanks to the good work of the boys (and girls) in blue at the Pretoria Moot Police Station, she had her iPad back less than 24 hours later.

How two fantastic policemen helped me get my stolen iPad back

The police of the Moot Police Station helped her locate her iPad 3 hours after it was stolen. PHOTO: Supplied The police of the Moot Police Station helped her locate her iPad 3 hours after it was stolen. PHOTO: Supplied

Here's how you can track your smartphone or tablet if you find yourself in a similar situation -- don't worry, there's a version for Android users too!

Find my iPhone (for Apple tablets and phones)

The trick to using apps like these though, is that they have to be active on your phone or tablet before it gets stolen. Nowadays, most iOS (Apple's operating system) devices come preloaded with Find my iPhone (or Find My iPad).

Older iOS devices can simply download the app for free at the App Store here.

Using the app requires minimal effort -- you'll just need to make sure you're signed in to iCloud. This can be done under Settings.

Also under Settings, make sure Find My iPhone is enabled. To do so, tap on the Find My iPhone tab, and make sure the slider is set to on (green).

It's also useful to turn on Send Last Location underneath this setting too. That way, if your phone dies or is turned off if it gets swiped (or you just lose it), you'll be able to see the last place it was turned on -- a good place to start the search.

In the unfortunate event of your device being stolen, you're ready. Log on to the nearest available computer with an internet connection, an navigate to the iCloud website. Sign in with your details.

Once you're logged in, you'll be shown a map pinpointing the last known location the various devices* you have linked to your iCloud account.

Incidentally, if you have family members who also have iOS devices, you might want to set up Family Sharing, so you'll be able to track their devices with Find My iPhone too. You can find out how to do that here.

When viewing Find My iPhone via the iCloud website, select the device you want to track. You'll be given three options here:

  • Play sound -- This will force your device to beep loudly, even if your device is on vibrate or silent. This is very useful if you've lost your phone around the house!
  • Lost mode -- If you select this option, you'll be asked to enter a phone number that will show on the screen of your missing device -- just in case it's picked up by a Good Samaritan who will want to contact you. It will also start emitting a loud beeping.
  • Erase -- This is basically a self-destruct button. If you think the device may be lost for good, or you're worried about someone accessing your private data, you can select this option to remotely delete everything on your device.

Android devices

There are various apps out there modelled after Apple's Find My iPhone for devices with Android operating systems. One of your best bets though, is Google's own Android Device Manager.

It should already be installed on most Android Devices, but you can also download it here.

Once you're sure you have it:

  • Go to Settings
  • Under the Permissions section, tap Security.
  • Scroll down and tap Device Administrators
  • Tap to enable Android Device Manager

And you're ready! If your Android phone is stolen, navigate to the Android Device Manager dashboard in your computer's browser. You'll need to sign into your Google account.

Once you're logged in, you'll see a map showing the last known location of all devices* you have connect to your account, and what time it was last detected.

You have four options from here:

  • Locate Device -- Device Manager will try to find your device on demand.
  • Ring -- Your device will ring at maximum volume for 5 minutes, even if your device is set to silent or vibrate.
  • Lock -- You'll be prompted to create a password, then immediately locks the device — even if someone is currently using it. It can only be unlocked by entering your new password.
  • Erase -- This will wipe your device of all your information and settings, restoring it to factory settings.

*Note: if you've tracked down your stolen device, don't go tearing off to its location alone. Go to your nearest police station and ask for help, like Charmain did.

Additional sources: makeuseof.com, imore.com

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