How you can track your iPhone if it stolen or lost

Apple's Find My iPhone service is a free service available to all iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad owners that can help you find your iDevice if it gets lost or stolen.  Find My iPhone uses WiFi triangulation and/or real-GPS tracking to locate your device and display it's location on the Me.com website or from another iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch using the Find My iPhone App.

We have several posts and pages here at GrownUpGeek.com regarding how to track in iPhone and difference between the Find my iPhone App and the Find my iPhone service, but we still get questions about the specifics of finding a stolen iPhone, what Find My iPhone can or cannot do, etc, so this page will provide some quick and easy answers to those common questions.  Although the term iPhone is used, most answers also apply to the iPad and iPod Touch.

 

Q: What is required for Find My iPhone to track or find my iPhone?

A: You must have previously configured the Find My iPhone service, Location Services must be enabled for Find My iPhone, the iPhone must be powered-on, the iPhone must be able to aquire a GPS signal OR location triangulation via cell-towers or WiFi, and the iPhone must be in a 3G service area or be connected to WiFi. 

Q: My iPhone was lost (or stolen) but I never setup an iCloud account or Find My iPhone - can I still track the location of my iPhone?

A: NO - Find my iPhone must be configured BEFORE your iPhone or device gets lost or stolen

 

Q: My iPhone was lost (or stolen) but location services was turned off - can I track my iPhone or enable location services remotely?

A: YES - Only if your phone has iOS 8 and Find My iPhone was setup, you can log-in to www.iCloud.com and use Find My iPhone to enable "lost mode" which will turn-on Location Services. However, Location Services cannot be turned-off in iOS 8 without your icloud password, so if the theif was able to turn off Location Services he has probably already locked you out of your iCloud account, or removed your phone from your account.

 

Q: My iPhone was lost (or stolen) but I never setup an iCloud account or Find My iPhone - can I remotely activate tracking?

A: NO - Find My iPhone must be configured before your iPhone becomes lost or stolen

 

Q: If my iPhone is stolen and the thief disables Find My iPhone or erases/restores/wipes the iPhone, can it still be tracked?

A: NO - Once the Find My iPhone service or Location Services is disabled or if the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad is erased, it is no longer trackable by you using Find My iPhone

 

Q: If the theif removes the SIM card, can my iPhone still be tracked?

A: YES - If the iPhone is able to connect to Wifi, even without a SIM card, iCloud can still locate it. 

 

Q: If the battery dies on my lost or stolen iPhone or if the dirty-thief turns the iPhone off, can the iPhone still be located or tracked?

A: NO - The iPhone must be powered-on to be tracked

 

Q: If I did not setup Find My iPhone or if the thief disabled it, can the police/my provider still track my iPhone?

A: YES - The police and/or the telephone service provider (AT&T, Verizon, etc) can locate a phone (or, a 3G enabled iPad, not an iPod Touch) in emergency situations (they use their own services/systems, not Find My iPhone).  Key word of that sentence is "emergency situation". 

 

Q: I installed the Find My iPhone App on my iPhone so I can track it now right?

A: NO!  Tracking or locating an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch is done via the Find My iPhone service, not the Find My iPhone App.  See this page to understand the differences: Find My iPhone App vs Service

 

Q: My iPhone was lost or stolen and when I track it with Find My iPhone it says 'offline' - Why?

A: The phone might be turned off, out of range of WiFi or 3G service, Find My iPhone or Location Services may have been disabled on the phone or the phone could have been wiped/erased/restored 

 

Q: Can I use the Find My iPhone service to track other phones or devices that aren't iPhones?

A: Find My iPhone can be used to track iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, iMacs, and MacBooks with OS X Lion or Mountain Lion

 

Q: Does Find My iPhone display the history of the locations or track everywhere the iPhone has been?

A: Find My iPhone only displays the current location of the device by default.  If you put the phone in "lost mode" if it becomes lost or stolen, you will then be able to view the history of the phone's location.

 

Q: Will the person/theif with the iphone be notified when I track the phone?

A: If enabled, location services may display a tiny indicator near the clock.  The person can then look at the location settings screen and it will notify them if they are currently being located, or if they have been located within the previous 24 hours

 

Q: How accurate is the location tracking of Find My iPhone?

A: Find My iPhone accuracy ranges from a few feet to a few miles.  The size of the 'blue location circle' indicates the accuracy.  A small pinpoint circle indicates more accuracy, a larger circle indicates less accuracy

 

Q: Can I put Find My iPhone on my first Gen iPhone, my iPhone 3 or iPhone 3G?

A: NO - Find my iPhone only works on iPhone 3GS or newer (iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, 4S+), Newer iPod touches, all iPads, and iMacs/Macbooks running OS X Lion or newer

 

Q: Someone stole my iPhone.  Find My iPhone is showing me where the phone is, should I barge in and take back my phone? 

A: NO!  Seriously?!  Find my iPhone is intended to help you locate a LOST phone i.e.; if you left it at a restaurant.  Because the accuracy of Find My iPhone is not perfect, if you try confront a thief you run the risk of breaking down the wrong door, getting your ass-kicked or worse, a knife to the spleen or a bullet to the face.  Use some common sense and leave confronting criminals to the professionals.  

Got a question about tracking your lost or stolen device? Post a comment below.

Comments

If you remote-wipe your iPhone, all of the data will be erased (wiped) from it, including apps and contacts but it will not be 'disabled' - the thief can just plug it to his iTunes and start using it like a new iPhone (with your number, so call your phone provider) .. Sometimes a better option is to put the phone in "lost mode" which will make it (mostly) unusable and display a message to contact you.

If my iPhone was stolen when it was turned on with location services activated and 'find my iPhone' installed and set up, but the thief then turned the phone off before i could track it, would he be able to anything with the phone if i blacklisted it?

if you mean blacklisting it via the carrier (AT&T, Verizon) then he would have trouble using it as a phone. he would have no trouble turning it on and rifling thru your stuff (if you don't have a PIN code) or wiping it and using it as an iPod or selling it to someone else that doesnt know it's on the blacklist..

If someone steals my iphone resets it and puts in a different sim card... can the phone still be tracked by the service provider?? so what im asking is are they actually finding the sim card or the phone???

 Once your iPhone is erased/reset/wiped/restored, you can no longer track it with Find My iPhone.  Whether or not the service provider is able to track it depends on who the service provider is and what their policies are.  If you/they know the EMEI, then I see no technical reason why they can't track the iPhone - the quesiton is will they.. Since they don't usually want to get caught up in that sort of drama..

 

Someone stole my iPhone 4S a week ago. I immediately blocked it. It took me few days to figure out how to use the find my phone. I don't remember ever setting that up but apparently it was. Had to reactive my old phone to use it. I never changed my iCloud etc passwords etc because I didn't know I was suppossed to. During that activated period all of the pics he had downloaded to photo stream synched with my iPad. Including his user name of his Instagram account. That led me to his name which led me to address. Now to waiting for the police to do their thing. The unfortunate thing he deleted some notes I had so that synched with my iPad. So good news bad news.

My iphone 5 was stolen Nov 1. Ugh. We were able to locate it briefly, locked it, and sent a message and had it play the sound. But as we were at a fair, physically locating it was impossible. And then the thief cut the phone off. It has not shown up. Always says "offline." I have "notify me if found" checked, so does that mean "find my iPhone" will constantly be looking for it? I can't find a clear answer...

Find my iPhone will notify you if/when it comes back online - but i have seen no documentation from Apple about how long it will stay this way. I know that after approx 7 days, devices listed as 'offline' will drop out of your Find My iPhone list - but they return to the list once they come online.. My *guess* is that if that iPhone ever comes back online, you will be notified. It is also my guess that the thief has already wiped the iPhone, meaning Find My iPhone will never find it..

I'm not very hopeful at this point. Thanks for the answer, tho. Once it didn't come back on in 24 hours I assumed it was gone forever. It just really sucks...(sigh).

A thief stole my iPhone but I had find my iPhone and all that iCloud what not on then he turned it of as soon as he got it then destroyed the SIM card then restored it to a new phone? Would I still be able to locate it if he turned on wifi after it has been restored? 0:

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