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.

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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

Is it possible to trace a phone if you have the IMEI number?

You cannot use the IMEI number with Find My iPhone to track your iPhone. Your provider (AT&T, Verizon, etc) no doubt can, and the police via a request to your provider can - however based on what I have read here and on the interwebs, the police and/or your service provider will only help trace your phone in emergency and/or life or death situations.

I have three iphones on my account. All three have find my iphone app installed. Two of them always show extremely good accuracy, but the other one is about one mile off course about 80% of the time. How can I correct this? I have made it a point to restart the phone regularly, but of no avail in fixing my problem.

Is this iphone inaccurate when in the same location as the iPhone that has good accuracy?
If you have two iPhones, identically configured, sitting next to each other and one has good accuracy, the other does not, then one is broken.

Here are some things that can affect GPS location services accuracy and find my iPhone:
Make sure that both Wifi and 3G data is enabled
If you have a case on the iPhone, remove it (see if that makes a difference)
Some areas/locations just wont get a good location track

If, as I said you have two identical (or near identical) iPhones sitting next to each other, one accurate, the other not - you can try to do a full Restore as "new device"; if after doing a restore it still has poor accuracy compared to one right next to it, then it's broken.. Assuming it's relatively new, walk in to the local Apple store, demonstrate that it's inaccurate, and they'll hand you a new one. If it's not new, there isnt really anything else you can do to 'fix' it.

Ok thanks, I will try your advice and reply back.

Can the police track my Ipad if it was completely brand new and never been turned on? By the way, it is wi-fi only. I really need help!

If my iPhone 4 was stolen and if it had my att sim card in there and the theif takes it out CAn I or the police track my iPhone even if it has find my iPhone??

If you setup Find My iPhone before it was stolen, and if the iPhone can connect to WiFi, then you can track it with Find My iPhone.

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