How to find the owner of a lost or stolen iPhone

How to find the owner of a lost or stolen iPhone

Every once in a while I have a reader ask me what they should do with a lost or stolen iPhone they've somehow come across. In most cases their biggest concern is finding the original owner, as it should be. Unfortunately that task sometimes proves to be a little tougher than some people imagine, especially if the owner has enabled a passcode lock. However, if the iPhone you have found is fully functional, we've got some tricks that can help you get in contact with the original owner faster than you may think!

How to get in contact with the owner of a lost or stolen iPhone

If you somehow end up in the possession of a lost or stolen iPhone, it's not always clear what the best thing to do is. Sadly, turning an iPhone in to a public establishment sometimes gets it stolen by a not so honest person behind the counter, or by a customer that saw you turn it in. If you'd rather take matters into your own hands in order to make sure the rightful owner ends up with it again, here are some things we'd recommend trying in order to contact them directly.

1. If there's no passcode lock, check their recent calls

No one likes invading anyone else's privacy but at the end of the day, there's got to be a little bit of an exception if you're serious about returning the iPhone. I've found two iPhones in the past that were both abandoned, one being at a local Starbucks. The first time, there was no passcode lock so I launched the Phone app and went through their recent calls. I looked for a number that they communicated with regularly. In this case, it was labeled as "Home". That was easy enough. I called it, the person's spouse answered and I explained who I was and why I had the phone. They showed up 20 minutes later to pick it up. Problem solved.

Unfortunately, things get a little more complicated if someone has used a passcode lock.

2. If there's a passcode, ask Siri for help

Most people don't realize that even if you have a passcode lock on your iPhone, you can bypass it to do things like place calls or send messages — unless of course they've disabled this functionality in Settings. However, it never hurts to grill Siri a bit. Here are some things you can try asking Siri by holding down the Home button from the Lock screen:

  • "Call home."
  • "Call mom."
  • "Call dad."

If the owner had relationships set up, you can also try things like "Call my wife." to see if that gets you any bites. The second lost iPhone I found was successfully reunited with its owner thanks to Siri and its ability to call a contact labeled "Home* without me knowing the passcode.

3. Keep the device powered on and answer incoming calls

The one thing you absolutely want to make sure you do is keep the iPhone charged and powered on. More often than not, once the owner realizes their iPhone is missing, they'll try calling it from someone else's phone. As odd as it is to answer a phone that isn't yours, it's in both of your best interest. If someone is calling them, odds are they have more relevant information that is of use to you. And if you're really lucky, it'll be the owner on the other side of the line.

4. Find the IMEI or MEID and contact their carrier

Every iPhone has a unique number called an IMEI (or MEID for some CDMA phones) imprinted somewhere on it. The owner's carrier can use this information to track the owner down and hopefully contact them. It's best to just visit the carrier's store where they can then take possession of the iPhone and handle it from there. If you can't, you can always call the carrier over the phone and start from there. While they can't release information about the owner, they most certainly can help you track them down. If the iPhone is powered on, you can tell what carrier they have by looking at the carrier name in upper left hand corner of the screen. The carrier name appears immediately to the right of the signal bars, or dots. The only thing you need to give the carrier is the IMEI or MEID number.

Here is where you can find IMEI or MEID info for each model iPhone ever made:

  • iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5: Printed on the back casing towards the bottom
  • iPhone 4s, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 3G: Remove the SIM tray and you will find the IMEI or MEID printed, as well as the serial
  • First generation iPhone: Printed on the back casing towards the bottom

If you aren't sure how to remove the SIM tray from an iPhone, you can follow our guide:

For even more help finding and recognizing an IMEI or MEID number, or any other identifying number for that matter, Apple has a great support article complete with photos you can take a look at:

You'll notice that the IMEI printed on all iPhones is 15 digits. If the iPhone owner in question has a CDMA carrier just as Verizon or Sprint, the MEID is the first 14 digits of that number, so simply leave off the last digit and you've got the MEID you need to give to the carrier.

Keep in mind that even if you found an iPhone that won't power on, you can always try calling different carriers in your area to see if they have a record of the IMEI or MEID. Since there aren't a huge amount of carriers in any one area, this process should still be relatively easy even without knowing the carrier off-hand.

A final note about lost or stolen iPhones

Keep in mind that many iPhone owners can either use Find My iPhone to track their device or they can call their carrier and report it lost or stolen. If the latter happens, that phone can then not be activated on many cellular networks, at least in the United States. There is no finder's keepers rule when it comes to lost property such as cell phones. If you find it and don't turn it in, it can still be considered theft. If Find My iPhone is activated and the owner successfully tracks you, they may have gotten law enforcement involved. So keep this in mind if you happen to stumble across a misplaced iPhone. The decisions you make from the second you pick it up can affect you too.

Your advice for finding the owner of a lost or stolen iPhone?

If you've ever come across a lost or stolen iPhone, how did you go about reuniting it with the owner? Did you perform any of the steps above? And if so, were any of them successful for you? Be sure to let me know in the comments!

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

How to find the owner of a lost or stolen iPhone

23 Comments

Too bad most people are to scummy to return a nice iPhone they found . Even if they think they can't get into it they think someone that can will pay a nice chunk of change for the phone in its present condition locked an all. I wish more people were like you because I have already had two occasions where the person who found my phone taunted me an laughed Before shutting the phone off rendering the find my iPhone app or calling features useless

Sent from the iMore App

Following on from your comment about using Siri… Just ask Siri, "Who does this iPhone belong to?"

Siri will return with who she thinks the iPhone belongs to, as well as their contact information.

Sent from the iMore App

nice i'm going to go and try this now!
Edit: awesome it works! kind of scary how much info anyone who has physical access to my iPhone can find out about me with no knowledge on my part

Oddly enough, neither James or Ajay's advice works for me. I absolutely have my contact listed within Siri (My Info), but she does not know who my iPhone belongs to.

I am the only owner of this iPhone 5S, I am a savvy power user, so I know that I have my iPhone setup right. My iPhone 5S *IS* on the latest version of iOS 7.1.2.

does anyone else have this problem?

Works great, complete with Fb page, email, home address, phone number, wife's name, other established relationships etc.

Sent from the iMore App

Wow. And it even works with other people's names, even when locked. I simply said my wife's name and everything came up. I would be okay with just the name with a link to Call, Message, Email, etc, then require the passcode (passcode is needed to message or email, if locked, but not to place a call). But Siri displays everything...?

Sent from the iMore App

I found a phone in the street at a fireworks show out of town. It didn't have a passcode but no one answered when I called all the recent numbers in the phone book. I dropped it off at the closest gas station and explained to the attendant that someone might call looking for it but I was headed back out of town. He seemed to understand the logic. Made sense to me.

Sent from the iMore App

I have on my start screen my I.C.E. nr. if someone finds my phone (or me in problems) he/she just have to wake the phone up and sees the number from my wife. No need to dig around in my phone.

Sent from the iMore App

When I've found unlocked phones (or plain-old "feature phones"), I just call 611 and tell the carrier that I've found this phone I'm calling from, and ask them how they would like for me to proceed. They may try to call the owner's alternate number(s) on file (home, work, etc.). If they can't reach the owner right there and then, it might mean leaving it at the establishment that you found it at and the carrier rep will ask for the establishment's address, (just in case the owner might not know where it was found at). Hint: ask for the manager on duty at the establishment, don't give it to just anyone.

Another possibility if the phone is unlocked: go into the mail app, make sure you've backed out to the "Mailboxes" screen, then tap the icon to compose a new message. Since you're on the "Mailboxes" screen, it'll pick the default mail account if there are multiple accounts set up. Look at the "From:" field, address the e-mail to this account. Write an e-mail to the (presumed) owner and tell them where their phone will be. Hopefully, the owner has this account set up on another device (computer, iPad, web mail access, etc.) and get your message.

Words of advice: If the phone is locked, the best thing to do is take it to the nearest police station and let them handle it. Don't use the phone's "Emergency call" feature, because a lost phone is not an "emergency".

Also, don't take the phone home with you. It can give the wrong impression that perhaps you stole it, and the owner or police might be able to look at Find My iPhone's map and figure out where you live. Remember that you don't know the mental state of the owner; you could either be thanked, blamed, or assaulted for being in possession of that phone.

Sent from the iMore App

I find it strange that Apple didn't include a feature to put a contact number on the lock screen, especially since Blackberry did that ten years ago. I made a custom lock screen for me and my spouse with each other's numbers. I used a drawing app to make a comic strip word balloon coming out of our kid's mouth, so it's fun to look at, too.

I'll check my contact info in Siri from the lock screen now to see what I'd be giving up if I misplaced my precious.

Two things: I make custom wallpapers for my family's phones that say THIS PHONE IS GPS TRACKED. IF FOUND CALL XXX XXX XXXX for a reward.

I also have a piece of paper with the same stuck to the back of the phone.

Sent from the iMore App

When I was in Ireland two years ago I left my 4s in a gift shop bathroom in the boondocks. I didn't realize it til 3 hours later. The owner of the shop found it and had already called my son and daughter back in the states to say he had it and gave them his phone number. He actually drove about 3 hours to return my phone to me in Dublin. I dread to think what would have happened here in NYC to that phone. Thanks

I have a very unique situation with a stolen iPhone that I need advice for. I currently have a loaner iPhone from an Apple store while the phone I own is being repaired. Shortly after receiving the loaner phone the AT&T network blocked the loaner phone. According to AT&T the loaner actually belongs to someone else who reported the phone stolen. The Apple store and Apple customer service center says the phone is not stolen. I checked the IMEI number on an internet search and the results show the phone is in fact blacklisted and stolen. How could I contact the original owner of the phone? Apple and AT&T are no help and since I suspect the Apple store that I'm dealing with may have a dishonest employee due to this incident and some other odd experiences I've encountered with the same Apple store in the past couple of weeks. Given hassle I've dealt with since getting this apparent stolen phone from the Apple store I would really like to let the actual owner know where there phone ended up. Thoughts?

Hi, we have just found an iPhone5 in Budapest, Hungary, which seems to have a Californian owner (alerts and time set on the phone), but it is keylocked, cannot connect to the internet, the SIM is also locked so no network neither.
Let me know, if you have any idea how to find him/her to give the phone back.
Cheers