What to do when your iPhone or iPad is stolen

On the night of Monday, June 13, someone stole my 12.9-inch iPad Pro from my bag during the annual Beard Bash event. I won't go into the gritty details, but suffice it to say my valuables (as well as those of my colleague Serenity Caldwell) were in a secure location. Unfortunately, secure doesn't always mean nothing bad will happen, and in this case, something bad did happen: My iPad Pro was removed from my bag, Serenity's belongings were stuffed into my bag to make it look full (I guess), and the iPad Pro went bye-bye.

The night of the theft, long after Serenity and I had stashed our belongings, she approached me and asked why I'd put her coat inside my bag (which, of course, I hadn't done). After a minute or two of self doubt: "Had I put her coat in my bag? Maybe I just don't remember," I was certain I hadn't misremembered. I ran to our belongings to check out what happened and flew into a bit of a panic when I realized my iPad was definitely gone. I took a minute to pull myself together and got to work tracking down my missing iPad Pro.

Step 1: Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone's device search screen

I sat down right where I was, pulled out my iPhone and opened up Find My iPhone. Before I even took the time to see where it was on a map, I'd already tapped "Lost Mode."

Lost Mode (opens in new tab) does four major things:

  1. You can lock your device with a passcode so no one can get to your personal information.
  2. You can display a message on your device's screen, showing that the device is stolen and listing your contact information.
  3. Your device won't show alerts or play notification sounds for calls, messages, etc.
  4. Your Apple Pay cards will be suspended, so no one can make purchases.

Unfortunately, my iPad Pro (the cellular model) was dead, so it didn't pop up in Find My iPhone. That said, enabling Lost Mode in Find My iPhone ensures it will be enabled when your iOS device comes back online.

A few quick tips:

  • Find My iPhone's Lost Mode should not be the reason there's a passcode on your device. Use a passcode or password always, always, always. Even if you'd prefer to keep your device unlocked at home, set up a passcode when you travel. Set up a passcode!
  • Always keep your device charged whilst traveling. Because we had been writing all day in various mobile locations, my iPad Pro was on the brink of battery death. Find My iPhone can only find a device that's online.
  • If you're going to be traveling a lot with your iPad, I'd recommend getting the cellular model if you can afford it. That way, in theory, it's a lot more likely you'll be able to trace it.

Step 2: Know when to say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

An iPad Pro is shown displaying a Lost iPad message.

After enabling Lost Mode, I alerted my colleagues and we combed the building, looking for my lost iPad (its name was Gladstone, rest its soul). We couldn't find Gladstone anywhere in the building, but we started asking around to see who all might have had access to the secure location. We did a good bit of sleuthing and searching throughout the night, but no luck.

Later that night, I got a notification from Find My iPhone letting me know Gladstone had come online and it was in Lost Mode. I showed the map of its location to Serenity, as she's familiar with the San Francisco area, and she informed the group that it had been taken to a not-so-great place … or, at least, not a great place to travel to at 3 a.m. for a thievery confrontation.

Step 3: Lock it up and throw away the key

Erase your iOS device in Find My iPhone

We decided as a group to call it a loss, which meant it was time to say goodbye to Gladstone. I tapped the "Erase iPad" button in Find My iPhone, which erases everything (including Apple Pay information) on your device.

Keep in mind erasing a device means you won't be able to track it using Find My iPhone, so you want to be absolutely certain it's been stolen — not just lost.

Step 4: Hello, wireless carrier

A couple SIM cards lay next to a rose gold iPhone

iPhone 6s with SIM card (Image credit: iMore)

If you lost an iPhone or a cellular iPad, you need to call your wireless carrier and get them to suspend service on the SIM inside the device. That'll keep the thief from running up data charges on your wireless account by swapping the SIM into a different device.

I spoke to an incredibly kind, compassionate person at AT&T who helped me suspend service on my stolen device and joined me in griping about the audacity of some people. It was great! This is also a good time to ask about device insurance; some carrier insurance plans cover device theft, but the deductibles usually aren't cheap.

If you choose to replace the device, you'll typically need to call your wireless carrier to swap out the stolen or lost device's access with the replacement. I tried doing it without calling and ended up unintentionally setting up an entirely new line on my wireless plan. Don't be like me.

Step 5: Hello, law enforcement

It's a good idea to report your lost or stolen device to local law enforcement. Even if they're unable to help you recover the device, it'll be in the system. If you're asked for the device's serial number (opens in new tab), it's a good idea to give that information to them, because law enforcement typically reports lost or stolen devices to Apple.

Step 6: Relax, breathe, and try to move on

Once you've determined the device is really, really gone and you've done all the necessary locking, reporting, and wiping, there's not much else you can do.

Rest easy knowing your device is locked and — if you've set it up this way — tied to your iCloud account. For all intents and purposes, that means no one will ever be able to access the lost or stolen device without your credentials. Your data is safe and your device is nothing more than a beautiful, aluminum and glass paperweight. And, hey, you've just faced a pretty hefty life lesson you can share with others.

I spent the night of the theft with my stomach in knots and a billion thought processes running through my head, but the next day I realized I'd done all I could do and there was no reason to keep worrying about it. I brushed my shoulders off so the theft wouldn't ruin the rest of my time in San Francisco. To the best of your ability, try not to let a theft ruin your trip, vacation, day, etc. Apple has some pretty impressive security and privacy protections in place to keep you and your devices safe.

I guess what I'm saying is, if it had to be me facing a theft, I'm glad it was a theft of one of my iOS devices. It's as if the thief walked away with a window into my world and past my privacy, but the damned thing was locked up tight from the inside with a layer of Adamantium blocking out prying hands and nefarious eyes.

Have you ever lost an iPhone or iPad? Had one stolen? What'd you do when you realized it? Send us a Snap, a Tweet, or let us know in the comments.

Mikah Sargent

Mikah Sargent is Senior Editor at Mobile Nations. When he's not bothering his chihuahuas, Mikah spends entirely too much time and money on HomeKit products. You can follow him on Twitter at @mikahsargent if you're so inclined.

  • I'm curious why you didn't report it to the police while you had the location? I lost an iPhone once and activated lost mode but it never came back online. I assume it ended up in a "chop shop" and was sold off for parts.
  • My thought too! Call the police!
  • Maybe because there might have not been enough time. You never know if people could be moving with it, which makes this not as useful for the police. That does suck though Mikah, what a bummer. :(
  • Yep! @libra89 is exactly correct. Not only was the device shifting locations, but it only had 1- to 2-percent battery because it had been in use all day. By the time it came back online, it could've been just about anywhere. So take my advice: Always, always, always keep your devices charged up. That way a call to the police can result in an iPad reunion. Sent on Gladstone II, my iPad Pro that can never replace Gladstone I
  • Why isn't a password or Touch ID required to power off the device when it's locked? The first thing a smart thief does after he/she/it (gotta be all inclusive nowadays) grabs the device & flees the scene is power down the thing, so it can't be tracked.
    Like stated above, stolen devices get chopped up & sold online for parts. They are worth much more that way. Sent from the iMore App
  • What happens when your phone locks up and you have to hard cycle power? A locked up phone wont necessarily be able to read the TouchID sensor or get input for a password.
  • Power cycling with Home + Power would be allowed, just not holding Power down & then slide to turn off.
  • So a hard cycle would reboot instead of shutdown? Not a bad idea. It would deter casual thievery for sure, but like anything, it could be worked around. Just put it into a faraday cage until the battery dies or just disassemble it while it's powered on.
  • Now you're just being obtuse. A Faraday Cage?
  • Not sure what you mean:
  • Yeah, because a thief would NEVER think of Googling "How do I shut off an iPhone without using the fingerprint reader?"...
  • There's a Jailbreak tweak for that. Though I'm not sure if it's been updated to iOS 9.
  • Also, check with your homeowner's insurance to see if they have any type of lost device coverage. I know Liberty Mutual has broken device coverage ($50 deductible to repair or replace a device including laptops).
  • True, I have that too. I wouldn't file a homeowners claim for less that 10k though. You think car insurance can get stupid after a couple of claims? Try and file a claim for an iPhone. The funny part is that they don't care how much the claim is, just the number of times you've filed a claim. I got a new roof last summer (15k for hail) and my coverage didn't go up at all because I had never filed a claim before.
  • Pretty simple, you use it as a reason to UPGRADE to a Surface pro/surface book and buy a galaxy s7 phone and never look back.
  • One of the worst feelings in the world is when you've been violated this way
  • Why is that? Oh it's because there is no re-sale value?
  • Sorry about your iPad. I like the feature in IOS - Celluar setting where you can disable apps to use cellular data when there is no wifi. I disabled everything except Find my iPhone.
  • Thank you for sharing your painful experience and the opportunity to learn. Sent from the iMore App
  • If it's a cellular device, you also need to report the IMEI as stolen to the carrier - this will help prevent it from being resold.
  • "If you're asked for the device's serial number, it's a good idea to give that information to them, because law enforcement typically reports lost or stolen devices to Apple." Not likely. The dispatchers, cops and records clerks handling your "case" are -- like the public at large -- generally not very tech-savvy. Let me explain, from an insider's perspective, how it's likely to go down. Your report will be taken and (if a S/N is provided), your device will be entered into NCIC (the nationwide database of stolen stuff and wanted people). Even if you provide it, the model, color and capacity of your device won't likely make it into the report. A manilla folder will be generated (yep, still paper) and be put into a filing cabinet. In 5 years, that data will be shredded. At no point in my 11 years in law enforcement have I or any of my colleagues ever reported a lost / stolen device to Apple or any other manufacturer. The only circumstance I can imagine that happening would be a high-dollar theft from a retailer or wholesaler (there's an Amazon distribution center in my jurisdiction). Never a single item from an individual though. Bottom line, use the built-in iCloud protections, cut your losses and at least delight in the fact the thief won't get any use out of the pilfered device.
  • Call the police. You can usually do a report over the phone. It is important to know your devices serial number, and keep in a deprecate location when needed. Never, and I mean never go to a location to retrieve your device. It is so dangerous, but many do, and there are some bad stories about that. Get the police involved. The big problem, some law enforcement are starting to develop policy about the recovery of devices, because find my phone is not 100% accurate. Now you will find the bad guy has more rights than victims. Really sorry this happened. Being a victim is not easy. You do feel violated. Just curious, were there any security cameras near your secure location? In the long run you did the right thing. Sent from the iMore App
  • Sorry about your loss, but...
    Step 0: NEVER leave expensive electronics at a coat check or anywhere than continuously on your person. If you need to be without it at a party, don't bring it. There is no such thing as "secure storage" for small portable, highly valuable devices.
  • Secure storage is in my front pants pocket.
  • One day, my wife was visiting a friend so I called her when I got home to see if she was on her way to the house since we had an engagement to go to that night. When I called her I did not get an answer. A few moments later I received a call from an unknown number. Usually, I do not answer phone calls from numbers I do not recognize but I answered this one. It happened to be my wife calling me from our friend's phone. She asked me to play a sound on her iPhone by using the Find My iPhone app because she could not find it. I logged into the app and tapped “Play Sound”, then I put the iPhone in lost mode. I waited a minute and then called my wife on our friend's phone to see if she found her iPhone. She told me that she still could not find it and mentioned that the niece of one of our other friends was there too, but had to leave all of a sudden. At that point, I opened the app again and tracked the iPhone to an address. I read the address to my wife and she told me that the address was where the niece stayed. It just so happened that she was staying with her grandparents who are friends of ours. My wife's friend went over to the house and was able to get the iPhone back, but the case was missing. I drove over to their house to retrieve the case. The girl answered the door and told me that our friend had already come over to get the iPhone but I told her that I was there for the case as well. I got the case back and her grandparents apologized to me for what happened. I got in my car to drive home and I called my wife to let her know I got the case back. When she did not answer I called our friends phone and my wife answered it. She told me that the sim card was not inside the iPhone. I called the girls grandfather and told him that the sim card was missing and asked if he could get it back for me. By the time I got home, I received a call on my iPhone and it was the girl that stole my wife's iPhone. She was crying and apologizing for what she did. I told her that I forgave her for doing what she did and I let her know that stealing from people is hurtful and not to do that again. She is 11 years old. I am glad that we were able to get the iPhone back but more importantly I hope the little girl learned her lesson. I would hate to see her grow up and continue to do things like this. If the iPhone would have been stolen by someone we did not know I would have called the police and let them handle it. Glad this wasn't the case. If you own an iPhone, turn on “Find My iPhone”. You never know when you'll need it.
  • "my valuables (as well as those of my colleague Serenity Caldwell) were in a secure location" You need to re-evaluate your definition of a secure location.
  • Notifying law enforcement is useless. I reported a stolen iPhone to local police and even gave them the last reported location and they didn't do squat.
  • I've had 2 laptops stolen. Once was my fault for leaving it unattended in a university library, but the other was a "secure area" where the staff of a games store demanded all bags be checked with them (then, they gave away my bag!!!!). Yeah, I can verify that law enforcement are pretty much useless when it comes to personal thefts. If only they spent less time worrying about giving out citations for speed etc and more time serving us.
  • Seems like a good time to add a section to the article about activation lock and what is is. Some comment above says the iPad will be sold for parts? I can't imagine those parts are worth very much....anyone know?
  • Several years ago, I was woken up at 4am in my bedroom with two ski-masked gunmen wanting all my cash and jewelry. They smashed my bedside phone and forced me to open up my safe. I was beaten, tied up and dragged into a bathroom. They threatened to go after my children sleeping in the house, then took my iPhone and iPad along with a backpack full of jewelry and cash. I was able to get untied quickly and went to get my kids and put them in a locked bedroom with me and called 911. The first police arrived within 5 minutes, then 20 more shortly after. The police entered the house and barricaded us the bedroom for safety while they searched the house and neighborhood. After the area was cleared, we were taken into the yard and I was put in a vehicle to see if I could verify the identity of people the police had pulled over in the neighborhood. The kids were taken to the police station and I stayed back with the swat team and forensics people. We pulled up the Find Your iPhone app on my computer and found the phone in the middle of a highway and the iPad in a house several miles away. We pulled up Google Street View and found the mailbox # and the swat team sent several people to check out the house. They found two men climbing out a window and they threw a backpack on the roof. The rest of the police evacuated the neighborhood and one of the gunmen committed suicide. The other surrendered a couple of hours later. The police searched the house and could not find the backpack anywhere. They called me to activate the iPad alarm and it was found up in the attic insulation along with the jewelry, ski masks, gun and gloves. The iPad was crushed and wrapped in aluminum foil, but still worked. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 57 years.