Blogs‎ > ‎

Finding a Stolen Cell Phone

posted Feb 11, 2012, 3:21 AM by Vikas Hazrati
Courtesy -,2817,2352755,00.asp

Misplacing a cell phone can be traumatic, even if you aren't a drunken Apple engineer with a prototype iPhone at a German beer garden. Losing the device itself is bad enough, but there's a good chance that you'll lose your contacts and text messages, since they're not backed up anywhere—particularly if it's a regular cell phone. BlackBerrys, iPhones, and other smartphones may also have your private information stored in their apps. Replacement cost is another issue. Walk into a carrier retail outlet to buy a new one, and you'll likely have to pay full list price, though you can also buy used phones from eBay.

So what should you do now, while you still have the phone in your possession? Cell phone insurance is an option, but not a particularly good one. It does nothing to retrieve your lost data. Many high-end phones aren't covered at all. The monthly fees can top $100 over the course of two years. Try and cash in, and you'll need to pay a $50 deductible plus shipping. You'll also have to wait several days without a phone.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can locate a lost cell phone. Almost all require that you sign up for something beforehand, so start preparing now. Let's step through all the options.

First, write down your phone's IMEI, MEID or ESN number (it's on a sticker under the battery, and which one you have varies by phone) somewhere safe. That's a unique identifier you can give to the police or your wireless carrier if your phone gets lost.

If you have any AT&T or Sprint phone, you can sign up for the network's child-finder service. Sprint's Family Locator costs $5/month to track four phones, and AT&T's FamilyMap costs $10 to track two.

If you have a Verizon Wireless feature phone, you can use Verizon's Family Locator service for $10/month. Verizon's system doesn't work with most of the carrier's smartphones, though.

All the carrier-based services need to be activated before you lose the phone, because you either need to reply to a text message or change some settings on your phone to accept tracking.

Android phone owners can load up the third-party program Mobile Defense which offers not only phone-tracking, but remote lock, backup and wipe services. It's currently in a free public beta.

Apple iPhone owners that subscribe to MobileMe can use its Find My iPhone feature. This will bring up the phone's current location on a Google Maps screen. If you can't find the phone or will never be able to access it again, you can also kill the phone remotely; that will take effect the next time the phone sees AT&T's cellular network.

If you don't want to sign up for MobileMe you can also use the third-party tracking app iHound ($2.99), but it relies on fooling a thief into launching it to send your stolen phone's current location back to you. That's a little clumsy, but it's a lot cheaper than MobileMe.

BlackBerry users can try the third-party Berry Locator ($6.95) which will send a message to your lost BlackBerry and show you where it is on a Web-based map from any PC.

Windows Phone owners can use Microsoft's My Phone. Microsoft's synchronization service lets you locate a lost phone, but not in the way you think. Unlike MobileMe, it only shows you the phone's location the last time it synchronized your data over the air. Locating your phone costs $4.99 for three tries. S-Mobile Systems' third-party parental control app gives you a more accurate fix, but it costs $29.99 and may be overkill.

If you've already lost your phone, one old-fashioned trick that could work, depending on the person who finds it, is to offer a reward. Minimize the creepiness factor by doing it the 21st century way: from someone else's device, send a text message to the lost phone offering a cash reward if they call, arrange a meeting, and bring the phone with them.

Finally, if you've tried everything and are one step away from giving up, try registering the phone's IMEI number with; the site offers a free lost and stolen phone recovery service. You can also register the phone as stolen with the local police department, though the chances of recovery in this manner are pretty slim.