It happens in the blink of an eye. You place your phone down on a counter at the cash register or feel a slight bump as you get off the subway, only to later realize your phone is gone. Regardless of how you lose it, be it from theft or a simple mistake, losing your phone is a stressful experience.
Not only does it cut off your access to the rest of the world, but your phone is the most personal device you own. And replacing it is a costly nuisance.
In the event your phone goes missing, don’t panic! There are tools built into every Android phone that make it possible to lock and track down a lost phone with ease. In order for that to happen, you’ll need to take some steps to set yourself up for success if and when your phone does go missing — even if you only left it in the house.
Create a secure lock screen
Do yourself a favor and turn on passcode and fingerprint authentication. Do yourself another favor and don’t use facial recognition on your Android device.
The technology used for facial recognition on most Android deviceswith something as simple as a photo of your face. Google’s are the exceptions here, they use a system similar to Apple’s and should be far more reliable than previous facial recognition
Next, create your passcode and set up fingerprint authentication in the Settings app under the Security section. I realize scanning a fingerprint or entering a PIN code every time you want to use your phone can be inconvenient, but the idea of someone having access to your photos, banking apps, email and the rest of your personal info is downright scary.
An extra step to unlock your phone is worth the effort when you consider the potential impact of exposing your personal info to a stranger.
Google’s Find My Device
Any time you sign into an Android device with a Google account, Find My Device is already on. Find My Device is what you’ll use should your phone ever go missing to track, remotely lock and remotely erase it.
You can check to make sure Find My Device is enabled by opening the Settings app and going to Security & Location > Find My Device. Alternatively, if your device doesn’t have a Security & Location option, go to Google > Security > Find My Device.
Find My Device should be turned on. If not, slide the switch to the On position and exit out of the Settings app.
Samsung’s Find My Mobile
If you have a Samsung phone, then in addition to Google’s Find My Device service, you can — and should — set up Samsung’s Find My Mobile service. Not only does it give you a backup service to track down a lost phone, but it also gives you tools that Find My Device doesn’t have.
With Samsung’s service, you can do things like force remote backups or see if someone has swapped out your SIM card. You must have a Samsung account to use Find My Mobile.
On your Samsung phone, open the Settings app and go to Biometrics and security > Find My Mobile. If you signed into your Samsung account during the initial device setup, the Find My Mobile should already be enabled. If not, take a few seconds to sign into your Samsung account and enable Find My Mobile.
Remotely lock and track a lost phone
Use Find My Device
Using Android’s baked-in service requires you to remember one thing: android.com/find. That website is where you’ll go in the unfortunate event that you lose your phone. Make sure you sign in to the same Google account that’s linked to your Android phone.
Not near a computer? You can use another Android device and the Find My Device app that you’ll have to download separately from the Play store. Immediately after signing into the site or app, Google will attempt to locate your phone.
An alert will be sent to your phone to tell whoever has it that it’s being tracked. Use the menu on the left-hand side of the Find My Device site to play a sound (helpful if you misplaced it in your home!), lock down your device, or erase the device altogether.
Selecting Secure Device will lock the phone, display a message of your choosing on the lock screen, and sign out of your Google account. Don’t worry, you can still locate the phone after it’s locked. If you use Google Pay for mobile payments, locking your phone will prevent anyone from using your phone to make a purchase.
If you use the Erase Device feature, you will no longer be able to track the phone once it’s erased. Reserve this feature as a last resort.
Should the thief turn off your phone, you won’t be able to track it until it’s turned back on and has a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Google will send you an email once it locates your device.
Once you find your phone, you’ll need to enter your PIN or passcode to gain access. That should also get rid the lock screen message. You might also have to log into your Google account, just to verify it really is you who is accessing the phone — you don’t need to turn anything off in the Find My app.
Samsung Galaxy owners have the benefit of using Google’s or Samsung’s respective services to locate a lost device, but I recommend using Samsung’s offering. As you’ll see below, the added capabilities are invaluable.
To track a lost device with Samsung’s service, you need to visit findmymobile.samsung.com. There isn’t a companion app, so you’ll need to use a mobile browser on another phone or a computer.
Sign in with your Samsung account, then select your lost device on the left side of the screen. A map will display where your phone is currently located, and a menu of options will show up on the right side of the screen.
Start by locking the phone, which will display a personalized message on the lock screen, suspend your Samsung Pay cards, and prevent the phone from being powered off.
Next, create a backup of your phone. Should you lose it for good, you’ll want to have a current backup of your phone. If the phone is moving locations, use the Track location feature.
Enabling this feature will track your phone every 15 minutes. Finally, turn on the Extend battery life feature — this will disable almost everything on the phone, outside of the location tracking.
Similar to Google’s Find My Device service, Samsung’s service only requires you to enter your PIN code after locating your phone. You don’t need to go back to the website and turn any of the tracking features off.
Don’t confront thieves
If your phone has been stolen and you’re able to track its location, do not attempt to recover it yourself. Doing so could lead to you or someone else getting hurt, and despite the importance of a phone, it’s simply not worth it.
Instead, contact local law enforcement and let them know you need help recovering a lost or stolen phone that you’ve been able to track to a specific address.
Contact your carrier, file an insurance claim
If it becomes clear that you’re never going to get your phone back, contact your carrier and report your phone as lost or stolen. Doing this will blacklist the phone from the carrier’s database, preventing another person from using it.
When you call, your carrier will want to suspend your service as well. This is a good idea if you want to prevent someone from using your phone. However, keep in mind that if you’re still tracking your lost phone, you’ll lose a mobile connection to it — and unless the phone is somehow registered on a Wi-Fi network, you’ll lose the ability to track it.
Finally, if you pay for insurance on your phone, you’ll need to file a claim and pay the deductible to get your replacement phone. Get the insurance claim process started through your carrier, who will then likely refer you to the third-party insurance company who will replace your phone.
Good luck! We hope you never have to go through the emotional roller coaster of losing a phone, tracking it down, and trying to get it back.
Originally published last year. Regularly updated.