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How to: Track Your Phone If It’s Stolen or Lost [Beginners' Guide]

find phone

When you first turn on your new phone, one of the last things you want to entertain is the idea that there may be a time when it becomes lost or stolen. As much as we cherish our smartphones and keep them by our sides at all times, there is always a chance that it gets left behind somewhere or that someone grabs it while you aren’t paying attention. Thanks to a number of Android applications, you can help reunite yourself with your phone in a matter of minutes.

If you head into the Google Play store and search for “find my phone,” you will be flooded with more options than you can probably digest. The good news is that most of them are simple, free, and work incredibly well. Let’s talk about the service and how it works. 

So how does a “find my phone” app work?

Most use GPS, your phone number, and an external website that allows you to track your phone at all times. “Find my phone” apps allow you to ping the location of your device and then display it, along with an address for you to find it at. Once installed, you usually need to activate the app, attach it to your phone number, create a login with a partnering tracking website, and then sit back and wait for someone to steal your phone or for you to misplace it. It takes minutes to set these apps up, but can save you hundreds of dollars in the end.

What happens once it’s lost or stolen?

Once stolen or lost, you can immediately head to that partnering website, login, and pin point your device’s location. From this website, you usually can lock the phone down from being used, remotely wipe all information from it, and also tell it to “scream” or make a loud noise to draw attention to the situation. Some services are also allowing you to remotely take photos with the camera on your phone, so that you can help identify the location or get a crystal clear picture of the thief.

Here are a few “find my phone” apps that you may want to check out:
  • SeekDroid ($2.99):  This is one of the old standard “find my phone” apps. Besides all of the standard features we mentioned above, it allows you to remotely enable GPS, remotely wipe both internal storage and SD cards, and even keep thieves from uninstalling the app.
  • Find My Phone:  A free app that’s great for families, especially parents that like to keep track of their kids. You can attach friends and family to it to track phone movement at all times. But maybe most importantly, you can track a lost or stolen phone from another phone if they are on your list of friends. So if you aren’t near a computer or tracking website, you can always grab your Mom’s phone and find yours.
  • Norton Anti-Theft:  This is an add-on to Norton’s Mobile Security, which from what I can tell means you need a Norton license in order to use. But one of the cool features I noticed, was its ability to take photos and then upload them to a Norton site to help you find the device. No better “Gotcha!” than a mug shot of the guy that just jacked your phone.
  • Lookout Plan B:  Lookout’s Plan B is one of the only apps that will let you find your phone after the fact, even if it hasn’t been pre-installed on your phone. If you lose your phone, you can remotely install Plan B to it, which will then cause it to automatically start and then send a location to you. After that, if you want to continue to track your phone, you can text “locate” to it from another phone. Pretty brilliant, if you ask me.

Beyond those four options, there are countless others to choose from. In fact, almost every anti-virus or security app for Android (Ex: AVG, Zoner, and McAfee) has a device tracking feature built in.

So as a final reminder, strongly consider installing a “find my phone” app on your new device – it may help you find your expensive toy and bust a criminal at the same time.

Presented by Norton 360™ Multi-Device. Protect your new computers, smartphones, and tablets with Norton 360™  Multi-Device.

  • Jk

    can this work if your phone has already been stolen without downloading the app

  • kania to smexy

    this is crap

  • Edward Prendrick

    PlanB worked for me. DroidX was stolen over the summer, remotely downloaded PlanB to my phone from my computer, located my phone to within 2m. Called the police with the address and got my phone back.

  • Vmaster

    In the Lookout Plan B reviews, someone had posted that it is not compatible with jellybean. Good to know.

  • Thomas Wolfe

    Nice paid ad

  • Itchy_Robot

    I tried Plan B on my Verizon S3 and it did not work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30814337 Brian Rokosz

    GF’s got stolen in 2011…two days after I tracked it on the coast of Florida (we live in Chicago, IL), pulled up google street view using the location from the app, called the local PD and directed the officer to the house. Then I told him I was initiating the “scream” the phone could produce through the app…heard her phone shrieking through the officer’s phone…however, he then said his shift was up in 45 minutes and didn’t have time for my stupid problems…contacted the detectives in my town I knew from my internship and a few weeks later the house google pulled up was raided by DEA and found to be used to bring in drug shipments. They’d then distribute the drugs out of state and some went to one of the gangs in my town. About 30 stolen phones from all over were being used in the house.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jaxon.wright Jaxon Wright

    Cerberus is the way to go

  • skinja99

    Can’t you also use Google Latitude?

  • http://twitter.com/Dominick_7 Dominick S.

    Would like to suggest adding Kaspersky. Since it’s been updated it seems really good now. The track your phone feature gets even a pretty close up aerial photo of the house it’s in.

  • Daistaar

    I think the term criminal for someone who finds a shiny new phone is a bit harsh. Maybe that could be worded better. Now someone who preys on you or your phone is different. I think if you leave it in a bar or cab you should be content with a full wipe, but to penalize and criminalize someone for finding it is just messed up.

  • renGek

    Tasker. while not exactly simple to set up, not rocket science either. One less app to install is always good in my opinion and tasker has replaced many apps for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.keener.3 Joe Keener

    Thanks so much to all the responses from people on here i got Cerberus Anti-Theft , its a little pricey but pretty awesome, thanks much!

  • Ryan Chapman

    I have Prey, and I used it the other day when I misplaced my phone at the mall and it worked well

  • Debbie Wong

    Recently, my phone 5 went missing and to figure out my options, I called apple support. The tech advised me to erase the phone as a precaution. I asked if that was advisable given that then I would not be able to track it. Even after I read him the pop-up warning message, he insisted that Apple could track it. WRONG! http://www.youtube.com.qr.net/j384/watch?v=QZEpDqP3IrQ

  • KOBALT

    Any thought’s on ‘Where’s My Droid’? I bought it already :P

  • NastyEmu

    I know this post is aimed at beginners, but if you have Tasker and are rooted you can do all this and more by sending pre-set texts. Also, I have mine set to take a pic with the front facing camera and upload it to dropbox whenever someone puts in the wrong unlock code. I have a whole gallery of awful pictures of me when I’m half awake and can’t hit the buttons correctly.

  • Kr B

    AndroidLost. Incredibly dangerous tool to use as it is both free and expansive in features. Access it from any computer, setup alerts remotely, poll your phone if someone turns it off, retrieve, delete, view files on your SD Card, wipe, the whole she-bang. It helped my relationship end sooner. :-D

    • Anon

      Agreed, great product, and free. I have nothing against paying for an app like this, btw –but so many are on the subscription model, not “buy it and you’re done”.

    • fallsgable

      Android Lost FTW…
      It’s features are awesome….and tracks the phone SOO Easily….
      The alarms and cameras and Locks all work flawlessly!!
      and the fact that you can remotely log into the lost phone from someone elses phone…and send SMS texts…lock the phone anonymously record audio from lost phone….remotely use front or rear camera….even have the thief take a photo of themselves, and send it to you, without them even knowing it!
      Did I mention it’s FREE!!
      Great App!

  • brkshr

    Not even a cerberus mention?… smh

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnAdamBenson Adam Benson

    SO doesnt everyone know to turn the phone off or take out the battery once you steal it? What then?

    • Ryan Chapman

      Whats the purpose of stealing a phone if you never turn it on?

      • ERIC REED

        Selling it on Craigslist…

        • Anon

          You think someone who buys it on Craigslist isn’t going to want to see it turned on prior to purchase?

          • ERIC REED

            Sure they will turn it on then, but in five minutes they are gone and now you have a stolen phone!!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcelo-Burrieza/100000489847678 Marcelo Burrieza

        shut down -> took sim card out -> turn it on in recovery mode-> wipe data/all-> reboot… 99% of all these apps are useless if an experienced thief get your phone.

        Even if you are clever and install the app as a system app (that will live after a full wipe), they can just turn it on in download mode and flash a new ROM from a PC before turning back on…

  • Chris Hollenbeck

    What I use: http://preyproject.com/
    I have it on my tablet, phone, and laptop. Works great.

  • Andy

    It’s much more than a phone tracking application, but I prefer avast! Mobile Security ( https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.avast.android.mobilesecurity )

    It’s got a ton of great features, is free, and if you have root (Most people here probably do) there is an option to install it to system with a different name/icon so a thief wouldn’t notice/uninstall it right away.

    • Jae Remy

      why would a thief uninstall the app?? why wouldnt they just reset your whole phone? Then what?

  • http://twitter.com/litobirdy litobirdy

    I just tried plan b and that crap didn’t work. No email and no text results

    • Jeralmac

      Same here. Gnex with Muzzy 4.2.

  • http://twitter.com/BriCo84 Brian Cohen

    Where’s My Droid FTW!

  • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

    You should also mention PREY (projectprey.com)
    I kind of prefer Seekdroid over it but it is free. The PC tracking is the best though. I was able to recover a stolen laptop with it.

  • Tommy Nunno

    Android lost still the best has more features then any of the apps listed. And did I mention it was FREE!

  • Jae Remy

    is there any “find my phone app” that will work when the phone is actually off, or restored??

    • George Fayad

      Not actively no. The only thing to hope for is that you can use the last known location of the phone to figure out where it might be. But if you lose your phone in a bar and someone turns it off and takes it home, as long as they’re able to restore the phone before it registers a new location, there’s nothing that can be done but report the ESN to your carrier as a stolen device.

  • John Burke

    I swear by PhoneLocator Pro.

  • KingSpeedy

    Worth mentioning aeGis as well. It’s an OSS option that supports sounding an alarm, locking, wiping, and locating your phone through SMS triggers. Very actively supported.

  • Steve Bender

    Plan B only works on certain android builds

  • sirmix

    The only reason I would steal someones phone is to dial 1-900-mix-alot.

    • steveindajeep

      dude kick them nasty thoughts

  • Jae Remy

    horrible, we all know these apps are a farce! if someone actually knows what they are doing then these will not help you!

    • http://twitter.com/cnlson cnlson

      Cerberus can be installed as a system app, meaning it cannot be normally uninstalled it also can alert you and can be located even if the sim card is replaced and the phone has a different number that you don’t know

  • http://twitter.com/IInsley Isaac Insley

    Cerberus Anti-Theft!

    • kindrudekid

      Best Damn thing Ever!

    • Drew Carpenter

      With a rooted phone this does things the others does not and its perfect!

      • scumB

        But I factory reset your phone so I wouldn’t get caught, oh well, please don’t press charges.

        • David Ferreira

          with a rooted device, even after a factory reset, cerberus still works…

    • http://twitter.com/jnewman1991 James Newman

      This! When I’m done running nightlies and a stable version of CM 10.1 comes out for the N4 this will go back on my phone.

    • http://www.pcprocare.com/ Barry Taylor

      Totally agree.. I LOVE it.

    • jfr69

      I love Cerberus. Def have to be rooted to appreciate the full potential.

    • http://twitter.com/davidbavin David Bavin

      I prefer Seekdroid, got it a while back for free on Amazon’s Appstore.

    • http://twitter.com/WesKenya Wes Kenyon

      Just downloaded Cerberus, thanks for the info it looks awesome!

  • http://profiles.google.com/billhewins Bill Hewins

    Carbonite’s mobile app also has a “find my phone” feature. It also includes remote ring, lock, wipe and photo capture.

  • jaeremy32

    yeah until they shut the phone off, or better yet restore it back to factory settings. then these apps are useless!

    • Thomas

      True, but there are alot of dumb criminals out there that won’t do what you said so it beats nothing right ?

    • Bobby

      If you are rooted, you can make the lost phone finding app a system app via Titanium Backup. It’s even more effective to use SuperSU pro to put a pin code on superuser access. Providing your phone is locked before the thief can use the phone, the only thing he can do is use the recovery to wipe the phone. At least you have a good chance some hoodlum isn’t going to know anything about how to do all that.

    • http://twitter.com/cnlson cnlson

      See above, Cerberus can be installed asa system app and can lobate your phone even if the Sim is replaced and you no longer know the phone number.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcelo-Burrieza/100000489847678 Marcelo Burrieza

        If they flash the phone with a stock ROM, even cerberus is useless. But I guess that most thiefs do not know how to do that. They just take the battery out and sell it cheap to someone that knows how to flash a phone and even change the IMEI if its necessary…