Lost phone

Android Central University — Security

Your Android smartphone is the most personal computer you own. No other device is with you virtually every second of every day, and so over the course of a standard two-year contract you'll be presented with plenty of opportunities to misplace it.

Fortunately, over the past few years Android has grown has grown into mature, stable mobile OS with an abundance of security features designed to help you out in just such an eventuality. But the solution isn't entirely technological, and there are a few common sense tips you should follow as well.

Let's walk through some top precautions to take to better protect your Android phone from loss, along with some tips in the event that you've already lost your phone.

How to keep from losing your Android phone, and keep your stuff safe if you do lose it

Want to help protect your phone (and its contents) should it ever become lost? Here are a few simple steps to take to enhance your Android security.

Lock screen security

Set up lock screen security

If someone else finds your phone, the only thing standing between them and all your personal data is your lock screen. So setting up robust lock screen security is the first step towards keeping your stuff safe.

On most Android phones you'll find this option under Settings > Security, or Settings > Lock screen. While some devices support biometric security like "Face unlock," it's tough to beat the tried and true pattern or PIN lock. Naturally, the more complex your pin or pattern, the less likely a random person is to get access to your phone.

Owner info

Set a lock screen owner message

Once you've locked down your device, you might also want to give anyone who finds it a way to figure out who it belongs to. Some phones will let you set this under Settings > Security > Owner Info. And while you might not want to offer too much personal info to a potential thief, showing your name here could give honest phone finders a clue to track you down.

Android Device Manager

Configure Android Device Manager

Built into all Google-certified Android devices through Google Play Services, Android Device Manager is a great tool for tracking down a lost or stolen phone. By default the ability to track down your phone through your Google account is turned on, but you can also allow the Android Device Manager to remotely wipe your handset.

You'll find this option under Google Settings (in the app drawer) > Android Device Manager > Allow remote lock and erase. It's a great (though potentially permanent) way to keep your data out of the wrong hands, and we'd recommend turning it on on any Android phone you own.

If you've got a Sony Xperia device, the "My Xperia" service also includes similar features.

Bonus tip: Turn on two-step authentication

Since Android Device Manager and some other security services make use of your Google Account, you'll want to make sure that stays secure too. After all, if someone compromises your account, they'll also be able to remotely lock your device, or worse. Do yourself a favor and set up two-stage authentication.

Consider a third-party security app

Android Device Manager is great in that it's built into Google Play Services and configured for basic tracking by default. But if you want more comprehensive tracking capabilities, there are plenty of third-party security apps on Google Play. (Beware, however, of unscrupulous apps purporting to offer security services, and stick to well-known offerings.)

Apps like Lookout include malware protection, while adding the ability to capture photos from the front-facing camera when an incorrect lock screen PIN is entered. And Cerberus takes this to the next level with the ability to record audio from the microphone and view detailed tracking information about the device.

Device boxes

Make a note of important device info

Not all of us hold onto the packaging and other gubbins that comes with our phones. But it's always a good idea to make a note of your unique IMEI (international mobile equipment identifier) number, as well as any device serial number, in case your phone is lost or stolen.

You can usually find this info under Settings > About phone > Status, or printed on the back of your device, on the box, or under the back panel or battery, if these are removable. You should give these details to your carrier or the police if you ever lose your device.

After you've lost it

So, the worst has already happened and you've lost your phone. Fortunately you've still got a few options open...

Dialpad

Call or text your phone

A basic but effective option. Calling your phone will allow you to track it down if it's nearby, or speak to someone who might have found it. You could also send a text, although if you've got lock screen security set up then this will prevent the message from being read.

One for the Moto X owners — "OK Google Now, find my phone!"

Only useful if your phone is a Moto X and you're in earshot of your wandering device. But provided Touchless Control is enabled on your Moto X, you can say "OK Google Now... find my phone" to trigger a pulsing sound that'll guide you to your phone.

More: The voice activated "Find my phone" feature on the Moto X

Android device manager

Remotely find and lock down your device

Even if you haven't set up Android Device Manager to remotely lock or wipe your phone, you can still use it to help you find it. Go to google.com/android/devicemanager on the web and sign in with your Google account, or download the Android Device Manager app on Google Play on another phone or tablet.

Provided the phone is still powered on, you'll be able to track its location in real time. If it's off, it'll give you an approximate last known location. Pressing the "Ring" button will cause the phone to play it's default ringtone at maximum volume for five minutes, or until the power button is pressed, which might help you zero in on its location.

If you've set up your phone to allow it (under Google Settings > Android Device Manager) you'll also be able to lock your phone with a message, or remotely wipe all your data.

If you're using My Xperia or a third-party security solution, the dashboard for that service should offer a similar dashboard for securing your device remotely. If you suspect it's been stolen, some will even allow you to gather evidence using the camera and microphones. (Though law enforcement professionals caution against confronting anyone you suspect of stealing your phone.)

Reporting your phone lost or stolen

If you've eliminated any chance of getting your phone back, the next step after locking it down is to report it lost or stolen.

You should also get in touch with your carrier to let them know what's happened, so they can cancel service to your phone and prevent any unauthorized charges. Some countries have a blacklist of stolen phones, and in many cases your carrier will also be able to help you report your phone's IMEI number as stolen, meaning you a thief won't be able to use it to connect to mobile networks.

And if your phone has been stolen, you should also report it to your local law enforcement.

Useful links for various countries:

 


Have you ever lost your Android phone? Any tips or advice to share? Shout out in the comments!

 
There are 50 comments

Madd54 says:

First off I would do what I do best - panic.
Second : I have my first name and my second number on the lock screen. Most times people who find it want to give it back. I found a phone in the grass twice.
Third : Android Device Manager is very easy and no need to remember another password just your Google account.
I have Lookout free, but never set the security up.

A very good and much needed article, with some extra tips for me.

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DarH says:

For me I'd cry like a baby because it would feel like my world has ended, then I'd suddenly remember I have two! Lol
Then we would be into which one would be the worst one to lose?
Note 3 or Nexus 5?
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Gekko says:

your carrier probably can't help you if you lose the Nexus 5.

NoNexus says:

You can certainly do without the N5

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MERCDROID says:

The Nexus 5 is the better device, hands down. Stop trolling. /sarcasm

NoNexus says:

Your right, my bad

/insincerity

AzharB17 says:

I live in South Africa which is like... crime central. Anyway my phone has never been stolen but it's happened to my parents quite a few times. The thing is here there are master thieves who render all these methods useless, which is why i hope one day someone manages to invent a way to locate a phone even when it is off or not connected to a network.

darigaaz12 says:

All the spies in all countries will loves this feature

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tdizzel says:

That "ok Google now...find my phone" seems like a neat trick. Too bad i can't use it since it only works on the Moto X...

Posted from the Avengers: Age of Droid Ultra

Madd54 says:

So remind me, would ADM find or wipe your phone if another sim or no sim is installed (mine is factory unlocked for any UK carrier)?
The phone just has to be turned on as said by Azhar. Will it search until the phone is back on?
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NoNexus says:

You forgot the bug in the HTC One that if you mess up the password 10 times it wipes your phone.

But it isn't a bug, it's an undocumented feature

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MERCDROID says:

This.

vansmack says:

I did not know this.

Next time my buddy brings his over I'm going to bet him $20 bucks I can crack his password and instead just erase his phone. AWESOME way to spend $20.

mclasser says:

I have TrustGo and it, like other security apps, relies on location services being turned on to track or remote wipe a lost device. I don't like having the location on at home but try to enable it whenever I'm out in the off chance my phone is lost/stolen.

Sent from my Note 10.1 via Android Central App

I actually have 3 device locator apps on my z2. Prey, ADM, my Xperia.

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hmmm says:

What about for root and unlocked bootloader users? If USB debugging is on for instance does any of this matter if they are smart and have a computer next to them? Or, what needs to be turned on/off to prevent someone who is smart with adb/fastboot from accessing the phone?

I really don't know and am curious.

markbc says:

that's a great question!
I checked my (rooted phone's) recovery and there is no password lock on it!
-- If I lost my phone, someone could start in recovery, flash another rom and simply take over the phone!
-- However, they would still using the same imei and the phone company might list the imei as bad so that it could not be used on the same system. . .
-- Also, if a thief gets into recovery, they could mount the usb and use adb or even a plain old computer to copy all the data. .
-- I see I need even more security!

Twrp recovery has a password lock option,though I'm not sure about clockwork.mod

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markbc says:

Great article thank you!
- I use Cerberus and it is very good at tracking the phone --and even for making it ring when the phone is hiding in the couch!
- I also have a "Reward: (and a phone number) on my lock screen --in case an honest person were to find my cell if lost.
- Now "gubbins". . . that's a rarely heard word around here :-)

Is there any way of displaying fixed text on the lock screen of stock Kitkat?

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tigerchilly says:

Nice...i use lookout on all my android phones...
The other day i was drunk and got my pin wrong and they emailed me pictures of the culprit which was basically a drunken selfie.

moved from nexus 5 to HTCm8

Madd54 says:

HaHa. What if you were on the toilet?

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Synycalwon says:

All good advice. But I prefer to operate via the axiom, "An ounce of prevention...." aka: NEVER lose your phone!!! :D

vividrich says:

There are advantages to never putting it down....

cashxx says:

Amazing at how much it looks exactly like Find my iPhone!

Yeah, there's like a map. And some device info! Must be a ripoff!

Rirruto says:

AndroidLost is a great app. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.androidlost You log on to their website with your gmail address and can control a bunch of things on your phone remotely. Lock it, wipe it, send it system messages, take pictures with the cameras, retrieve messages and phone logs, etc.

Deutch says:

+1

I love AndroidLost and have been using it for the past year or so on both mine and my wife's phone.

speculatrix says:

+1 for android lost

MasterElwood says:

Will a wipe over the device manager also wipe your SD card?

Also: if your phone is lost - shouldn't you immediately change your most important passwords? (google, evernote, lastpass?) just to be save?

theintention says:

Not enough love here for Cerberus. Brilliant app.

"OK Google Now, find my phone!"

"I am right here, in your hand!"

Tigrisan says:

I use LookOut and have been really happy with it. Thought I'd look at AndroidLost though and oddly, google can't find their website at androidlost.com...not a good sign.

DryLeaf says:

You forgot to mention the reactivation lock on S5. :D

kcerica says:

Whenever I can't find my phone the battery is usually dead, but for the few times my phone has been on, ringing the phone with Android device manager has worked even when the phone is on silent mode but it can never find my location.

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yenyob says:

I know with Lookout when your battery is about to run out it logs the location. Seems like that should be a feature on all of these apps.

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someguy01234 says:

Get Cerberus installed if you haven't, it helped me find my phone when it slipped under my car seat.

SeeK says:

I'd love it if there were features in Device Administrator to prevent the phone from being turned off (shame if you have a removable battery but hey) and to get a live feed from the device's cameras. Anything to give you a greater chance of getting it back.

Funny thing with two step authentication is it's sometimes a shot in the foot. I got to work one day and realized I'm missing my phone. OK - easy thing. I'll just check with ADM where it is right? Wrong! I could not log in to my Google account on my work computer, because my Authenticator app is on my phone. Also the phone number Google could send me the text message was... Well, you know... What you're left with is that piece of paper of Google codes but who carries paper around...

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AJ Gharbaran says:

How about the back- up phone number?. A second phone number, which will receive the text message. With this code that you will receive on another phone number, you will be able to log in to ADM

wsp2009 says:

Another layer to add would be to install AppLock. It lets you create yet another code you can use to lock apps, photos, etc, so in the event someone does get past your phone unlock code they have to know the AL code to open any app you have locked. It allows more than 4 numbers for your PIN bringing the number of possible combinations exponentially higher than your standard 4-digit unlock code. This is also a good practice for your general phone unlock code. 4 digits has 10,000 possible combinations while a 5-digit code takes that to 100,000.

lrnano says:

Yes our phones needs be protection. So many valuable data that we hold. Great article on tips. Keep it coming!

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i got my lost android phone http://hangoverstudios.com/mobileantitheft/

it is good app.

Hi this is excellent app for mobile safety. use this.

AJ Gharbaran says:

I'm still able to turn my phone off while its locked with ''android device manager''. So I won't be able to find my phone when the person, who finds my phone, turns the device off........