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Yesterday I started following the story of a man on reddit who lost his iPhone at a Home Depot that was stolen within the 5 minutes it took for him to realize he left it in his cart. It pains me to watch this guy struggle with the loss of one of, if not the, most important device in his life. Unfortunately for him, he is doing pretty much everything right and, at time of this writing, it still looks as if he’s not going to get it back. However, he greatly improved his chances by having Find My iPhone turned on and immediately using his girlfriend’s iPhone to put it in lost mode, watching it as it moved about the store.

I’ve never experienced this issue, but my sister has. Almost exactly the same thing happened to her. She couldn’t find her iPhone shortly after having left the Goodwill. She went back a little bit later to find it and couldn’t find it anywhere she had been, and it wasn’t turned into the staff at the store. I happened to be at my parents’ house when she came home after giving up when I asked my sister if she’d had iCloud turned on with Find My iPhone. She said no, but I knew that she and my mom had been sharing an Apple ID (which has since been rectified). I decided to pop open iCloud.com and have my mom login to her account to find that my sister’s phone was, in fact, turned on and locatable. The bad news, however, is that it wasn’t at the Goodwill; it wasn’t anywhere she had been. Her iPhone was now located at someone’s small apartment or condo in a not so great part of town. We put it into lost mode and put a message on the screen to call my mom’s phone number, but hadn’t heard from it. My dad was about to leave to just go ask for it back, but I insisted that we call the police first. Our town’s police happen to be much more helpful than the poor guy in the story above, as our officer was happy to drive on over and ask for it back. We gave him the address, and asked to meet him there. We drove over and waited for the officer on a side road. Eventually he drove up to the house, walked up and talked for a few minutes at the door (we couldn’t see him during this) and then he got back in his car and drove away without calling us. Our plan was to push the “Play Sound” to allow probable cause entry if it was claimed the house didn’t contain the iPhone. After the officer left, we watched the iPhone’s location from an iPad, and it moved along with the patrol car heading towards my parents’ house. We drove home and met the officer where he returned the phone to my sister, and took some notes about it to file his report.

There isn’t always going to be a happy ending when you’ve set up precautions on your phone, but sometimes there can be. Below I’ve laid out the steps to ensure your iPhone is best prepared for an event like this.

In Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone make sure that Find My iPhone toggle is on. I highly recommend having the option for Send Last Location on. This should allow you to find the device if it’s ever lost or stolen. The person who finds or steals it can still remove the SIM card or turn the device off, but when it comes back on you’ll be able to see it.

An additional benefit to making sure you’ve turned on Find My iPhone is that Apple has included a feature called Activation Lock that prevents anyone from using the phone without your iCloud login information even if they manage to wipe the device to factory settings. This isn’t easily bypassed, and essentially makes the device a paperweight less you get it back. This might not mean you get your phone back, but it does mean that you can have some solace in knowing that the thief who has your phone didn’t get much out of it. You can check to ensure your phone is locked with Activation Lock at this site. Type in your serial number or IMEI number, which can be found in Settings > General > About, and you’ll have a confirmation of Activation Lock.

These tips should help you in the event you lose your iPhone, or it gets stolen. Sometimes the local police will be helpful, like in the case of my sister’s lost iPhone, and sometimes they will not be helpful, like in the case of the guy on reddit. Either way, you’ll want to have been prepared.

If you liked these tips, or have questions, please leave a comment below.