Lost or Stolen iPhone? Tips from a Computer Forensics Expert

Losing an iPhone can be a stressful experience for anyone who depends on their phone for ongoing work and personal communications. The loss of irreplaceable photos that haven’t been backed up as well as music and other multimedia content can pose much pain for devoted iPhone users. There are a few things a user should do before their phone is lost.

Tips To Be Ready For A Theft Or Loss Of Your iPhone

  1. Turn on the Find my iPhone application.
  2. Keep a copy of your iPhone purchase receipt that shows your serial number of your device.
  3. Turn on iCloud services so that your photos, music and other content gets backed up to the cloud.
  4. Regularly connect to a Wi-Fi network with your iPhone at home, work or other hot spots so that anytime you have captured important photos, your iPhone has the chance to sync to the cloud.
  5. Keep location services turned on to allow for locating your phone.

What To Do When You Discover Your Phone Is Lost

  1. Visit www.icloud.com
  2. Send the lock command to the phone – DON’T WIPE THE PHONE OR YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO LOCATE IT!
  3. Log on and send a message to your phone. It is helpful to talk about something very personal such as saying that the phone had copies of yourkid’s graduation, child birth, wedding or something else that might be more likely to garner sympathy from the person with your phone.
  4. Be sure to request an email alert when the phone is located. Obtain a hard copy of the printed receipt copy of your iPhone showing the specific serial number and proof that this phone is yours. You may need this as support should police become involved.
  5. Once you locate the phone, make a screen shot of the location in the hybrid view showing both the terrain and the street labels. Make sure you have the zoom set to a level that allows for clear identification of the specific building where your phone is located and that shows adjacent street labels. It is a good idea to capture several screen shots, both zoomed in and zoomed out.
  6. Go to Google Maps and attempt to cross reference the specific building where your phone is located. If this is a house instead of an apartment building, you are in much better luck.
  7. Use the Google Maps hybrid view showing both street names and sky view with satellite imagery. This will help you to count the number of buildings the phone is at. Google Mapsare a great resource for establishing the approximate location and address.
    1. Use the Google maps street view feature to view image of the building if available. Not all locations will be available, but this sometimes can allow you to identify the specific address where your phone is at.
    2. Obtain portable Wi-Fi access by borrowing a friend’s smart phone or obtaining one from your telephone dealer so that you have communications on the ground.
    3. Drive to the site and scope out what information you can obtain in an attempt to identify who has your phone.
    4. Research the details about the location of where your phone is so that when you confront the person, you have leverage to make them think you have a case against them.
    5. The more you learn about the likely individual believed to have your phone, the better you will be prepared to confront them.
  8. Check to see if there are any more recent updates to the location of your phone while at the site.
  9. Should the phone travel between two specific locations, find out what commonalities exist between the two locations. Did the phone leave a personal residence at around 8 AM and then later turn up at an office building? If so, planning to be at the personal resident a little before 8AM the next day might be a good idea, or waiting at the personal residence for their return from 4:30PM onward.

How To Manage The Approach

  1. Do confront a person face to face (Disclaimer: with police support if you deem necessary)
  2. Fear of discovery and legal consequences is a motivator for someone to hand over the phone
  3. Leave them wiggle room out by saying that you don’t know if they had intended to return the phone or not or if the battery was drained and they didn’t get the message you sent. If they haven’t called following the message sent previously and the phone reported movement more than an hour following the last reported location, they probably intended to sell your phone or keep it.
  4. Be prepared to tell them you know where they work and describe the movement of the phone. Show them the screen shot of the phone leaving their residence as proof, if necessary.
  5. Send the audio alert to the phone when you approach them. If you hear the sound that is triggered, you have enough proof to file a police report against the individual you confronted should they not hand over the phone.
  6. Call the police if they don’t hand over the phone or play ignorant. Provide police copies of the documentation you captured showing the phone at their residence and movement to their place of work.
  7. Use LinkedIn when possible to find out where the person works.
  8. Check the County Assessor’s website to determine the owner of the property and obtain the tax bill when possible to establish the legal owner of the residence.
  9. Search various websites to learn about the property owner:
    1. Google query “site:facebook.com FIRSTNAME LASTNAME CITY”
    2. Search PeopleSmart.com to obtain employer related information – helpful to correlate movement of iPhone from their home to their place of work and establish proof of who has your phone
    3. Search Linkedin.com for the individual in the city near you in an attempt to understand where they work and correlate whether or not your iPhone reports travel between the person’s personal residence and their place of work.
    4. Don’t leave a written letter appealing to their sense of good will – they already failed to respond to you iPhone alert message – confronting with police, the evidence, and an offer to hand over the phone with no consequences is probably your best bet.
    5. If you believe the phone was discovered or taken in a public business where camera’s may have been present, you may want to bluff the target and tell them that the business where the phone was lost confirmed they had video recordings and would cooperate with any criminal prosecution relating to the theft of the phone. If you have the right person they will suspect they might be in deep trouble and may comply with handing over the iPhone based on fear of prosecution.

In summary, losing an iPhone through theft or loss is an unfortunate experience. If you are lucky enough to recover the phone or rely in anyway upon these tips or suggestions, please reply to this post at a later time and share your experiences with our readership.

Disclaimer: Consult your attorney before taking these tips as advice. Consult the police department before approaching an individual. If the person is a thief, they may also be a violent person capable of inflicting injury or harm including bodily harm or against someone approaching them. Working in the law and all, we had to state that to make it clear that confronting anyone assumes risks that you and only you are assuming.

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