Cell Phone MegaThread: How To Find Lost/Stolen Phone, Unlocking Phones, Recovering Data

Graybush

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Feb 13, 2017
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Hello there Tom's Guide Members!

We get a lot of requests to help people find/track phones, unlocking them, and recovering data that we felt a sticky thread was needed on the subject.

Why Can't The Forums Find My Phone?

The short answer is that we just don't have the capabilities to do so. The longer answer is that the forums are not built or developed with finding any technology information outside of the Tom's Guide site or its sister sites. The best we can do is to share information and stories on how to prevent losing your phone and how to report stolen/lost phones.

Okay, Where Do I Start?

Foresight is the best prevention to lost phones!

If you have an Android Phone, you can set up Android Device Manager through Google.
How to Enable Android Device Manager Security

If you have an Apple phone, Apple Support provides for its own systems: Find My iPhone.
Find Your iPhone Using Mac or Windows PC

If you're not sure either is the best for you, the next alternative would be to use a tracking device on your phone. Key Finders are becoming more common by the day, and can be a good alternative.
Best and Worst Key Finders of The Year

What Do I Do If I Already Lost My Phone?

Losing your phone really stinks. Trust me, I've been there. Fortunately, moderator iZone has put together some simple steps to follow if you've lost the phone.

Step 1. Contact your local police dept.

This is to file a police report for a lost or stolen phone. While it may not seem like an important thing to do , having a police report does come in handy when dealing with warranty service and your cell phone provider.

Step 2. Contact your cell phone provider.

This is to inform them of the lost or stolen phone so that no new charges will be applied to your account for calls that you did not make. They also will be able to assist you in finding or tracking your cell phone and will also recommend a course of action.

Step 3. Finding or disabling the phone.

If your phone was lost then there are things that you can do to try and locate it or just disable it.
This link is to register your phone with an online data base and the reason for this is that if found you can get notified of it coming into their data base.

http://www.3gadget.com/

This next link is also a way to have your phone returned to you if it was lost and someone finds it.

http://mystufflostandfound.com/

Step 4. Locating a stolen phone.

It is not recommended that you attempt to recover your stolen phone as it may lead to serious injuries from a confrontation that may occur in attempting to get the phone yourself. You can track the phone and identify it's location but you should then notify the authorities as to it's location so that they can recover it for you.

These next links are for attempting to track your phone using the imei number of the phone. Each cell phone is given a unique set of numbers to identify it and it is what the cell phone providers use to register the phone with their service.

https://www.techwalla.com/articles/how-to-track-a-mobile-phone-using-its-imei-number

http://www.trackimei.com/

http://10pstreet.co.uk/imei-track-trace/

Tracking by sim card is not as efficient as the IMEI number because the sim card needs to be powered up to see it. The sim card can also be removed and another put in it's place to make the phone able to be used, the IMEI number can't be removed. You may be better off just disabling the sim card it so that it can't be used and calls be applied to your account.

The writers here on Tom's Guide have also written about what to do if your phone was lost or stolen.

What To Do After Losing Your Phone

How To Find Your Lost or Stolen iPhone

Phones are an important part of connecting with the people near and far from us. Taking the time to set up backups of your data and implementing locating technology will really take a burden off your shoulders should the worst happen. The Forums may not be able to find your devices for you, but we are more than happy to give advice and be a sounding board for you on the experience.

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Please read the entirety of this section regarding unlocking phones.

Unlocking falls into the category of cracking/hacking and is not allowed on these forums for more reasons than one.

To start with, if the phone happens to be on a contract and you so choose to unlock it; you are committing breach of a legally binding document by doing so.

If the phone is not on a contract, but happens to be running a custom version of an Android ROM such as the ones T-Mobile frequently puts on their devices, unlocking it yourself falls into the category of copyright infringement as you are modifying copyrighted software. Same goes for Apple software and the iPhone.

Furthermore, we can not prove the device ownership, and will not help commit theft.

Because of the reasons outlined above, any post requesting a network unlock will be removed.

The following are the six principles and rules laid out by the FCC for American cell phone carriers, in regards to network locks and unlocks.

Disclosure: Each carrier will have to explain its policy on unlocking clearly and concisely on its website.

Prepaid Unlocking Policy: Carriers will unlock prepaid mobile devices upon request, no later than one year after the initial activation.

Postpaid Unlocking Policy: Carriers will unlock or provide necessary information to unlock their devices to customers and former customers after the completion of a service contract, device financing plan or the payment of an early termination fee.

Notice: Carriers that lock devices have to notify customers that they are eligible to unlock their devices when eligibility occurs or will automatically unlock devices remotely when they are eligible.

Response Time: Carriers will unlock eligible devices within two business days of receiving a request.

Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy: Carriers will unlock mobile devices for deployed military personnel for customers in good standing.

If you happen to own a handset that is not on a contract, and is running a stock Android ROM from Google like the Nexus and wish to unlock it; your options are as follows.

1. Call the carrier it is locked to and request an unlock code. If the phone is not on a contract they will supply this code to you. In order to use the code, insert a non-network SIM card (ie, the phone is locked to AT&T - insert a T-Mobile SIM), turn the phone on. It will read "restricted" or "SIM network locked" across the top. Enter the code supplied by the carrier and hit enter. It will now be unlocked.

2. Unlock it yourself at a software level. Remember that this is ONLY LEGAL if the phone is NOT on a contract and is running a STOCK version of the Android ROM from Google. Also, the slightest mistake during this procedure could result in turning your phone into a paperweight with a battery. If you are legally allowed to do this, and you are willing to absolve that risk, request help at the XDA forums here: http://forum.xda-developers.com/ This is considered cracking/hacking so I will not supply more help than that link, as discussing it further would be against the rules of Tom's.

-------2a. For iPhone users, the legality issues are the exact same. While you can use software tools to unlock your phone, it's only legal if you own the device, and are not on a contract. You can also order the iPhone direct from Apple without a lock to begin with. If however you happen to have purchased a phone from a carrier and are not on a contract, and you would like to unlock it, please seek the help doing so here: http://forum.iphone-developers.com/

........................................................................................................................................................

This section is in place to help those who have lost files due to an accidental deletion, or format. Cell phones use flash memory (typically micro SD). If you lose your files, you need not worry, they can be recovered.

This guide is for recovering media such as documents, images, videos, music, etc.

If you have lost your messages, you will need to contact your service provider and request them to resend them to you. Carriers keep copies of all messages sent and received on their servers for legal reasons. Say the police believe the phone is being used to take orders and traffic drugs. They would obtain a warrant, and the phone company would issue copies of all the messages.

This is only in place for legal reasons, so you need not worry about someone reading everything you say in your messages.

Some carriers have the messages available for their users online, like Bell Mobility in Canada for example. Others, you will need to get a hold of them and request this service. They may charge a small fee.

---------------------------------------------------------

I like to think of flash memory as being similar to carbon paper. Essentially, there are two layers. The top layer is what is visible to you and stores the information. As information is written to the top layer, an impression is made on the bottom layer. If you were to erase the top layer, you may think the information is gone for good. In reality, it’s still there on the bottom layer.

However, it must be recovered before writing over the top layer again or else it will be lost. By writing over the top layer a second time, you are creating an imprint of the new information over the previous imprint on the bottom layer, and it will no longer be recoverable.

Keeping this in mind, you must remember to attempt recovering the files, before writing anything new to the device.

---------------------------------------------------------

On to the recovery process!

First of all, the recommended software tool for file recovery is Recuva by Piriform (the company behind CCleaner). Download it from here: http://www.piriform.com/recuva

Second, connect your phone and set it to USB storage mode.

Next, open Recuva and a wizard will appear. Click next, then select “other” from the list.

In the following window, click “on my media card or iPod.”

Following that, check off “enable deep scan” and hit the start button.

Let it do its thing, it may appear to be doing nothing but it’s working. It may take over an hour for larger storage devices.

Roughly an hour later, VOILA! You should now be able to select the files you want to recover from a list.

If for some reason, Recuva doesn't work for you, or if you don't feel like using it here are a couple alternatives. They work in almost the exact same way, and are fairly straightforward.

Glary Undelete: http://www.glarysoft.com/glary-undelete/
Pandora Recovery: http://www.pandorarecovery.com/download/

Best Android Backup Apps

About backups for iOS Devices
 
Aug 17, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from navghane.sunita30 : "Yes I'm 28 old"

Can you find my oppo mobile phone IM i Not old enough to know it's dangerous to put personal information on an open forum. Someone else could have used that IMEI number to claim your device.



 
Aug 17, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from gybbscastro6 : "I lost my cellphone and need help on how to track it using imei"

I lost my smartphone made Tecno canon CX air of imei number [removed ]kindly help me trace it.
 
Aug 23, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from saabg375 : "i have lost my vivo 1601 plz kindly help me, my mob. IMEI NO. "


i have lost my vivo 1601 plz kindly help me, my mob. IMEI NO. .

pllzzzzz cll me sir
 
Aug 24, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from debbiethrall18 : "MY HUSBAND lost his Samsung galaxy prime android how can i locate it from my phone"

LOST PHONE galaxy prime lost8 11 18 how can i locate it from my phone
 
Aug 25, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from getready0629 : "i know wher my apple iphone is at and have the ip address can you help me before I call the authorities"

Just want to know the exact address, before I call the C.I.A. Sir
 
Aug 27, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from arsenprince1 : "l ve lost my phone lava iris 702 & l ve forgotten its imei.please hlp"

Lava iris 702
 

gjlang

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Jul 4, 2015
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I hope all questions regarding this subject are directed to your post and further discussion closed. Your post is extremely thorough and informative but I cringe every time I see space wasted here for people wanting to track a phone or extract data. I would guess 99% of those are in reality trying to track someone else's location or extract someone's personal data. You can tell by the way they "carefully" try to make it sound legit. I've known many people who have lost phones and every one of them immediately cancelled their service and after a few days bought a new phone. Questions regarding the hacking of someone else's phone really need to be removed. They have no place here.
 
Aug 30, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from katanisu09 : "gionee mobile lost"

i have lost my gionee x1 phone ,help me to find my phone its M IMEI no.[removed] contact me on this no.[removed]
 
Aug 31, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from yadavarunkumar81 : "How can I trace my mobile of mi of imei no [removed]"

My mi mobile was stolen by anyone of imei no [removed]
 
Sep 1, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from fk51tk : "How i can track phone by number"

Help me to track my lost number
 
Sep 1, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from indurthi.devakumar : "Can we find the mobile location by using IMEI number"

My mobile is missed in bus station it rings a few minutes after switched off my mobile IMEi number is [removed]
 
Sep 3, 2018
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MERGED QUESTION
Question from panljubomir : "Hard reset on stolen phone"

What if its on stolen phone made hard reset?
All tracking app.are lost?
 
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