6 lessons learned from losing my iPhone


Recently, I lost my iPhone. I had it with me going through security at DCA and after boarding the plane, I discovered it was gone.

Initially, it was an emotional shock — the kind that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My life was inside that iPhone, including contacts, passwords, saved emails, pdf files and more. After I got to the Apple Store and Verizon, the loss took on a whopping financial shock. All ended well. Eventually, Verizon figured out a way around the financial shock and I now have a shiny new iPhone 4S, but there were plenty of lessons learned prior to getting my new phone in my hands.

1. The “Find My iPhone” with remote lock and remote wipe won’t work if someone finds your iPhone and turns it off.
Upon landing at my destination, Phoenix, I picked up a rental car and headed directly to the nearest Apple Store. There, I asked for help activating the Find My iPhone system. I activated it when I first bought the phone.

Unfortunately, after logging into the “Find My iPhone” website, I learned that my phone had been shut off. It was untrackable and CI could not wipe the phone remotely either. The service does not work if your lost iPhone is turned off.

2. Protect your phone with a passcode.
My iPhone was protected with a passcode that shut off my phone every time it was closed. For that I was thankful. Anyone who picked up the phone could not use it without the code. Make sure that your passcode is functioning. If you abhor the idea of punching in your code every time you need to use the phone, Apple allows the passcode to come into effect is a delayed mode — a few minutes or longer after the phone has been closed.

3. Add erase data after 10 failed passcode attempts
An additional security system built into the iPhone is the Failed Passcode system. If anyone tries to guess your passcode by tapping in various codes, the system will lock the phone after 10 failed attempts.

4. Buy a prepaid phone to allow cell phone communications
Once I got on the ground in Phoenix, I needed a way to communicate with friends and colleagues to let them know that my iPhone was gone and may be compromised. I found that through Verizon and other prepaid plans I could purchase a phone for only $20 that included five days of talk time.

I stopped in Target and bought the phone there, activated it and made the first series of calls. At least I had a way to contact and be contacted. I never realized that getting a cell phone was so inexpensive and easy. Prepaid cell phones are perfect for an emergency or even when foreign friends loom on the horizon and you need the ability to keep in touch with them inexpensively while they visit.

5. Change your passwords
Next, I drove to the hotel where I was staying. I immediately hooked my laptop up to the WiFi connection and, methodically, changed my passwords to email programs, to access my servers, to bank accounts and anything else I have password protected.

6. If an iPhone is lost prior to the end of its contract period, replacing an iPhone is very expensive.
Choices here are bad and bad. Most household goods insurance won’t cover a lost iPhone. The insurance available from cell phone companies is way too expensive and should your phone be lost late in the contract period, the monthly insurance charges will have already paid for most of a new phone.

If your contract period is not completed a new iPhone will cost around $650. That was an extreme sticker shock. I went onto Craigslist.com and ebay.com to look for used iPhones and discovered that they all seemed to cost as much or more than buying one new from Verizon or Apple.

Eventually, after using my temporary phone for a couple of days and thinking through the situation, I checked with Verizon and told them that I had another phone on a family plan with a friend. I believed that phone was well outside of the contract period. Verizon checked and suggested that I send that phone number to my contract and purchase my new iPhone 4S for only $199 by upgrading that phone.

That was my final solution to my problem. After a few phone calls, an exchange of passwords and a couple of signatures, I had my new phone in my hands for just over $199.

Since my phone was backed up to the “Cloud” I could transfer all of my iPhone information to the new iPhone. Of course, the process took hours, but was transferred overnight.

What started out to be a complete disaster turned out to be inconvenient, though not too much so.

      • I found a temporary alternative to my lost cell phone.


      • No data was lost


      • No passwords were compromised


    • I discovered an affordable way to avoid the $650 hit for a new iPhone sold out of contract.

Make sure your iPhone is secure. Do it right now. And follow these steps above if faced with a lost iPhone.

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  • RGoltsch

    Thanks Charlie.  I learned somethng new with this article.  I have had three iPhones, the 3G, 4 and now the 4S.  I never knew it had the option to erase all data after 10 failed passwords.

    I know this doesn’t help you now……One thing I do when I go through security is ALWAYS place my cell phones in the same pocket on my laptop bag before it goes on the belt.  I then check that pocket before I leave security.  It is a good habit for me, as I always know exactly where I put it.  I go through security a dozen or two times a month, so having a procedure sure helps.I also do this with things like my watch and wallet.  I lost a new watch in Frankfurt years ago, and actually saw the guy steal it out of the bin.  I was stuck in the line behind someone that had set off the detector, and I watched someone reach into the bin with my watch, put it on and calmly walk away.  I realized then and there that leaving expensive things on top in the open is an invitation to have them stolen.  My lesson was only a $200 watch….yours was a $600 phone.If I may ask, where did you place the phone as you went through security?  And did you check back with the TSA to see if someone found it?  Or if they have the video of someone stealing it?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Charlie.  I’m sorry that you lost your phone and had to spend so much time and effort to recover/secure passwords/get back to normal, but this collection of lessons is a valuable resource.  Both in terms of what to do now (erase data after 10 failed attempts?  that’s useful, and a number that should be safely high enough to prevent tripping it by accident with fat or drunken fingers…) and later (I’ve gotten cheap pre-paid SIM cards when traveling abroad, but I didn’t realize I could get an entire phone so cheaply in this country).

    One thing worth pointing out: it sounds like in this case the systems worked.  Even though you may not have been set up optimally in advance, you were still able to protect your data, replace your phone and restore your data to the new phone.  After always hearing about broken systems, it’s nice to hear…

  • DCTA

    Agree with all – except about the insurance.  We (husband and I) have each lost a Smartphone.  Both of us within the first 4 months of contract.  The insurance was well worth it – we  had replacements that were actually upgrades to new models in a about 48 hours.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    I did not lose the phone going through security. I, too, have a pocket where the phone goes when I move through security. I had it in my hand checking my flight at the gate. The best I can figure, is that I laid it on top of my rollaboard rather than put it in my pocket and forgot that it was on top of my luggage. And, yes, I did check with airline lost and found, airport lost and found and TSA lost and found to no avail. Whoever picked up the phone knew enough to immediately turn it off so that I could not track it.

  • Anonymous

    I actually bought two clear make-up bags from a drugstore (so they just look like decently sized clear zipper pouches).  I use them to hold all my cables and small electronics, and keep them in my carry-on until I get through security.

    This keeps them centralized, they don’t slip out of pockets while doing the airport shuffle, and I can see at a glance if anything is missing.  Not as convenient as keeping your phone on your person, perhaps, but it makes losing them a little bit more difficult.

  • Dan

    go to foundkarma.com — and join the lost and found community.  Thats the best advice out. http://vimeo.com/44197128

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    I actually follow the same procedure — putting my phone in the same pocket each time. I don’t believe I lost it at security. I had the phone later and laid it down on top of my rollaboard and forgot that it was there. I believe that when I rolled away, the phone fell off. That’s best I can remember. I did check with airport, airline and TSA lost and found and checked each day for three days… no luck.
    Whoever, got the phone know enough to turn it off so that the “find my hone” function didn’t work.