Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lost and Stolen iPhone 4 – Our Story and What To Do If This Happens To You

I was just saying how blessed we are to have the opportunity to spend a month in Oahu, Hawaii. Even with the best organization and planning, we were still unable to avoid a stressful and unpleasant experience during a layover at the airport on our way to Honolulu.

Our brand new, shiny iPhone fell out of my husband’s pocket as he was gathering our various toys, snacks, and luggage during the process of unboarding the plane. I’m always double and triple checking everything, but with a baby in my arms and a line of passengers waiting to exit the plane, for once I didn’t look back to ensure we had everything (I still feel guilty). With much needed potty stops, a food break, and a quick walk to stretch our legs we didn’t realize our iPhone was missing until the next flight on that plane was already in the process of boarding.

The gate agent wasn’t even going to let my husband go onboard to check the plane, but a pilot for the next flight was boarding and wanted to help. He very kindly went to the row we were sitting in and checked all around. My husband tried calling our phone number as he had turned on the iPhone after our flight landed to check the status of our next flight. The call went straight to voicemail indicating that the iPhone was turned off.

Our stomachs sank and we immediately knew someone snatched it up and probably had no intention of returning it. When an iPhone is turned off, the tracking system is disabled and it wouldn’t ring if someone was trying to call and locate it. The pilot suggested probably a cleaning crew member took the phone, although it could have been a passenger that unboarded the plane after us. We wanted to contact the cleaning staff to offer a reward, but the gate agents insisted they would have turned it in. So after we exhausted what we could do at the time while still making our next flight here is a list of

What to do when your iPhone is lost or stolen.
- Immediately, go to the area it was lost or stolen, call it, and listen for it to ring to try to locate it.
- If you have MobileMe, Latitude, or similar, track it to find its location (if they didn’t turn your phone off).
- Call or go online to contact your cell phone carrier and report it lost or stolen to disable service. The last thing you need is someone racking up a huge bill on your account on top of the loss of your expensive phone.
- Change all passwords on all accounts that you access with your iPhone. (for example, email)
- Submit a local police report documenting the theft and include the serial number of your phone
- Call and/or submit any forms for Lost and Found (depending on where your phone was lost – we called and submitted lost and found information at the airport)
- Call your cell phone carrier to discuss options and see what you can do to replace your phone.

Regardless of who has our iPhone, we’ve come to accept it is probably gone forever. It was an expensive mistake which is difficult to accept, but the hardest part for me is losing photos and videos of my son that I will never get back. Also, having the phone on our month long trip would have allowed us to connect with family, especially grandparents, using FaceTime as we aren’t close enough to visit in person.

After some exhaustive web searches and reading through heated forums – it is clear that neither Apple nor AT&T will do anything to prevent your phone from being re-activated by whoever “found it”. Many cell carriers in Europe participate in a “blacklist” program whereby stolen phones are logged into a database that prevents them from being used on any network – this is done using the unique “IMEI” number built into the phone (a number which is very difficult to change). Unfortunately AT&T does not offer this capability. Remember while you may have only paid $199 to upgrade to a new iPhone 4, the street value even of used units is well over $500 and your replacement cost is $399 via AT&T with another 2 year contract.

In the end, it’s just a material thing and although we are not happy about our missing phone, it can be replaced. People are what are important and I’m just glad that we all arrived safe and sound!

Related Posts:
- iPhone / iPad Find My Phone Finally Free!
- iPod Touch 4th Gen - $199 + Free Shipping!
- iLockScreen Maker – FREE App increases your odds of getting a lost iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch returned
- iOS 5, Finally Coming Soon!
- Kindle Fire - Amazon Enters the Tablet Party


  1. Liked the way you concluded..people are indeed more important.

  2. My phone was just stolen as well. It hurts to lose all the videos that I did not back up!!! :(

  3. So sorry to hear your phone was stolen too. You're right, losing all the non-backed up videos and pics is one of the hardest parts.

    We lost videos of my sons first words and him following geese and ducks at the park.

    Now we back up our new phone all the time!

  4. I just had my Iphone stolen last night at a VERY nice restaurant. 20 minutes after we left the place I called them and told them what happened, and they couldn't find it. I called my phone and it was turned off as well (apparently that's the FIRST thing the thief does-and a sure sign of it being stolen). I was so upset! My husband went back to the restaurant and looked himself and nothing was found. They assured us that of one of their servers/bussers found it they would turn it in. My husband didn't believe them, but still said that he would offer a reward as well if it was ever found.
    At this point I'm pretty sure it won't be found or returned...and to think the restaurant was one of my all-time faves! Not so sure I'll return there since it seems they run an Iphone theft ring..LOL.

    Anyway, I did all that was listed here on the blog and are now using my old Motorola Razr until I can get an upgrade for less $$ next year :( I did back up the Iphone a couple of weeks before so I got told that when I get a new Iphone all that old apps, photos, etc. will be retrieved.

    Thanks for posting this! I thought I was the only one!

  5. Hi Frannie – You’re definitely not alone! Sorry to hear your phone was stolen too.

    There is one more thing you can try that I did not list in this original post. The police detective working our case had some success recovering stolen iPads when the original owner contacted Apple to determine if the serial number on their device is still registered to them. (If it is not, you will know it has been registered to a new user in iTunes.) We called and had a helpful Apple customer service rep look it up. Unfortunately, our stolen iPhone is still registered to us in iTunes. That means whoever stole it probably “jail broke” the phone at which point there is software people use other than iTunes to load apps and data and it was probably sold to be used on another network like T-Moblie (meaning we have little chance of ever recovering our stolen phone). If a stolen device is registered under a new user in iTunes, Apple would not be permitted to give you the user’s information, but you could turn it over to the police detective to investigate further and possibly recover your stolen phone.

    If you get a new iPhone, the good news is that it’s easy to restore your old settings. Since you smartly backed everything up you should have all your data, apps, and photos.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    PS: You sound just like us, as my husband and I also now refer to the Houston airport (where our iPhone was stolen) and their “iPhone Theft Ring”! We too are not anxious to return anytime soon.

  6. hey,
    i got my iPhone 4 stolen only 2 days after my parents bought for me after a year of hard work and pretty good grades. my parents aren't rich but they pulled through and i was so happy i couldn't describe it, but sure enough i made the stupid assumption of thinking my phone was safe at school and sure enough someone stole it. i even knew who did it and the creep got away after being checked countless times by the VP. he even tried selling it to my best friend either way he got my phone and i enjoyed apples gift for 2 days and the weeks after that were horrible i did everything to get it back and when i couldn't i was beyond pissed so ya it sucks but it was my fault sorry bout yours also like u said its materialistic and not important but this showed my parents pride for me so it really was thanks for reading this :)

  7. Hi varun - So sorry you were only able to enjoy your new iPhone for 2 days before it was stolen. Our phone was also new (only a few weeks old). I remember wishing it had been a little more used and broken in maybe with a scratch or two before it was stolen, but it probably wouldn't have made it any easier. It is sad that iPhones are becoming increasingly popular to steal.

    On a happier note, I am glad to hear that you are working hard, getting good grades, and have parents that are proud of you.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. Hi -

    My iPhone was also stolen. I used mobileme to track down the thief but the thief just turned off the phone. And like you, I had pictures and videos of my nephew and niece, whom I only get to see once a year, on the phone. Just got back from visiting them and hadn't had a chance to back it up before it was stolen.
    Reported it stolen to the police - but was basically told that there was nothing they can do..
    I did keep the serial # - do I just call up Apple to see who is registered with it on itunes now? Since Apple won't give us the info - wouldn't the police have to subpoena them in order to get the info? To be honest - I'm not sure if the police is willing to go through the trouble..

  9. Hi Kim – So sorry to hear your iPhone was stolen and you lost important family photos and videos too.

    Since you’ve reported it stolen to the police, I would next contact Apple to determine if your iPhone is still registered to you in iTunes. If it is registered to someone else, they can let you know that it is no longer registered to you, but are not able to provide information about who it is registered to now. If you’re lucky and it is registered to someone else, you would work with your police detective to retrieve that information and proceed. Unfortunately, many stolen iPhone’s are sold or what they call “jail broken” which means they load new software on the phone that does not use iTunes so it would be more difficult to track down.

    The police detective assigned to our case was very helpful and informative. Since our iPhone was stolen in an airport, he works on all the expensive stolen electronic cases reported from the airport so he was very familiar with this type of crime. I’m not sure how often local police departments deal with stolen iPhones and how willing they are to help track them down. Our police detective was more than willing to help us proceed and had success retrieving other expensive electronics including iPads. He was very honest and didn’t get our hopes too high in getting our stolen iPhone back. It was important for us to try to go through all the steps possible to try to track down our stolen phone, so we felt that we did everything we could.

    If all else fails, there is another possibility that I’ve found online where someone actually subpoenaed the wireless phone companies for records tied to their stolen iPhone’s IMEI (unique identifier). In that case, the guy knew who stole his phone and that he registered his stolen phone with T-Mobile. The records clearly indicated that the thief was using the stolen phone. We did not look into the cost or try this yet.

    Best of Luck!