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The fastest way to find your lost or stolen iPhone

First step: Take a deep breath.

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Angela Lang/CNET

The moment you realize your iPhone has been lost, or even worse, stolen is terrifying. You quickly realize just how much information is stored on your phone, and the stress is only compounded by the fact that you're now cut off from the outside world. With services like Apple's upcoming credit card, the Apple Card, which relies on your iPhone for everything from signup to paying your bill, losing your phone isn't going to get any less stressful. Not to mention, losing your iPhone means an expensive replacement phone

There are steps you can take to help reduce the risk of losing a phone, and using Apple's Find My iPhone (soon to be called just Find My) service is the key to securing and recovering a lost phone.

But while I have your attention, let's make sure you have a passcode set up and Find My iPhone enabled so you'll have the best chance at getting your phone back.

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You wouldn't want your iPhone to fall into someone else's hands.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Be prepared

Set a passcode

Some people view using Face ID or Touch ID as an unnecessary step when using an iPhone. Those people are wrong. Setting a passcode and using your face or fingerprint to protect all of the information on your phone is a vital part of keeping your personal information secure. Just think of all the information on your phone: banking apps, private conversations, the location of your home and office, contacts, emails, photos... the list goes on.

Do you really want a random stranger going through all of that?

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Secure your device by opening Settings > Face ID (or Touch ID) & Passcode and follow the prompts. Scanning your finger or letting Face ID do its magic is a minor inconvenience. And after a few days, the extra step will become part of your routine and you won't even notice.

Read: Stolen or lost Android phone? Here's how to get it back

Make sure Find My iPhone is enabled

After setting a passcode, double-check that Find My iPhone is turned on. It should be enabled by default, and you'd have to go out of your way to disable it, but it's always a good idea to double-check right now.

On your iPhone, open the Settings app and tap on your name at the top of the screen. Next, select iCloud and then scroll down and find Find My iPhone. Tap it. If both switches are turned to the On position, you're all set. If not, turn on both options and leave the settings app.

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Enable Find My iPhone in iOS 12. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Take advantage of Family Sharing

Apple's Family Sharing service not only saves you money by letting your entire family install a paid app on multiple devices, but it also integrates with Find My iPhone. With Family Sharing set up, you can view the location of all the devices linked to a family member's Apple ID. Meaning, you can ask a family member to immediately begin looking for your lost iPhone once you realize it's missing. 

Create good habits

The best way to keep your phone secure, especially when you're traveling or in unfamiliar areas, is to keep a close eye on it and never relax. Be cautious. Overly cautious, even. Don't keep your phone out in the open where someone can grab it and run off. In the event you do lose your phone, don't panic! Take a deep breath and remember to use Find My iPhone.

Recover your phone

Find My iPhone is the key

Every single iOS device has Find My iPhone built into the system settings, managed by your iCloud account. Once you realize you've lost your phone, the first thing you should do is visit icloud.com/find on a computer.

If you're not near a computer, you have a couple of options to access Find My iPhone. Either borrow a friend or family member's iOS device and sign in to the Find My iPhone app, or if you have Family Sharing set up, a member of your family can view your lost device in the Find My iPhone app on their own iOS device.

If accessing Find My iPhone via the website or on another device, it's important you sign in to the same iCloud account linked to the lost iPhone. After signing in, select your phone from the list of devices to view its current location. If the device has been turned off, the last known location will be shown. 

When viewing the device's location, select Actions at the bottom of the screen followed by Lost Mode. You'll be asked to enter a phone number and a message that will be displayed on the lock screen asking whoever has your device to get it back to you. If a passcode was not set on a phone that's put into Lost Mode, you'll be asked to create one when enabling Lost Mode. 

When enabled, Lost Mode will lock the device, prevent notifications and messages from showing up in your lock screen, and continue tracking the phone's location. The phone will still ring for incoming phone and FaceTime calls. This should help you track down the phone if it's nearby. Or maybe you'll be lucky and the person who has the phone will answer it to help get it back to you. 

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Find My iPhone Actions screen on the iCloud website. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Any credit and debit cards added to Apple Pay, along with student IDs and transit cards stored in the Wallet app, will be disabled until you regain access to the phone and log in to your iCloud account. Once the Apple Card is available, it will also be disabled in these circumstances. 

If the phone is turned off and Lost Mode is enabled, you'll receive an alert when the phone is turned back on, complete with its current location -- assuming it has some sort of data connection.

When you recover your phone, you'll need to enter the passcode you created when enabling Lost Mode. Then sign in to your iCloud account.

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What an iPhone looks like when Lost Mode is enabled. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Don't confront a thief

If you're able to track your phone to a house or apartment building, don't confront the potential thief on your own. Call the cops and ask for their help. Sure, you want to get your phone back, but getting into a confrontation and potentially getting hurt isn't ideal.

Contact your local police and let them handle it.

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Contact your carrier

If you're unable to get your phone back, contact your carrier and explain that your phone has been lost or stolen. The carrier will flag your device's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number and, in most cases, will prevent that number from working on the network, rendering the device useless to whoever has it.

Keep in mind that if you have your service suspended you'll reduce the odds of tracking the phone unless it's connected to a known Wi-Fi network. Suspending service is something you should only do after you're sure you can't recover the phone.

File an insurance claim

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AppleCare+ claim page for a lost iPhone. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

If you have AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss or pay monthly for device insurance through your carrier, start the claim process as soon as possible. You'll need to fill out some paperwork and pay a deductible in order to get a replacement device.

To begin the process for a phone that has AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss covered, use this website. Filing a claim will erase your iPhone and prevent anyone else from being able to use it. Should you find your phone after filing a claim, you can cancel it. But you'll need to set up your iPhone as new.

Contact your carrier directly to begin the claim process.

Originally published May 15.

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Apple iPhone XS (64GB, space gray)
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