How to Protect Data on a Lost or Stolen iPhone

6 steps to take when someone else has your iPhone

Having your iPhone stolen is bad. You've lost the hundreds of dollars (or even over a thousand) that the phone originally cost and now you need to buy a new one. But it gets worse. Our phones are packed full of personal information, and the idea that the thief also has access to your personal data is really terrible.

If you're facing this situation, here are some steps you can take to protect your personal data. Some you need to take before losing your phone, others can be taken after your phone is stolen to protect yourself.

For other tips on how to handle it a stolen iPhone, check out What to Do When Your iPhone Is Stolen.

Use Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone app

Sam Costello

Apple's Find My iPhone service, a free part of iCloud, is a major asset if you've had your iPhone stolen. You'll need an iCloud account, and to have enabled Find My iPhone on your device before your iPhone is stolen. Luckily, turning on Find My iPhone is part of setting up your iPhone, so you probably already did it. If you did, you'll be able to:

  • Locate the phone on a map (often down to the building it's in) via GPS.
  • Display a message on the phone's screen with instructions about where to return the phone.
  • Have the phone play a sound (useful if you think it's nearby).
  • Set a passcode over the Internet, so even if you didn't protect your phone before it was stolen, you can now prevent a thief from using it.
  • Delete all data on your phone over the Internet.

Be aware, though, Find My iPhone won't work in every case. Read Why Is Find My iPhone Not Working? to learn more.

Remove Your Credit Card From Apple Pay

Apple Pay

Apple Inc.

If you've set up Apple Pay on your iPhone, you should remove your payment cards from Apple Pay after your phone is stolen.

It's not very likely that a thief will be able to the cards you have stored. That's because Apple Pay is super secure thanks to its use of the Touch ID or Face ID authentication systems. It's extremely difficult to fake a fingerprint or face with it, but better safe than sorry.

Luckily, you can remove a card pretty easily using iCloud (just follow the instructions in the link in this section). When you get your phone back, or get a new one, just set up Apple Pay again.

Remotely Wipe Your Data With iPhone Apps

Remote wipe iPhone data

PM Images/The Image Bank/Getty Imges

Find My iPhone is a great service and comes free with the iPhone, but there are also nearly a dozen third-party apps available at the App Store to help you track down a lost or stolen iPhone. Some require annual or monthly subscriptions, some don't.

Find My iPhone will probably do everything you need in this situation, but if you don't like Find My iPhone or iCloud, you can check out these services.

Change Your Passwords

change passwords

Yuri_Arcurs/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Once your phone's been stolen, make sure to secure all aspects of your digital life, not just your phone.

This includes any accounts or other data that may be stored on your iPhone and thus could be accessible by the thief. Make sure to change your online passwords: email (to stop the thief from sending mail from your phone), Apple ID, online banking, medical records, etc.

Better to limit the problems to your phone than let a thief steal even more from you.

If you use iCloud Keychain on your devices, make sure that you change the settings so that any new passwords you create don't get automatically synced to your stolen phone.

Use a Passcode

iPhone password

Shutterstock

Setting a passcode on your iPhone is a basic security measure you can — and absolutely should — take right now (if you haven't already done so). With a passcode set, someone trying to access your phone will need to enter the code to get at your data. If they don't know the code, they won't get in.

If you're running iOS 4 and higher (and basically everyone is), you can turn off the 4-digit Simple Passcode and use a more complex — and thus more secure — combination of letters and numbers. While it's best if you do this before your iPhone is stolen, you can use Find My iPhone to set a passcode over the Internet. 

For even better security, on models that support it, you should use either:

Set iPhone to Delete Data After Incorrect Passcode Entries

screenshot of iPhone Passcode Settings

One way to really make sure that a thief can't get your data is to set your iPhone to automatically delete all its data when the passcode is entered incorrectly 10 times. If you're not good at remembering your passcode you may want to be careful, but this is one of the best ways to protect your phone. You can add this setting when you create a passcode, or follow these steps:

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode, depending on which feature your phone offers).
  3. Enter your passcode, if prompted.
  4. Move the Erase Data slider to on/green.

Too many attempts to unlock your iPhone with the wrong passcode can lead to it being disabled before the data is deleted. If you're facing this problem, learn how to fix it in How to Fix "iPhone Is Disabled" Error.