How to Protect Data on a Lost or Stolen iPhone

3 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 right away to protect your personal data. The first three steps in this article should be done when your iPhone right after your iPhone has been stolen. The other two are tips that can protect you in the future.

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

Use Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone app

Sam Costello

Apple's free Find My iPhone service is a major asset if you've had your iPhone stolen. To use it, you'll need 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, use Find My iPhone 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. And no, you don't need the Find My iPhone app.

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. Apple Pay is super secure thanks to the Touch ID or Face ID authentication systems. It's extremely difficult to fake a fingerprint or face with it, so you're likely OK, but better safe than sorry.

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

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.

Even though it's inconvenient, it's better to limit the chances for problems 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

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Once you've got a new iPhone to replace the stolen one, you'll want to make sure that your new iPhone is secure. Here's one important step.

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, too. 

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

Here's another smart step you need to do before your iPhone is stolen.

To really make sure that a thief can't get your data, 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.

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