Security Settings iPhone Thieves Hate

Here's why iPhone theft has declined in recent years

Customer using Touch ID on iPhone 5C

Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

Stolen iPhones are big business on the black market, but they're becoming less attractive targets for would-be thieves thanks to newer security features and theft deterrents in recent iOS versions.

Apple loaded its iPhones with security settings that thieves hate to encounter. Most iPhone owners know they need to lock their phone with a secure passcode and turn on the Find My iPhone feature, but Apple provides other lesser-known security features you can take advantage of to protect your iPhone.

Facial Recognition, Touch ID, and Strong Passcodes

iPhones with a Touch ID fingerprint reader or Face ID facial recognition add a layer of security by allowing users to use a fingerprint or facial scan instead of typing in their passcodes.

Thieves don’t like these features because people who use them are more likely to have a strong passcode—rather than a basic 4-digit passcode—that they won’t have to enter often. Complex passcode capability has been around for a while, but it's underused. Occasionally, Face ID or Touch ID may fail, requiring passcode entry, but this is rare, so a complex passcode isn't as big a hassle as it once was.

On the flip side, if you’re not using a strong passcode, thieves might correctly guess it, making the use of Touch ID or Face ID as a security measure irrelevant. 

Activation Lock Added to Find My iPhone

Activation Lock is enabled automatically when you turn on Find My iPhone. It keeps your device secure, even when it's in a thief's hands. Apple's anti-theft feature is credited with having a major impact on iPhone theft rates worldwide. The Activation Lock feature requires a user to authorize a data wipe or fresh installation of the operating system. Before this feature was part of iOS, a thief could wipe an iPhone clean, removing all trace of the previous owner and making it easier to resell on the black market or elsewhere. Now, with the addition of the Activation Lock, the phone's owner has to enter their Apple account password before the phone can be wiped, which binds the device to a specific person and makes it a much less attractive target because it cannot be easily wiped and resold.

Restrictions Lockout of Location Services

After thieves steal your phone, they turn off its ability to broadcast its location so the rightful owner can't find it and inform law enforcement. You can make this task harder for thieves by enabling the iPhone's restrictions settings, which are normally associated with parental controls, and then lockout changes to location services. Enabling restrictions requires its own passcode, and a thief would have to know that code to turn off the phone’s GPS homing beacon.

Lost Mode (Remote Lock)

Remote Lock is another major data privacy and theft deterrent feature that Apple added to the iPhone OS. If you can’t find your phone and you’re pretty sure it’s not under a couch cushion at your house, Lost Mode will lock it with a passcode and allow you to display a message of your choosing such as “Give Me Back My Phone!!” Lost mode renders your phone pretty much useless to thieves and helps protect your personal data.

Lost mode suspends use of the credit cards on file with Apple so crooks can’t rack up purchases on your dime. It also suspends alerts and notifications.

When you can't find your iPhone, turn on Lost Mode immediately using Find My iPhone on iCloud.com.