Sometimes it’s the kindness of strangers—and not some newfangled GPS tracking system—that gets your lost iPhone back in one piece.

So, here’s what happened. About three weeks ago, my wife and I had just finished visiting a friend in Manhattan’s East Village. It was late, we were tired and hot, and so we jumped into a cab. But our cabbie balked when we asked to go to Brooklyn (it happens), and soon we were back on the street, looking for another ride home.

The taxi was still pulling away when my wife began fishing around in her purse for her iPhone—and suddenly froze.

Yep, her precious iPhone 4, complete with all her contacts, photos, corporate email, and even her favorite game (Boggle), had vanished.

Was it possible my wife had simply left her phone at our friend’s house, or back at the office? Nope; I’d seen her fiddling with it back in the taxi, which had already melted into a sea of other New York City yellow cabs.

“Sorry, no location available”

We tried to keep calm as I fired up Apple’s “Find My iPhone” app on my own iPhone 4 (which, by the way, we’d successfully used to track down another lost iPhone last year). But while Find My iPhone managed to pinpoint my iPad at home and the iPhone in my hand, it couldn’t zero in on my wife’s missing iPhone—meaning I couldn’t find its location on a map, remotely lock it, or even wipe it clean of all personal phone numbers, email and other data.

How my wife lost her iPhone, but got it back—the old-fashioned way


Now, just to be clear, Find My iPhone requires that you have the correct Find My iPhone setting enabled in your iPhone’s settings menu—something I could have sworn I’d done on my wife’s iPhone. Unfortunately, it was too late to double check, and even a few hours later, Find My iPhone stubbornly refused to … well, find my wife’s iPhone.

(Related: How to enable Find My iPhone)

Once we got home, my better half called AT&T on my iPhone and reported her own missing; a friendly AT&T rep quickly deactivated her phone’s SIM card, rendering it unable to make calls. We also tried calling the City of New York, but without the number of the cab that had driven off with the iPhone, we didn’t have many clues to give them.

Making calls, changing passwords

While my wife had been careful to lock her phone with a four-digit PIN, we took nothing for granted, immediately changing her personal work and email passwords. We also changed her Amazon password and her banking password, along with just about any other online passcode she may have used on her iPhone.

Once the triage was done, it was time to think about a replacement phone. The good news was that I still had my old iPhone 3GS from last year sitting in a drawer. The next morning, I restored the most recent backup for my wife’s now-vanished iPhone 4 to the spare iPhone, which she then took to an AT&T store for re-activation (the process only took a minute or two, and it’s free).

And then, well … that was that, we figured, crossing our fingers that whomever picked up the lost iPhone wouldn’t be able to crack my wife’s PIN (which, luckily, was a little more complex that just “1234”).

The best phone call of the week

But maybe I should have had a little more faith in strangers—because barely a week later, my wife’s “new” iPhone 3GS rang with a number we’d never seen before. She picked up the call, and lo and behold: it was a clerk at a nearby AT&T store, and he had a present for us.

About a half-hour later, we arrived at the AT&T outlet, where an employee introduced us to the friendly young woman who’d returned my wife’s iPhone.

Yes, she’d found it sitting in the back of a cab—surely the same one we’d left it in the week prior. The woman apologized profusely (no need to apologize, we gratefully told her) for waiting so long to return the iPhone (she’d been busy, she explained), and admitted that her friends had suggested she simply sell it on eBay for some easy cash.

Instead, she brought the wayward iPhone (which looked as good as new, by the way) back to her local AT&T store, where the clerks pried out its SIM card and quickly pulled up my wife’s phone number.


Back at home, I backed up the replacement iPhone 3GS using iTunes, then connected the safe-and-sound iPhone 4, restored the brand-new backup file, and transferred all my wife’s apps, music, and photos back to the iPhone’s memory—a happy end to what seemed sure to be a downer of a tale.

So, moral of the story?

If you have an iPhone, make sure you have Find My iPhone (a free service) activated and enabled—and make sure to test it before the worst happens. Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone users should try Lookout, a third-party application that will also track down, lock, and wipe a lost smartphone.

If you lose your phone and can’t track it down, call you carrier immediately and report it missing. And if you used your phone for email, shopping, or banking, change your passwords right away.

Last but not least, don’t forget: there are still plenty of people out there who are happy to do the right thing, even when turning to eBay could’ve been a whole lot easier (not to mention more profitable).

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