I’m sure the dread of patting your pockets, or reaching into your bag and discovering your phone isn’t there, is a universally relatable sensation. Your phone usually turns out to be wedged between two notebooks, or in your back pocket, but for those horrifying incidents where your phone is actually nowhere in sight, here’s advice for getting it back safely in your hand.
My lost-phone moment came while doing an internship at this very magazine, so I ended up receiving way more real world experience than I expected. Upon discovering my phone was missing, I frantically retraced every single step I made since coming back to the office; the ledge in the stairwell where I paused, the patch of gravel where I knelt to tie my shoe, the exact route I strolled through 7-11, the table I ate lunch at. But no avail. My phone was nowhere to be seen. Don’t follow my footsteps, folks – not unless you want to sprint a kilometer and waste ten valuable minutes you could be using to track your phone. The first thing you should always do is use Find My iPhone, either by signing into iCloud on your computer, or using another iPhone from a friend near you.
Seriously – I’m not kidding you, this little overlooked tool will save your life one day. A default app that comes with the iPhone and iPad, it tracks where all your Apple devices are through your Apple ID. As long as your device is somewhere with signal, its location should appear on the map, and you can do things like set your device into Lost Mode, which will lock the phone and display a message of your choosing with a phone number to call. You can also play a sound so that your phone rings persistently until someone finds it and calls the number. Lastly, this handy software allows you to clear all the data from your lost phone in case it’s landed into the wrong hands.
Sadly, using Find My iPhone only occurred to me after I returned, and upon signing in, I was horrified to see my phone was in movement – traveling steadily away from me. Quickly, I typed in the number of my employer and activated Lost Mode, and played the annoyingly loud sound so that it was impossible for the thief to ignore my phone. And then the call came.
The thief told me he’d picked up my phone in the stairwell. He promised in earnest that, “he wasn’t trying to steal it, he would keep it powered on, and he would come and return it to me as soon as possible”. Now this time, I erred again – overwhelmed with relief, I gave him my work address and thanked him profusely. But in the world of today, “thank you”s aren’t a sought after form of payment. Especially not for migrant workers of Beijing, who barely make enough to survive in this city, let alone support their families. Their motto is probably something along the lines of, When life gives you a free phone, make as much profit as you can from it.
What should I have done from the very beginning? If he was close by, track him down. But in my situation, he was already kilometers away. The next most effective method would’ve been to offer him reward money. Why would he return a phone for free when he could sell it for an amount that could support his family for a month?
But being the naive high-schooler that I am, I simply sat and patiently waited for him to deliver it to me on a silver platter. Three hours later, I checked Find my iPhone to see in horror that he had turned my phone off, and it had been off the grid for hours. I had been tricked. His assurances, designed to throw me off his tail, bought him time as he attempted to unlock my phone, clear it, and sell it as fast as possible.
Upon this realization, we immediately leaped into action. Knowing I’d left my phone on the stairwell, we reviewed the building’s security footage. In the span of me heading upstairs and then rushing back down in wild panic, there had only been one food delivery man who went up and came back down. Food Delivery Guy became the leading suspect in our hunt for the phone. By figuring out who ordered the meal he delivered, it was easy to get his personal phone number. After calling him, he outright denied any connection with the phone robbery. But knowing we had security footage of him must’ve shaken him up, because later that night, he called my employer, and demanded 500 RMB for the return of my phone.
After we’d hired a courier, he was sent to a shady motel where the highly coordinated exchange took place, and soon after, my phone was back in safe hands.
So that’s that. The magic of technology, some sharp detective work, and bribe money were successful in reuniting me with my dear iPhone. So learn from me; the second you know your phone is lost, go to Find My iPhone, turn on Lost Mode, get in contact with whoever has it, and offer reward money. A few angels will return your phone to you for free out of the kindness of their hearts, but this is the real world, and to be frank, many people place money higher than being a good Samaritan. Especially those that survive on a meager few RMB a day.
It wasn’t Food Delivery Guy’s fault; it was entirely my own for forgetting my phone somewhere. He was just doing what he could to make a little more money. Though I was fortunate enough to get my phone back, in hindsight, I could’ve avoided a lot of worry and hassle by doing things differently. I pass this story on, in hopes that you learn from my mistakes. And when it seems like all hope is lost, remember; just keep searching, just keep searching, just keep searching.