What to Do if You’ve Found a Cell Phone

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Do you know what you should do if you find a cell phone in the street, at the mall, in a store? If you’ve found a cell phone lying around (or, perhaps, in a taxi or on the bus), it may be a lost cell phone that somebody dropped or that fell out of their pocket or purse, or it may be a stolen cell phone that the thief has now dispensed with. In any case, if you’re wondering “I found a cell phone, what should I do with it?”, here is what you should do if you find a cell phone.

The first thing that you should do if you find a lost or stolen cell phone is power it up (if it’s not already powered up) and make a note of the phone number. You may need to poke around the phone to figure out the phone number, or it may, if you’re lucky, display its own cell phone number on the power up screen (or, if the phone is already powered up, on its screen saver or home screen).

The second thing you should do is look to see if you can find any owner information on the phone. Particularly with ‘smart phones’, such as the iPhone, the G1, Blackberry and other such phones, you may find that there is an icon for ‘Owner Information’ or ‘In Case of Emergency’ (“ICE”) right on the home screen.

Obviously, if you find full contact information for the owner (such as an alternate phone number, or an email address) then you can just stop here, and contact them – they are almost certain to be thrilled – and while you may or may not get a money or goodie reward, certainly karma will smile upon you favourably!

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If, however, no owner information can be found, then you can take these following steps:

1. Google the cell phone’s number, a few different ways. For example, if the number of the cell phone you found is 650-292-2198, you would try Googling “650-292-2198”, “650.292.2198” and “6502922198”. Doing this, there is a very good chance that you will turn up contact information for the owner.

2. If searching the phone number on Google doesn’t turn up any useful information, find the phone’s IMEI number (‘IMEI’ stands for “International Mobile Equipment Identity”). Usually this is on a sticker inside the battery compartment, often under the battery, so you will need to remove the battery. Then Google the IMEI number, as people often will post the IMEI number in “lost phone” forums. Example: If you Google the IMEI # 357335010775863, you will turn up a posting right here on our own site which includes the contact telephone number and email address for the person who lost the cell phone with IMEI # 357335010775863 (you can try out this search here).

3. If you’re adventurous, you can go into the phone’s phone book, and call a few of the entries, telling the people who answer the phone that you’ve found this phone, and can they please put you in touch with its rightful owner?

4. You can post the phone’s information right here, in the comments to this article!

5. You can search on this site for the phone’s number and IMEI – lots of people post their lost and stolen cell phone information here and here.

Finally, while we actually discourage people from turning phones in to the lost-and-found where they found the cell phone (because often articles in the ‘lost and found’ are donated to charities or even given to employees after a few weeks) or taking the phone to the cell phone store (they rarely actually know what to do with it, or they shut the service off on the spot which, as the phone is secure with you, doesn’t help the phone’s owner) you can take the phone to your local police station, and turn it in there.

We hope that this article has been helpful – and please share your “found cell phone” comments and stories with us!

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27 thoughts on “What to Do if You’ve Found a Cell Phone

  1. I got a phone(A5 Samsung galaxy) on 28.10.17 from a train 12801(Puri-New Delhi).In this phone I did not get any contact details or mail Id through which I contact to owner of the phone after switched on this phone on 08.11.17 due to unavailability of charger.i don,t have any way to return this phone to owner.you may contact me through my mail id:- omp629 at gmail

  2. Here’s a couple thoughts –

    I have never lost a phone but so much of my life is in that device that I would fret not knowing what happened to it. I recently found a phone, a Galaxy S6 with a smashed (broken) screen in the middle of the road near my home. I took it home, thinking somehow i could still answer it. No way. Without the screen, there’s no way to answer.

    So, trying to be a good neighbor, I put articles in the “NextDoor” app and on the lost & found of our local Craigslist. No responses…

    Then I read an article that said “to answer without the screen, plug another phone’s earbuds into it and answer by the button on the earbud cable.” Great idea, but for me it won’t work either – it looks like someone broke off an earbud plug in the jack… I can’t plug my earbuds in. :(

    lastly – I thought – why not pop out the SIM card and see who the carrier is, then take it to a store for that carrier. I just thought of this tonight and it was AT&T. Unfortunately all the AT&T stores close at 8pm, so I plan to take the phone to that store tomorrow. I left the SIM out so it would stop ringing…

    Anyway I hope these ideas help other “Good Samaritans” who may also be trying to help their fellow smartphone owner… :)

    1. I took a found phone to a store once and they said they try to get in contact but if they cannot be reached it becomes junk!
      You are better off tossing in a e-recycle bin!
      Police do not care or have the man power to do this and all the other things to track owners of cell phones, most of which have little to no value!

  3. Found a white Samsung smart phone with a colourful back case on a footpath along Parkway, New Addington, Croydon.
    Please claim this back if it is yours. Email iwantmymobileback at gmail dot com

  4. Found a Samsung galaxys5 in the bathroom at Chicago Airport on March 17,2016.
    PLEASE CLAIM I will send it to you.

  5. It’s a really sick feeling that one has lost not only his phone but his Phone records that are not replaceable

  6. i found a Phone on ASHFORD AVENUE. It was in front of a church which i believe is 531 ashford avenue. It’s a Verizon 4G LTE and looks like a few months old maybe.

  7. so what should I do if I found a phone that was abandoned on purpose? I live in an apartment that shares a porch with my neighbor. I found a phone in clear view on the porch one day and ignored it, figuring it was my neighbor’s and he would bring it in. 3 or 4 weeks went by and the phone was still on the porch and he had been in and out several times, ignoring it. I was amazed that no one had touched it.

    I brought it in my house and was wondering if there was any law declaring the phone abandoned property, and whether there is any way I can keep it? Obviously no one has claimed it or is looking for it. My neighbor is a chinese guy with a lot of money so my best guess is he got a better phone and didn’t know what to do with his old one so decided to put it out as a kind of free-for-all.

  8. Found phone in middle of Smoky Rd at the intersection of Mill Branch Rd in Owings, MD. HTC with IMEI # 990000642398871

  9. There a a few services on the internet which help you mark mobile phones and other stuff with anonymous labels. If you find a lost phone just enter the label’s ID number on the website and you can contact the owner immediately. I recommend http://www.numigo.com

  10. Last Call,
    The mall phone was actually found in the middle of the mall. My son and I were waiting outside Penny’s for my wife. I seen the guy using the phone. Then we realized he was gone, and the phone was sitting there. I thought it’d be easy to find mall security. It wasnt’. I was sorry I picked it up. This phone I answered. I was talking to the guys wife when we found him. Maybe because I was “using” the phone was why he was mad.

    What is interesting is my level of motiviation. This guy looked like he couldn’t afford a new phone. I felt bad for him. Phone two was some teenage girl. My son has a phone, but not a $300 phone. He doesn’t need one. Maybe I was less concerned if teenage daughter didn’t get her phone back for a couple of days.

  11. If I decided not to touch the phone, then I would have let my young son keep it because he was the one that found it and picked it up. At that point, I was involved, whether I wanted to be or not. I don’t like talking to stranger’s period, let alone on use someone else’s phone to do it. I wouldn’t expect anyone to understand my reasoning. Most people out in the world are ok, but small percentages are not. The best bet, for me, is to turn the phone into the place of business. If you are not at a place of business, turn it into their carrier.

    Regardless what the owners thought, these people had a choice to be nice about it or hateful. Even if they thought the worse, they had a choice of how to respond. If they played on my good side and said something that their daughter really needs her phone back because she works nights, I would have reacted differently. Even though I hate talking to strangers, I would have called and told them that I’d take it to them. But they decided to threaten me instead. I don’t understand why people think something negative will produce something positive.

    I have to admit to the one commit. I also had a choice to respond and I went from doing what I thought was best, to doing what was wrong. It doesn’t make me any better, then them. To be honest I didn’t drop it in the pool, though I so really wanted to, after the words they used. I almost did, but if you do something stupid it’s hard to take it back. After I cooled down I tried to text them back about their obtuse comments to tell them the phone would be at their carrier sometime in the next week. The text didn’t go through, so they shut the phone off.

    And there is tracking on phones now. Up to a 2.3 mile radius of the closest tower. You can get GPS and pay more and get that down to 20 yards. I know a ex-CSR for their carrier.

  12. Another thing is that the finder has a moral obligation to not waste the precious time the phone has before it dies…to communicate with it. Not answering it…leaving it on overnight without making any attempt to call the last number or “Mom”…this would tick any owner off.

  13. In short – Please leave a lost phone alone if you will not answer it when it rings and/or call the last number or someone with a name on speed dial.

    Anne said to look at the address book “if you are adventurous” in advice #3 but I am saying that you shouldn’t touch the lost phone if you won’t do that courtesy to the owner. Hand the phone to another stranger who says they can do that if you don’t want to.

    Obviously, if a guy lost his phone shortly after telling his wife he was working late at the office when he was really with his mistress…you could cause problems. ;-)

  14. Ken,

    It is actually expected that one answer the ringing lost phone because that will almost always be the owner desperately trying to talk with you…the person with the lost/stolen property. Non criminals almost always answer anyway, knowing that a friend of the owner could help them locate the owner.

    What you did in not answering was not criminal in your mind – you were being politically correct according to some unusual code of honor (again, 100% of owners calling their own phone would hope someone would answer)- but most would assume your failure to answer and/or look for a number to call like “Mom” or “Work”, meant you were probably a criminal or someone acting in bad faith…certainly not someone really trying to find the owner.

    I mean seriously…why would you drive to a police station (or walk around for 40 minutes for that matter) when it takes two seconds to call the last number the person called and ask who the owner was and where they were heading. In almost all cases, you would get instructions on where to leave the phone and be done with the matter.

    It sounds like you ticked people off because you expected them to want too much privacy (you expected them to hope you wouldn’t answer their desperate calls and expected them to hope you would not invade their privacy by actually helping in the form of calling “Mom” or the last number called.

    If it had a removable SIM card, the owner would have every reason to believe to this day that you are using the phone with a different SIM card (it was probably a bluff that it was being tracked).

    And destroying someone’s $200 phone in a pool because you had not wanted to invade their privacy by calling the last number they called? You went from being “too good” into being “too mean”. ;-)

    At the mall…*if* you had taken the phone away from the original store where a phone was left…assuming for yourself that Mall Security was better than the store cashier…I can see why the other owner was ticked off – (I’ve been furious when a lost phone was needlessly not left with a cashier)…especially if he found Mall Security 30 minutes before you did. ;-)

    This is not to say that you took the phone away from a specific store at the mall…

  15. My comment. Just leave them where they are at. There are some nasty people out there.

    Found a cell at the mall. Spent 40 minutes tracking down mall security. Found security and the guy looking for his phone. Instead of a thank you, the owner got nasty with me for picking it up.

    Son finds a phone on a park bench. Remembering last time, my wife decided to just drop if off at the cell store, thinking they’ll mail it to them. Phone rings off the hook, which we ignored. The next day I noticed a text message. They acutally threaten to have us arrested if we didn’t gave it back. That they had the phone tracked on GPS, and we had to the end of the day to give it back or else they would call the police. I was never so mad. It got accidently dropped in the pool instead of making it to the cell phone store. I would have drove it to them if they were nice about it. Some people.

    There are mean and evil people in the world. Be careful how you return a phone. Better yet, just leave it where is lays.

  16. Just come hot-foot from a steam rally and classic car show deep in the Kent countryside here in the UK, which I’m involved with. (A different one to the charity show I posted in Anne’s Site For The Cure). Numerous lost property items handed in (including phones, of course) by loads of honest folk but one incident left a bad taste. One young girl lost her phone on one of the fairground rides and we announced it with a description of the make, etc. Tried to ring it from my phone and it had been turned it off and was never handed in. Swine, whoever it was!

  17. If only some people we’re NICE enough to turn in a cell phone, yesterday my husband and I went to walmart and I dropped my phone, I’m assuming, because someone found it in the parking lot, I finally got ahold of my phone and asked if I could get it back and instead of saying, oh yeah sure, they say “I guess”. Seriously I have two young kids and have tons of pictures and videos of them on my phone, the “lady” is supposed to bring it to me today but I’m still going to go deactivate it.

  18. The Idea: “The first thing that you should do if you find a lost or stolen cell phone is power it up” is not recommended.

    Helping someone is a Good Karma for sure but it may cost you your life… The device may be a Bomb.

    BE CAREFUL Pals… Life is Precious.

  19. Thanx Anne for this valuable service. I agree that one should call one of the last people called. That person could probably help find the owner really fast.

  20. Googling my own cell # resulted in about 15 hits, but all of them wanted money before they would give out any information. Furthermore, half of them linked to the same site!

  21. I found a phone last sumemr. I powered it up and there was an entry for “Home”. I called it from my own phone and asked if they’d lost a cellphone. The guy sounded very relieved it had been found. He was a university student who lived two blocks away and he was at my door in less than 10 minutes to claim it. He ID’d the make and model when I phoned him, so I had no doubt it was his.

  22. I once found a phone and, as it was still switched on, went for option 3 and struck lucky with the owner’s father as one of the contacts in its phone book, although I did feel a little silly starting off the call with: “You don’t know me, but……”. Still, honesty has its own rewards and when I got it back to the owner he insisted on thrusting real folding money into my hot sticky hand,although that wasn’t the object of the exercise.

  23. To find out the phone’s number: just dial any other phone and look at the caller id screen. If it comes up blocked and you can’t get to or figure out its settings, just dial one or more of the contacts as suggested in the article. Come to think of it,
    that’s probably one of the best ways to get it returned to its rightful owner.

  24. About 6 months ago I did find a phone. I took it to the village police and told the nice lady at the glass window I simply wanted to drop it off. She started to tell various and sundry ways to find the owner. I insisted I had no interest in finding the owner, I only want to leave it with the police.
    Then the janitor began to instruct me with various ways to find the owner, other places to leave it, etc. I was outnumbered.
    Fortunately, they didn’t know me. I told them it was like this: Either you take it or I throw it back where I found it.
    They took it.

    I know a man who was sued for returning a purse to the owner. She claimed he took money from the purse.

    I have never been sued, but have had some rather unsavory experience with things like this.

    For me this is a no-brainer. Leave it with the police or leave it where it is.

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