What to Do if You Forget Your Passcode on Your Phone

Michael Kwan
Android lock screen PIN code

One of the most important things you can do to secure your smart phone is to apply a lock screen password, sometimes also known as a passcode. This way, no one can access your private information or data if your phone is lost or stolen. So what happens if you forget your passcode and get locked out of your own smart phone? The solution varies from platform to platform and may involve a full factory reset.

Forgotten Apple iPhone Passcode

When using the Apple iPhone, as well as on the iPod touch and iPad, you will be locked out of your device if you enter your lock screen passcode incorrectly six times in a row. The screen will show that the "iPhone is disabled," and you will have to wait a period of time before you can try again.

If you have truly forgotten your passcode, there is no way to bypass it to access your phone. You have no choice but to erase and setup your iPhone again. At that time, you can use a recent backup to restore your apps, data and settings. This can be accomplished via iTunes, iCloud or Recovery Mode.

Use iTunes to Erase and Restore

If you have been synchronizing your iPhone using iTunes on your computer, you can use the desktop software to erase and restore your iPhone.

  1. Connect the iPhone to the computer using a USB cable. This must be the computer where you have been synchronizing with the iPhone.
  2. Open iTunes if it does not open on its own.
  3. If iTunes requests the lock screen passcode, you will not be able to use this method on this computer. Either try another computer where this iPhone has been synced or try Recovery Mode (explained below).
  4. Force iTunes to sync the iPhone if it does not do so automatically. This creates a current backup.
  5. Click on the "Restore iPhone" button when the sync has finished.
  6. Choose "Restore iPhone from iTunes backup" when prompted.
  7. Select the most recent backup in iTunes.
  8. When the iPhone has been restored, you will be able to set a new passcode.

Erase iPhone With iCloud

To use the iCloud method to erase and restore your iPhone, the Find My iPhone feature must have been enabled in iCloud.

  1. Open a web browser on your computer.
  2. Navigate to icloud.com/find.
  3. Sign in with your iCloud credentials if needed.
  4. Click on "All Devices" near the top and choose your iPhone from the resulting list.
  5. Select "Erase (device name)." This erases the personal data from the iPhone, including the lock screen passcode.
  6. Use the iOS Setup Assistant once the erasure process has completed to restore a recent backup from iCloud and to set a new passcode.

Access Recovery Mode

If you cannot use either of the two previous methods, you may need to use Recovery Mode on your iPhone. This will also erase your personal data and the lock screen passcode, which will restore the iPhone's original settings.

  1. Ensure your iPhone is not connected to any cables or docks.
  2. Turn the iPhone off by holding the sleep/wake button and performing the "slide to power off" gesture.
  3. While holding down the "Home" button your iPhone, connect it to your computer using a USB cable. Keep holding the Home button.
  4. The iPhone should turn on automatically when connected to your computer. If it does not, hold the sleep/wake button to turn it on (while still holding down the Home button).
  5. When the Connect to iTunes screen appears, let go of the Home button.
  6. Open iTunes if it does not launch automatically.
  7. iTunes should indicate that it has detected a device in recovery mode.
  8. Click OK and restore your iPhone.

Forgotten Google Android Passcode

Unlike the Apple iPhone, smart phones powered by Google Android may provide the option to bypass the lock screen if you have forgotten your lock code without having to perform a factory reset and backup restore.

Bypass Lock Screens With Google Login

With devices running up to and including Android 4.4 KitKat, it is possible to reset your lock screen password by using your Google login credentials. This is only available if you are using a lock screen pattern and not if you are using a PIN or a password.

  1. Enter an incorrect lock screen pattern five times in a row, ensuring that each incorrect attempt involves passing through at least four dots.
  2. Tap on the resulting "Forgot pattern?" button near the bottom of the screen.
  3. Choose to unlock your phone using your Google account.
  4. Enter your Google user name (the full email address, including @gmail.com) and password. Tap the "Sign in" button.
  5. You will then be redirected to the Screen unlock settings page to set a new lock screen pattern, PIN or password.

Android Device Manager

If you have configured your smart phone with Android Device Manager, you have at least two additional options to consider if you forget your lock screen passcode. This will work if you've been using a PIN or a password.

Android Device Manager can be used to set a temporary password.

  1. Turn on your computer and open a web browser.
  2. Navigate to http://www.google.com/android/devicemanager
  3. Log in using the same Google account as the one associated with your smart phone.
  4. Select your smart phone from the provided list of devices.
  5. Click the "Lock" button.
  6. Enter and confirm a temporary password. The recovery message and phone number fields are optional and do not need to be filled.
  7. Click the "Lock" button.
  8. Assuming that your phone is connected to the Internet, there should now be a new password field that appears on its screen.
  9. Enter your temporary password here. Your phone should then unlock.
  10. Go back to the Screen unlock settings page to establish a new lock screen pattern, password or PIN.

Android Device Manager can also be used to erase and reset your smart phone remotely.

  1. Navigate to http://www.google.com/android/devicemanager on your computer.

  2. Login using your Google credentials.

  3. Choose your smart phone from the list of devices if it has not already been selected.

  4. Click the "Erase" button.

  5. Confirm that you would like to erase this device and restore its original factory settings.

  6. Note that this will erase all of your personal data and apps from the phone.

Android Trusted Devices

With Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google introduced a new feature called Trusted Devices. This functionality has been mimicked with third-party apps like Smart Unlock for smart phones running on older versions of Android. If you have configured a Bluetooth device to be included as a "Trusted Device" on your smart phone, such as a hands-free headset or a smart watch, you will be able to bypass the lock screen when this device is paired with your phone.

  1. Wake your Android phone to display the lock screen.
  2. Turn on Bluetooth if you haven't already done so. This can be accessed in Android 5.0 Lollipop by swiping down twice from the top of the screen.
  3. Turn on the Bluetooth device that is a part of your list of Trusted Devices.
  4. Wait for the Bluetooth device to pair/connect with your phone. You can access the pull-down menu of available devices from the mini Bluetooth settings menu visible from step #2. There is a downward-facing arrow next to the word "Bluetooth."
  5. When the device has been successfully connected, you should be able to simply swipe to unlock from the lock screen.

This method restores access to your phone, but it does not reset the lock screen passcode. If you go to the Screen unlock settings page, you will still need to enter your current passcode to set a new passcode.

Paid Unlock App for Older Devices

Smart phones running on older versions of Android can take advantage of a loophole to bypass the lock screen. This will not work on devices that run on Android 4.1 and above. The app is called Screen Reset, and it can be purchased from the Google Play Store for just over $4.00.

  1. Make sure your phone is not connected to a charging cable or dock.
  2. Log into the Google Play Store from your computer and buy the Screen Lock Bypass Pro app.
  3. Choose from the list of options to install the app to the desired device.
  4. Wait for the app installation to be pushed to your phone and completed.
  5. Plug your phone into a charger. This activates the bypass feature.
  6. Click the resulting "Activate" button on your phone. This resets the lock screen passcode.

Recovery Mode

If all else fails, you may need to perform a full factory reset. Since you cannot access the regular settings page without first bypassing the lock screen, you must use what is known as Recovery Mode. This is an alternative to the method using the Android Device Manager described above.

Different devices access Recovery Mode in slightly different ways. However, they all involve powering on the phone while holding some combination of the home, power, volume up and/or volume down buttons. In the case of most Samsung Galaxy phones, this is done by holding the Volume Up, Home and Power buttons at the same time while turning the phone on. Check the user manual or the manufacturer's support page for the specifics for your device.

Once Recovery Mode is running:

  1. Use the volume up/down buttons to move the highlighted selection to "wipe data/factory reset."
  2. Choose this option by pressing the power button.
  3. Confirm that you would like to factory reset your phone.
  4. Wait for the reset process to complete. This can take several minutes.
  5. This will restore your phone to factory settings and erase all your personal data and apps, including the lock screen passcode.

General Tips and Advice

The lock screen PIN, password, lock pattern or passcode is there for a reason. It is there to protect against unauthorized access to your phone, its apps and your personal data. This is why generic passcodes do not exist since they would represent a significant security risk.

In addition to the procedures described above, there are several other tips and guidelines to keep in mind.

  • Always maintain a recent backup of your personal data in case you need to perform a factory reset. This makes it far easier to recover your personal data and to restore your phone back to its desired state. Android has an integrated Google backup and restore function while iPhones can back up data to iTunes or iCloud.
  • Choose a passcode that is difficult for strangers to guess, but easy for you to remember.
  • Make sure your Android phone is configured with Android Device Manager.
  • When in doubt, contact the technical support team at your phone's manufacturer, the wireless carrier, or both.

Be Careful Not to Brick Your Phone!

Forgetting the passcode on your phone can be frustrating, but it's important not to get overzealous with too many incorrect attempts to guess it. Depending on the security settings of your device, this may "brick" your phone and render it completely useless. You may not even be able to perform a factory reset on it. Also make sure the phone is fully charged and/or plugged into a charger when performing a factory reset. If the phone runs out of power during the reset or restore process, it can also be "bricked" as a result. Be careful; if you feel unsure about what you're doing, seek expert assistance.

What to Do if You Forget Your Passcode on Your Phone