Using GPS to Locate a Cell Phone

Andrew Border
Using GPS to Locate a Lost Cell Phone

Losing a cell phone can be a cataclysmic event. After you have checked the likely places it could be, using GPS to track your phone's whereabouts is the next logical step. Luckily, there are multiple ways of locating phones, no matter the operating system.

Find My iPhone

"Find My iPhone" is a quick and easy way for all iPhone users to track their phone using a web browser on any computer.

  • Cost: "Find My iPhone" is free to use with any iPhone.
  • Access: An iPhone can be located using any web browser on any computer. Find My iPhone is enabled by default on all iPhones. Ensure it is enabled by going to Settings, then Accounts, then Passwords, then iCloud and finally Find My iPhone.
  • Features - "Find My iPhone" can locate your iPhone, force the iPhone to beep loudly to locate when near, enable "Lost Mode" which locks the phone and allows someone to call a number specified by you, and remotely erase the phone in the event it is unrecoverable.
  • Limitations - In order for "Find My iPhone" to work, the phone must be powered on, connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network, and linked with your Apple ID.

Locating a Lost iPhone

Locating a lost iPhone from a computer's web browser is simple and quick. You can log into www.icloud.com with the Apple ID associated with the lost device. From there, click "Find My iPhone" and see a list of all devices associated with that Apple ID. Select the desired phone from the "All Devices" drop-down list at the top of screen to view the phone's location, play sounds, enable lost mode, or erase the phone.

If the iPhone is turned off, iCloud will still send the data to the phone so that it takes effect as soon as the phone becomes active again. For example, if you enable "lost mode" while the iPhone is off or not connected to a network, as soon as it is turned on or connects to a network, the phone will enter lost mode. After you're done locating your iPhone, make sure to sign out of your iCloud account on the computer, especially if it is a public terminal.

Find Your Android Using Gmail

If you've lost your Android phone, you can use your Gmail/Google account to locate your phone from a web browser.

  • Cost: Finding your Android phone with Gmail is free.
  • Access: An Android smartphone can be located using any web browser. "Find Your Phone" is enabled when you attach your Gmail or Google account to a device.
  • Features: "Find Your Phone" can locate your Android phone, force the phone to ring for five minutes at a time to locate it when it is nearby, change the passcode or enable a passcode on the phone if there is no passcode already enabled, and remotely erase the phone if you cannot recover it.
  • Limitations: In order for "Find Your Phone" to work, the phone must be powered on and connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network.

Locating a Lost Android Phone

You can locate an Android phone easily from any computer web browser. Once you log into your Google account, click "Find Your Phone" towards the bottom of the page. You will be able to view all devices associated with that Google account on a map. Once you select the lost phone, you have access to all the options and features for finding, locking, or erasing your phone.

If you are having difficulty locating the phone or using the features of the "Find My Device" window, click the question mark icon in the upper-right corner of the screen to open Google's help page.

mSpy Phone Tracking and Monitoring

mSpy is an Android and iPhone app for tracking, monitoring, and controlling an Android or iPhone device. The service has a robust set of features and comes at a reasonable price.

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    Cost: A one-year subscription costs $169.99. Three-month and one-month subscriptions are also available for $101.99 and $59.49, respectively.
  • Access: A phone with mSpy installed can be accessed from any web browser through the mSpy website.
  • Features: mSpy allows the user to do much more than just locate a phone. From the mSpy portal, you can locate the phone, view messaging data, track keystrokes, view app data, view networks the phone has connected to, and much more. A complete list of features for the different subscriptions can be found on the checkout page.
  • Limitations: In order to access a phone through mSpy, it must be powered on, have the mSpy app installed, and be connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network.

mSpy is a valuable service for those looking to do more than just keep track of mobile devices. If you want complete control and in-depth surveillance over a device or group of devices, mSpy is a great option.

Prey Anti-Theft and Tracking

Prey is a flexible service that offers users different levels of security and function. Prey can be used to track mobile devices and laptop computers.

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    Cost: Prey has a free service with basic tracking functions, a personal subscription for $5/month, a home solution for $15/month, and custom business options that vary in price. Full details are listed on the Prey pricing page.
  • Access: Phones and laptops can be accessed and controlled from the Prey application, which is available for all major operating systems from the Prey download page.
  • Features: Even with the free account, users can access the front and rear cameras of the phone and take pictures of would-be thieves. Also, Prey gives users location data, lock capabilities, remote data management, and the ability to take screenshots of the device remotely. Prey provides the ability to gather the information required to file a police report against anyone who might have stolen the phone.
  • Limitations: Like other tracking services, Prey requires that the phone must be turned on and connected to a Wi-Fi or cellular network.

Prey is one of the more robust options available if you are looking for a service that can track you phone, protect your data, and help file charges against thieves. With different accounts for various levels of security, there is almost certainly a Prey account suited to your needs.

Carrier-Based GPS Tracking

Carriers in the United States offer location-based tracking for their mobile devices. Major cellular companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile provide GPS tracking services for families and companies.

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    Cost: Depending on your carrier and whether you want to track a single device or multiple devices on an account, the service may be free or require a monthly subscription. Verizon and T-Mobile offer GPS location services for $9.99/month for up to 10 numbers on a single account.
  • Access: Phone locations can be accessed from a phone app or from a web page.
  • Features: Carrier-based GPS tracking only provides the location of the device.
  • Limitations: In order for a phone to be located by the carrier, it must have access to the carrier network.

The phone's location is updated frequently with the carrier and relayed to the mobile account holder on an interactive map. This is a quick and easy way to see where a phone is currently located, or where it was last powered on and connected to a network. Contact your carrier for specific details regarding GPS tracking. This is also a great option if you have a basic phone or a device that doesn't use data.

Legality of Tracking Strangers

Using GPS to locate a cell phone may be an invasion of privacy and illegal. Legal exceptions exist, however, as parents can track their children's phones and employers can track the whereabouts of their employees using GPS. It is illegal to install tracking software on someone's phone without his or her knowledge. Stalking someone by using GPS is punishable by state and federal laws. For this reason, carriers block the GPS chip from being accessed by third parties.

Carriers can track phones using their internal GPS and signal if necessary. In the event of a kidnapping, mobile operators work with authorities to provide accurate GPS data. Using GPS to determine the location of a cell phone can result in limited data because the cell subscriber becomes vulnerable.

Have a Plan

Make sure you have a plan and know exactly what options are available when you lose your phone. It is a good idea and can even be fun to go log onto your tracking method of choice and test the functionality of the location services. It gives you peace of mind that, should you lose your phone, you know exactly how to utilize the tools to recover it.

Using GPS to Locate a Cell Phone