Can My Wireless Carrier Track a Stolen Phone?

By Steve Brachmann

Dealing with a stolen cell phone can be a very nerve-wracking experience, especially with expensive service plans or phones carrying work data. Although the phone carrier doesn't try to track a lost or stolen cellphone, the company will usually do whatever it can to rectify the situation, such as eliminating wrongful charges or replacing the phone. The police may be able to find your phone if you can provide recent call information.

Preparing Against Theft

Tracking and finding a stolen cell phone is a lot easier if you take a few precautionary steps while the phone is still in your possession. Open the battery compartment on your phone and write down the serial number and keep this information in a safe place; the number will be labeled as IMEI, MEID or ESN. Wireless providers AT&T, Sprint and Verizon each offer a location service that users can subscribe to which costs about $5 to $10 per month as of 2010, depending on the provider. IPhones and Android phones can also download apps that allow a user to track the phone in the event that it becomes lost or stolen.

Reporting Stolen Phone

Wireless providers urge users to report their lost or stolen cell phone as quickly as possible so that the thief cannot use services that you're paying for. When a wireless provider is notified that a subscriber's cellphone has been lost or stolen, it will generally just turn off the service to that phone. The wireless provider typically won't attempt to track your stolen cell phone, but will rather provide you with a new one for free, if you've been paying for insurance, or you may be able to negotiate a cheap price on a replacement phone through your provider.

Tracking Phone

You may be able to personally track your cell phone after it has been stolen if the thief who took it uses it regularly before the service has been turned off. Contact your wireless provider, or log in to your online account, and ask for call and text records coming from your phone. This will give you the phone numbers that the thief has been contacting with your cell phone. Use a reverse phone lookup service to identify the names or addresses associated with the phone numbers that the thief has been dialing; these services are widely available online but often cost a small fee. Report your phone as stolen to a police station and provide the agency with all of this information, which will make tracking your lost phone easy.

Considerations

You can usually ask your wireless provider to eliminate any charges incurred by a cellphone thief after your cell phone has been stolen. However, the wireless provider may decide to keep the charges if you do not report your stolen cell phone as soon as you notice it missing. If your cell phone is GPS-enabled, you may be able to download GPS tracking software that will give you the coordinates of your stolen cellphone whenever the power is turned on.