charnsitr/Shutterstock.com

Wondering where your stolen or lost iPhone went? Thanks to Activation Lock and Find My iPhone, Apple locks your devices to your Apple ID. This forces thieves to turn to increasingly inventive ways of making the device usable (and saleable) again.

Scammers Want You to Remove Activation Lock

It’s not enough to simply erase an iPhone, since Activation Lock persists even if the device undergoes a complete software reset. To activate the device after a software reset, the linked Apple ID password must be entered. Failing this, the rightful owner can remove the device from their account using “Erase iPhone” followed by “Remove from Account” with the Find My iPhone feature on iCloud.com.

Removing the iPhone from “Find My” makes it possible for the device to be activated again, using a different Apple ID. A device that isn’t locked to an Apple ID has far more worth than one that is, so if the rightful owner can be convinced to remove Activation Lock then the thieves stand to gain.

Tracking down the rightful owner of a lost or stolen iPhone isn’t hard if the device has been put into Lost Mode. This allows the owner to leave a phone number or other contact method, so that anyone who finds the phone can return it to its rightful owner.

RELATED: What Is "Lost Mode" on the iPhone, iPad, or Mac?

How the Scam Works

Scammers may send text messages (like this one) to the owners of lost or stolen devices, claiming that the iPhone has been found alongside all of the personal data that was on it. Claims are made that photos, contacts, the contents of email and text messages, or even banking and other personal information is at risk.

The goal is to convince owners that the device needs to be properly wiped to protect this data, and in order to do that they need access to the device. They will instruct owners to remove the device from “Find My” on iCloud.com in order to safeguard data. In reality, it’s highly unlikely that they have access to this data.

The iPhone lock screen

Assuming the device has a unique passcode that isn’t easy to guess, the chances of this data being available to anyone in possession of the phone is slim. All the thieves want is for you to remove the device from your Apple ID remotely so that they can use it themselves.

If you didn’t secure your device with a unique passcode, thieves will likely send you images or screenshots proving that they have your device. You can log in with your Apple ID on iCloud.com and erase your device remotely in this case (without removing Activation Lock). It’s a good idea to do this anyway, especially if you have an iCloud backup you can restore from.

RELATED: How to Use a More Secure iPhone Passcode

Try Not to Worry About a Long Lost iPhone

While losing an expensive gadget stings, Apple’s security measures are pretty robust. Get used to using a unique six-digit (or greater) passcode so that if the worst happens, thieves are left with an expensive paperweight. Above all, don’t be fooled by people trying to convince you to disable Activation Lock by removing the device from your Apple ID remotely.

On the topic of lost iPhones, here’s what to do if you find someone’s lost device.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
Read Full Bio »