Our readers have been inquiring about retrieving lost or stolen smartphones by tracking down the IP address of the phone. Is it possible to track down the phone by using an IP address? The answer is Yes. But, can you recover the lost phone by tracing the IP accress? The answer is unlikely. If you lost an Android Smartphone, you still have a chance to recover it by following the Locate your lost Android smartphone article. If you lost a non-Android phone, this article will describe what it takes to track down the IP address of your phone, and how hard it is to recover it.
If you have tracking app installed on your smartphone such as Prey or Phone Tracker, you may want to use the app to retrieve the lost phone. If you haven't installed tracking software on your phone, you're out of this option and may have to use IP address to track down the phone. If a thief is smart enough, he/she may have wiped out your phone and reset to factory default setting. Resetting your phone to factory default may require password, so you may still have time to track down the IP address of the phone before it gets reset.
The first and foremost thing you'll have to do is finding the IP address of your lost phone. If you have your phone setup to automatically retrieve emails from Gmail, upload photos to Dropbox, or edit notes on Evernote; you'll be able to find the IP address of the lost phone by logging into a respective website.
Gmail (or Google Apps) is generally setup to automatically retrieve email from your Google Account in a preset time interval: 5-min, 15-min, 30-min or 1-hour. You'll first login to your Gmail account, and find a link at the bottom right-hand corner of the web interface as shown on the screenshot below.
Clicking on the "Details" link will open an Activity Information windows as shown on the screenshot below. The Activity window will display last few activities with location and IP address of the device. For privacy and security reasons, the IP address has been blacked out on the screenshot. You may use Access Type (mobile) and Access Time to determine IP address of thief.
Similarly, you may use Dropbox to find the IP address of your lost smartphone if you have dropbox app installed on your phone. You'll have to log into Dropbox website to view access history. On the dropbox website, login to your account and click your email and "Setting" link as shown on the screenshot below. Then, Click on the "Security" tab and go down to "Devices" section of the page to view access history. You'll have to hover over the Information icon to see the IP address of the device (see screenshot below).
Assuming that you have Evernote app installed on your phone, and the App is setup to auto sync with rest of your computing devices; you'll be able to find IP address of your lost phone. First, you'll have to login to your Evernote account via the website. Click on your email, and then choose "Account Setting" link as shown on the screenshot below.
On the "Account Settings" page, click on the "Access History" link on the left navigation window. Similar to Gmail interface, you'll see access history with Access Time, Location and IP Address as shown on the screenshot below.
Okay, I found the IP address. How do I track my lost phone with the IP Address?
Unlike GPS tracking system, geolocation found with IP address is only accurate to the City level, and therefore it does not give you a postal address of the thief. You'll have to file a police report, and include IP address and Wireless Service Provider who owns the IP address. Getting help from Police and Wireless Service Provider may take weeks to months, but the thief may have already sold your smartphone in a black market causing additional complexity to find the thief. Besides, trying to track down the thief yourself may have safety concerns, so we strongly suggest you get help from proper authorities.
Before your smartphone goes missing, you can take a few precaution steps to increase chances of recovering your smartphone in the event it may get stolen. Here are a few things you can do to identify your device.
- Make a photo copy of your device's brand, model and serial number. If you need to file a police report, having the pertinent information will ease the reporting process and also improve chances of recovering it. You may also find this information on the box where an electronic came with, or printed receipt.
- Make it easy for someone to return the lost phone by placing an owner's information on the lock screen.
- Install Phone Tracker app such as Prey or find-my-phone on your smartphone.
There is a good chance you'll never recover your smartphone, or find the thief even if you have tracking app installed on your smartphone. There are small number of individuals with success stories, but those are very rare and considered very lucky. Trying to locate a smartphone with an IP address will only get you to the city, so it's not going to help you locate the phone unless police and wireless service provider work together to go after the thief.