Tips for Recovering Lost or Stolen Items

It’s easy to panic if you’ve lost something (or worse, it’s stolen from you). The good news is it’s possible to recover stolen items. You just need to know how to start searching.

Learn what to do when you lose your valuables, how to recover them, and how to prevent loss in the first place.

Preventing property crime and loss

Follow these pointers to prevent your valuables from getting lost or stolen:

  • Keep records. Keep important information on hand like serial numbers and vehicle identification numbers. These records make the search for stolen goods easier.
  • Use digital trackers. Whether it’s an app or a tracking device, placing digital beacons on your valuables can help you recover them if they are lost or stolen.
  • Lock it. While locks aren’t always foolproof, they at least discourage theft, especially in public places.
  • Hide it. Snoops can't steal what they can't see. When possible, hide your valuables so others can't swipe them.

Missing phone

When your phone goes missing, you might feel lost too.

According to the PreyProject’s 2018 report, 69.12% of those surveyed misplaced their phone while the remaining 30.88% had their phones stolen over the course of the year.1 The same report lists the home, on the street, at work, or on public transit as common places where the over 800 people surveyed lost their phones.

What to do next

Your smartphone may be lost, but it’s not forgotten. Follow these tips to try and track it down:

  • Use a locator app. Android and iPhones both have built-in apps to help you locate your phone.
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Locator apps

Android and Google: Find My Device helps you locate your Android phone, laptop, or tablet.

iOS and Apple: Find My locates iPhones, Macbooks, AirPods, and Apple Watches. Log into your iCloud account and go from there.

  • Send a text. If you left your phone in a public place, send a text message to your phone with the return information. If your texts are set to appear on your home screen, it makes it easy for the restaurant, store, or Good Samaritan to return it.
  • Take precautions. If your phone’s still missing, take some preventative measures. Start by backing up your phone, then wiping it remotely to prevent thieves from stealing more. You should also change your passwords to apps and accounts you use frequently.
  • Inform your carrier. Next, contact your service provider. They can disable your service, help trace your phone, or get you a replacement phone.
  • Contact your police department. Police reports can help you fight any fraudulent charges that come up after your phone goes missing. If your phone is insured, you might need a police report to process your claim.
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How to back up your phone

Missing laptop or tablet

Whether it’s in a coffee shop, on public transit, or in your own home, losing your laptop can be a nightmare. These are a few ways to increase your chance of recovering your laptop.

What to do next

Don’t give up your lost laptop—try these tips to locate it and keep it safe until it turns up:

  • Consider your surroundings. If your laptop gets swiped in a public space, there may be surveillance footage of the act. Ask anyone sitting nearby if they saw something and talk to employees about any footage they might have.
  • Try a locator app. The Find My Device (Android) and Find My (Apple) apps work with laptops and tablets too. Try locating your device with one of these.
  • File a police report. Call law enforcement. Like with any valuable device, a police report can help you out down the road.
  • Wipe your information. Some software allows you to wipe all your data remotely. If this isn’t an option, you can still use services like iTunes and Google to log out of your accounts and deauthorize all devices.
  • Contact your insurance. If someone steals your device from your home or car, your insurance might cover it. Call your agent to find out.
  • Start looking. Start with local pawn shops and online listings on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, offerUp, and eBay. If you find your device, don’t buy it or let the seller know it’s yours. Instead, ask if they can hold the item for you, and contact the police department so the authorities can recover your stolen items.
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Anti-theft apps

Add anti-theft apps like Prey and LockItTight to new devices when you get them. These apps help you track down your device if it’s lost or stolen. But they need to be on your device before it’s gone.

Missing package

Package theft isn't just frustrating—it feels like a violation of privacy. Fortunately, there are ways to fight back.

Subscribe to our Youtube channel for more videos like this one! Learn how to protect your home, your loved ones, yourself and your belongings.

What to do next

There are plenty of tactics you can use to prevent theft and recover stolen packages. Here are a few you can try to recover your stolen package.

Best doorbell camera
  • Check again. Check every entrance of your home and spots the delivery driver could have left it, like the back porch, the hedges, the garage, or between the screen door and front door.
  • Contact the delivery company. Have your tracking number and order details at the ready. Then, ask about the company policy on stolen packages. If the theft was due to their mistake, they might be able to help you.
  • Contact the retailer. Get in touch with customer service and have your order and tracking number ready. The customer service rep can tell you the store or company policy on stolen items.
  • File a report. Report your missing package to the police and the Postal Inspection Service. The more agencies helping you track down your stolen package, the better.
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Pro tip

Consider getting a security camera or smart video doorbell to protect your front porch. Look for devices that send a live stream to your phone and have motion alerts, so you’re notified when something’s going on. The best cameras have an intercom feature that lets you talk to any suspicious characters on your doorstep.

Missing vehicle

Sometimes a lost car has been stolen, but more often, you’ve simply forgotten where you parked. Before reporting your vehicle as stolen, take these steps to locate your missing vehicle.

What to do next 

Just because you can’t find your car doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. Check out these tips to locate your ride.

Best long -erm tracker
  • Start with the obvious. walk the area where you last parked your car. If you have a remote, click the emergency button to locate your car.
  • Contact the parking lot company. If you’ve scoured the area and still can’t find your car, don’t assume it’s stolen just yet. The parking lot company or area tow company may have taken it. Call the owner of the parking lot or the tow company they use and ask about your car.

    If your car was stolen out of a garage, there may be parking attendants who saw what happened or know where to find footage.

  • Call the police. If your car wasn’t towed, it might have been stolen. It helps to know your vehicle identification number (VIN), license plate number, and where you saw it last.
  • Inform your insurance company. All those monthly premiums are finally going to pay off. If you have the proper coverage, your insurance company should compensate you for the loss of your vehicle.
  • Search for it online. Online resources like Stolen 911 and Stolen-Property store internet databases of theft reports. Both sites scour the internet for listings featuring items just like yours.

You might also find leads by searching for car parts or at your local junk yard. Many stolen vehicles get dissected and sold for parts. Automated systems can help you identify parts from your stolen car—but don’t contact the seller directly. Report your findings to the police and let them take it from there.

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Pro tip

Preventative measures like steering wheel locks can prevent your car from getting stolen. GPS vehicle trackers can also help find your vehicle when it’s missing (even if you forgot where you parked).

Missing keys

Keys can show up in the weirdest places. If you’ve lost your house or car keys, use these tricks to recover them.

What to do next

Best for lost keys

You aren’t getting far without your keys. Take a breath and try these tips to find them.

  • Look in strange places. Keys seem to end up in locations that defy logic. After you’ve exhausted the usual suspects like your purse or pockets, start checking out the weird places like couch cushions and laundry piles.
  • Call for backup. If you’ve given spare keys to loved ones, now’s the time to get help. If your missing key is for your car, the dealer might be able to help with a replacement.
  • Change the locks. Sadly, if your keys are lost or stolen, you’ll need to change your locks. The process can eat up some time and money, but it keeps your home and loved ones safe.
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Pro tip

If you tend to lose your keys, try a device like a Tile fob. This little gadget attaches to anything (including keys). The app shows the fob’s location and sounds an alarm to help you find it.

Smart locks are a solution that nearly eliminates keys. They’re easy to install and use methods like numeric keypads or fingerprint scanners to let you into your house.

Use the tips here to keep better track of your keys, but if you do end up locked out of your car or home, use our step-by-step guide to get back inside.

Nobody wants to lose their valuables or fall victim to theft, but if it happens to you, you aren’t powerless. Remember to take precautions by watching your items, keeping your digital information safe, and having a plan in mind before the theft happens.

Missing cards and documents

Missing anything from your wallet (or your entire wallet) can be nerve-wracking. Thankfully, there are ways to replace or renew important items like driver's licenses, credit cards, and even social security cards.

Driver's license or government issued ID

Like any important missing item, don't panic. Losing your driver's license or ID can be scary, but it could simply be misplaced or left behind somewhere. 

  • Where did you use it last. It's a common story any bartender could tell you. A night out leads to someone leaving the bar without their driver's license or credit card.
    Retrace your steps and think of the last time your driver's license left your wallet. And then think of the last time your wallet left your purse or pocket. 
  • If you suspect theft, report it. Some states require a police report if your license goes missing. So if your search turns up fruitless, be sure to report it before moving forward. 
  • Check your local DMV for details. The rules vary from state to state on how to handle lost or stolen IDs. Check your state's DMV website or call your local office to get details. You'll likely have to go through a few steps to renew your license. 

Credit card

Missing credit cards can be the thing of adulthood nightmares. But like the missing driver's license, it's important not to panic. Consider what you used your card for last and call the store or shop to see if they still have it. 

  • Check your statement. Most banks and credit cards allow you to check your charges online. Log into your bank account to see where you (or someone else) used it last. If the charges look unfamiliar, cancel your card immediately. 
  • Contact your bank. Credit and debit cards go missing all the time. Thankfully, banks are prepared. Simply contact your bank and ask them to replace the card and you'll have a new one with a new number on the way. 

Social Security card

You may not use your Social Security card often, but when you need it, it’s usually for something important. If you’ve lost your Social Security card, you can request a replacement through the Social Security office online.

Unfortunately, some states don’t allow a replacement card request online. In these states, you’ll need to apply through the mail:

  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • Nevada
  • Oklahoma
  • West Virginia

When searching for information about Social Security or other government IDs, be sure to use trusted sources such as government websites. Don’t be fooled by scammers posing as government agents who could swipe your Social Security Number.

Final word

Accidents happen and we're all prone to losing valuables from time to time. From packages and car keys to important documents, a little extra mindfulness can go a long way when it comes to tracking your things (and preventing theft).  

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FAQ

It depends on the circumstances around your lost item. If the police find your missing car, laptop, or other valuables, they may keep it as evidence against the thief, or you could get it back. It depends on how you reported it stolen and who found it.

Burglars and thieves usually steal valuables to turn a profit. Pawn shops are the most common places to recover stolen items. But online listing sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are increasingly popular places to sell stolen goods.

Many thieves are smart enough to know not to sell in the area they stole items from. Use a resource like Stolen 911 to check national listings for your stolen items.

Yes, but only if you know that the goods are stolen. Possession of stolen goods is considered a misdemeanor or felony depending on the items and circumstances involved.2

Again, it depends on the circumstances around the theft. If your stolen item was used to commit another crime, it might be held as evidence. For things like bikes, laptops, or smartphones, file a police report, and law enforcement will notify you if they find the item.

Unfortunately, recovering your stolen items is up to you. While filing a police report can help, it won’t guarantee the safe return of your valuables. Thankfully, sources like Stolen-Property connect you to online listings to help make your search easier.

Start by taking pictures of any damage to your car and the contents inside. Share a list of missing items with the police for the police report.

Next, contact your insurance provider. Depending on your policy, they might be able to help with any damage. But unfortunately, there aren’t many policies that cover the contents of your car.

Sadly, only about a quarter of stolen items are recovered.3 That said, you should still file a police report. These reports can help get your property replaced, and they also ensure that the police can contact you if they find your items.

 

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Sources

  1. PreyProject, “Mobile Theft and Loss Report,” Accessed September 10, 2020.
  2. Ki Akhbari, LegalMatch.com, “Receiving Stolen Property,” April 2018. Accessed September 10, 2020.
  3. FBI: 2018 Crime in the USA, “Property Stolen and Recovered,” Accessed September 10, 2020.
Katie McEntire
Written by
Katie McEntire
As a renter, pet-owner, and woman living alone, Katie McEntire takes safety seriously. She’s tested devices like pet cameras, home security systems, and GPS trackers in her own home and devices in the name of safety. In addition to testing, writing, and reviewing for SafeWise, she also makes videos for the site’s YouTube channel. She’s been featured on publications like TechGuySmartBuy, Forbes, Healthy Moms, and Digital Care. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Writing from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She’s held previous writing positions at Overstock.com and Top Ten Reviews.