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Can I Use a Phone I Found? | To Keep or Not to Keep

Earlier this year, I was out on a walk and found a phone sitting in the middle of the street in my neighborhood. Luckily, the person had filled their emergency info for their lock screen, so I was able to return it quickly. Afterward, I wondered if it would be possible to use a phone I found if I could not get it back to the owner. I did some research, made some calls, and this is what I found out.

You can physically use a phone you find, but whether or not you should is another question. Morally and legally, it is not in your best interest to keep a lost cell phone. It is almost certain that the owner would like it back, and being in possession of it does not give you a legal right to it.

Now, let’s cover the topic in greater detail and answer a few more questions you might have.

Reasons to Return a Lost Phone Instead of Keeping It

Phone on Street Next to a Manhole Cover

Put yourself in the shoes of the person who loses their phone. Think of all the important data contained on the device. Contacts, photos, videos, and memos could potentially be lost forever. Imagine the relief if it were returned.

Besides the moral implications, it may actually be illegal to keep a phone that you find on the street in some jurisdictions. Most places expect the finder to make attempts to locate the owner of the property. While unlikely to happen, if you fail to make an attempt to contact the owner and are in possession of the phone, you could be charged with a felony for larceny.

How could you be tracked down? Phones can still be tracked through GPS (whether or not you remove the SIM card) and other tools. This could result in the police being called to your location and you being charged with theft or worse.

Also, you most likely already have a phone that works, and you do not need a new one, so why ruin someone’s week? You may actually be pleasantly surprised by doing the right thing. Some people offer rewards to people who locate their misplaced phones. This can be a fringe benefit of doing something positive for someone else.

Of course, if you cannot find the owner, it is a good idea to turn the phone in to the police for investigation. Assuming they are unable to find the owner within a certain amount of time, the phone may be returned to you. In this case, you can legally keep the phone.

How Do I Return a Phone That Is Locked? (How Can I Identify the Owner)

A locked phone can often still be returned to its owners. It’s just a bit more challenging when you cannot get into a person’s contacts to find a work or home phone number or if they have not filled in their emergency info on the lock screen. In this case, you will have to do a little investigating.

Here are three methods to try to find the owner of a locked phone:

Method #1

The IMEI (the phone’s serial number) can sometimes be found on the phone. This does depend on the model of the phone. Sometimes you can find this number on the back, on top of the battery, or on the side of the phone.

If you have the IMEI number, you can contact the phone’s owner through their service provider. The provider will not provide you with contact numbers for their clients, but they will usually be willing to contact their client with your provided contact details. After this, the owner can get in touch with you and arrange a time to pick up their lost phone.

However, this will work only if the owner has not had the phone disconnected. As long as they haven’t already moved on and gotten a new phone, the owner will likely get your relayed message when they contact their service provider to report the lost one.

Method #2

You can break a phone’s lock pattern by using the Android Debug method (ABD). This method works provided you have a computer that runs ABD software, a USB cable that can connect the phone to the computer, and an Android phone.

This will grant you access to the owner’s personal information if the phone is configured correctly. You alter the gestures.key file and switch off the lock feature to get to the needed information.

Method #3

The third method is more low-tech. It requires holding a phone up towards the light so that you can expose the greasy fingerprint pattern. Sometimes you can see the most traveled path a user makes on their lock screen. This can help you crack their passcode.

This method assumes that the phone screen was not recently cleaned.

Can I Put My Sim Card in a Phone I Found?

Hand inserting a micro sim card into a cell phone

You can put your SIM card in a phone you found. Just replace the old card with yours, and the found phone will act like yours. Any number associated with your SIM card will ring on it, and you won’t have to switch contact information. You will be able to receive calls and texts from your contacts.

Can You Put Any Sim Card Into an Unlocked Phone?

You can take any SIM card and place it in any unlocked phone. The phone will retain the number associated with the account linked to the specific SIM card.

Bottom Line

While you can technically use a phone that is found, you usually should not do so. Instead, please do the right thing and make a genuine attempt to return it to the owner. I’m sure you would want someone to do the same for you.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

For more, check out Do Emergency Calls Work Without a Signal?