How to protect yourself from iPhone thieves locking you out of your own device

A complex but concerning method of gaining control over a user’s iPhone and permanently locking them out of the device appears to be on the rise. Some iPhone thieves are exploiting a security setting called the recovery key, which makes it nearly impossible for owners to access their photos, messages, data, and more, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. Some victims also told the publication that their bank accounts were drained after the thieves accessed their financial apps. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from iPhone thieves locking you out of your own device.

View of the new iPhone 15 inside the Apple Store at a local Edmonton shopping center, on Octobers 25, 2023, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
(Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Protect the passcode

The first step is protecting the passcode. An Apple spokesperson told CNN people can use Face ID or Touch ID when unlocking their phone in public to avoid revealing their passcode to anyone who might be watching. It’s important to note, however, this type of takeover is hard to pull off. It requires a criminal to essentially watch an iPhone user enter the device’s passcode — for example, by looking over their shoulder at a bar or sporting event — or manipulate the device’s owner so they’ll share their passcode. And that’s all before they physically steal the device.

Screen Time settings

Another step someone could consider is a hack not necessarily endorsed by Apple but one that’s been circulating online. Within an iPhone’s Screen Time setting, which allows guardians to set up restrictions on how kids can use the device, there is the option to set up a secondary password that would be required from any user before they could successfully change an Apple ID. By enabling this, a thief would be prompted for that secondary password before changing an Apple ID password.

Back up the phone regularly

Finally, users can protect themselves by regularly backing up their phones. This can be done through iCloud or by connecting the phone to a computer and using iTunes. If a thief does manage to lock you out of your phone, you can restore your data from a backup.


While the risk of iPhone thieves locking you out of your own device is relatively low, it’s still important to take steps to protect yourself. Protecting your passcode, enabling Screen Time settings, and regularly backing up your phone are all ways to safeguard your data and prevent unauthorized access. By taking these steps, you can help ensure that your iPhone remains secure and your personal information stays private.

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