It’s almost as if having your iPhone stolen is worse than having your house robbed. It’s not just losing an expensive device—your iPhone holds so much of your private life that criminals don’t even have to do the work of ransacking your place for cash, jewelry, credit cards, and electronics.
Recent reports have detailed how criminals can use your iPhone to break into your iCloud and bank accounts to quickly drain your finances and steal your identity by permanently locking you out of your Apple account. That’s in addition to cutting off contacts, notes, emails, and photos. How? As long as a thief has your unlocked phone (either by snatching it out of your hand while you’re using it or surreptitiously observing you tap in your passcode) they can immediately change your passcode and Apple ID password, and from there, even the iPhone Recovery Key–the only information Apple currently recognizes as a proof of your identity.
Forget everything you know about Find My iPhone and iCloud backup. Once thieves have changed your phone’s basic information–which can take just a few minutes–Find My won’t help you, and neither will Apple. But it turns out that there’s a way to precent it all from happening. You might not know it, but your iPhone’s Screen Time feature hides a fairly bulletproof way to prevent thieves from locking you out of your handset (and all your other Apple devices) even if they do manage to steal your phone.
Screen Time for added protection
If you’re childless and aren’t concerned about how much you use your phone, chances are you have never used iOS’s Screen Time feature. But Screen Time has another feature that can prevent anyone from changing your most important passwords. Here’s how it works:
At a glance
Time to complete: 3 minutes
Tools required: iOS 16 or later
Turn on the Screen Time Passcode setting
Go to Settings, launch Screen Time, and toggle on the Use Screen Time Passcode. We recommend using a different passcode from the one you use to unlock your iPhone for obvious reasons.
Set Content & Privacy Restrictions
Next, go to Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions and toggle it on if it’s not already. Then, scroll down to the Allow Changes section, tap Account Changes and then Don’t Allow. That will prevent anyone else who has your phone from accessing or changing passwords because they would first need to tap in the unique Screen Time password which they won’t have.
This simple Screen Time setup can stop thieves from draining your bank account, setting up credit cards in your name, and stealing your identity, as you struggle to recover your lost property, privacy, and sanity. Sure, there’s more you can do, but this is a great place to start.
Today I Learned is a Macworld column that spotlights lesser-known but useful tips and tricks for Apple users. If you have any ideas for future columns, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackie Dove is an insomniac tech writer and editor in northern California. A wildlife advocate, cat fan, and photo app fanatic, her specialties include Mac hardware and software, art, design, photography, video, and a wide range of creative and productivity apps and systems. Jackie now writes for a variety of consumer tech publications.