What happens when someone else locks your iPhone and demands you do something in order to regain access? You freak out—rightfully so, since it means someone has access to your iPhone that shouldn’t or, worse, your entire Apple account.
How do you fix this? First, let’s set up the story, courtesy of Lifehacker reader JoAnn:
“I really enjoy your writing and have a problem that has bugged me since it happened. Would really appreciate your input on this.
My iPhone got a virus, or something (It was actually hijacked; it totally shut down with a message to call some random number to get it back on). I was advised to wipe everything and start over. I had a lot of content in the Notes Folder, and some of it was really important to me. Now I’m afraid it is lost forever. Is there a way to recover that data? If I did not back up the phone regularly (I didn’t) was the content saved to the Notes folder automatically uploaded to iCloud? If so, how do I find and recover that data?”
There’s a lot to unpack in this question, JoAnn, so let’s start from the top. The message—or “virus”—you got on your device is a little concerning. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered that from an errant app, and I’m not sure that Apple would let anything into its App Store (even as a mistake) that could basically brick your phone, pop up some ransom number, and force you to wipe and restore your device.
I have two suspicions why this is happening, and both roads lead to your device’s “Find My” feature—that which you’d use to find (or lock) a lost or stolen device.
You didn’t mention it, but I’d be curious to know if you purchased your device from another party, bought it refurbished from Apple, or bought it brand-new from Apple. If the first two, it’s possible that whoever owned it prior to you never disabled Find My before selling (or giving) it to you. That said, they would have had to log into their Apple ID to get past the Activation Lock, or else you wouldn’t have been able to set up the iPhone.
(I can’t recall if that’s a one-time thing that allows you to then set up your device whenever, which means they could have “unlocked it” and given it to you, or if you have to always enter your credentials if you don’t finish the initial setup process. I suspect the latter, but I can’t reset my iPhone at the moment to confirm that.)
If someone gave or sold you an iPhone that was already set up and good to go, that would be one clue that it’s possibly still associated with their accounts. You might have noticed their account associated with the device’s apps at some point if you ever tried to set up your own Apple ID and iCloud with that iPhone.
Since your person appears to be acting in bad faith—putting up a phone number and demanding a ransom—it’s clear that they aren’t going to let you get away with using your device (by removing it from their iCloud account). You have, in other words, a paperweight; Apple isn’t going to remove this account from your device for you, and resetting your iPhone will only summon the mighty Activation Lock and keep you from doing anything with it. You’ll need proof of purchase that you’re the device’s original owner for Apple to intercede.
The more likely scenario: Someone jacked your Apple ID
It’s also possible that someone has broken into your Apple ID. You should have received a prompt to verify the a new device or browser that was attempting to access your account, but it’s possible you either agreed to that and forgot or never set up two-factor authentication in the first place.
However this is happening, I think the core issue is the security of your Apple ID. Reset your password and change it to something unique and difficult to guess. (There are tools you can use to help with this.) Once you’ve done that, make sure you’re using two-factor authentication to secure your account.
Next, log back into your iCloud account on a web browser and visit Apple’s Find My section. You should see your iPhone pop up on the map. If not, use the drop-down menu at the top-centre of your screen (“All Devices”) to pull it up. Your iPhone should be set on “Lost Mode” if you’re seeing a phone number and weird message on its screen. Click on that icon:
And then click on “Stop Lost Mode” to revert your “locked” device back to normal:
Where did your notes go?
As for your Notes, they should have all automatically synchronised to your iCloud, assuming that you signed into your iCloud account on your iPhone and this option remained enabled in Settings > [Your Apple ID] > iCloud:
The quickest way to check this is to visit Notes on the web-based version of iCloud and see what’s there. If your notes are present, the synchronisation was set up and working. If not, restoring from a backup should restore your notes (since they were never saved to iCloud to begin with), but only those created since the time of the backup.
And while you might not have been backing up your phone regularly, your iPhone has been backing itself up to iCloud at regular intervals—or at least, it should have been, if you also enabled that option in the same settings screen.
This should cover all of your questions (I hope), but if you’re still having difficulty, write back! I’m happy to keep troubleshooting this tricky issue.
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