What to do if you're locked out of your smartphone

Can't remember the PIN or password for your phone? Don't worry. Whether you're an iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone user, here's how to put things right.

When you're locked out of your iPhone

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Once a passcode is set on an iPhone, there is nothing that can be done to get round it. After all, as the passcode is there to provide security for your phone and its data.

You're not limited in the number of attempts you can make to enter your passcode – but if you're ever in this situation, you'll notice that after five attempts, your iPhone is disabled. At that point, you must leave it for one minute before trying again – and the more attempts you make, the more this time increases.

If all else fails, you can reset your iPhone back to factory settings. This will remove the passcode – but it will also remove all the data on your handset. Once reset, you'll be able to set your phone up again, restoring your data from your most recent iCloud or iTunes backup – don't worry, the passcode isn't backed up.

You will need to enter your Apple ID and its password, as resetting or restoring the iPhone's operating system doesn't remove the Activation Lock.

Reset your iPhone through iCloud

You can use the iCloud website to reset your iPhone, and also check whether you have a backup in iCloud that you can restore to your phone.

Your phone will need an internet connection for it to work - Wi-Fi or mobile data is fine.

 
 
 
 
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1.

Go to the iCloud Settings page, and log in with your Apple ID and password.

 
 
 
 
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2.

Find your iPhone at the bottom and click it.

 
 
 
 
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3.

Check on the right, under your phone name, that you have a recent backup of your iPhone. Once the phone is reset, you can restore the phone from it.

 
 
 
 
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4.

Click Settings in the top-left corner, then click Find iPhone from the menu.

 
 
 
 
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5.

Click on your iPhone on the map, or click All devices at the top, then click on your iPhone. On the menu that comes up in the top-right, click Erase.

 
 
 
 
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6.

On the pop-up menu, click Erase.

 
 
 
 
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7.

You'll need to verify your account by putting in your Apple ID password. Type it in and then click the arrow.

 
 
 
 
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8.

You can skip adding a phone number - just click Next in the top-right.

 
 
 
 
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9.

Again you can skip adding a message - just click Next and the phone will start erasing.

Give the phone a few minutes to reset. When it turns on, it'll ask you for your Apple ID and password to get past the 'Actviation lock'. After you've done that, you can set up the phone again, and restore your iCloud backup - if you need help with that, check out our guide here.

Reset your iPhone using iTunes

If you can't use iCloud to reset your handset, you can use a computer running the latest version of iTunes to reset it instead.

Because this process will download a fresh copy of the operating system and install it onto your phone, your computer will need to be connected to the internet.

1.

On your PC or Mac, open iTunes.

2.

Connect your iPhone to iTunes using a cable. When the window appears advising you that iTunes can't connect to the phone because it is locked, click Cancel.

3.

You need to put your iPhone into recovery mode now. Keep the phone plugged in with your USB cable, and:

  • iPhone 7 or 7 Plus: press and hold both the Power and Volume down buttons at the same time. Don't let go when you see the Apple logo appear – instead, hold the buttons until you see the 'Recovery Mode' screen.
  • iPhone 6s or older: press and hold both the Power and Home buttons at the same time. Don't let go when you see the Apple logo appear – instead, hold the buttons until you see the 'Recovery Mode' screen.
4.

You'll get a pop-up on your computer with an option to update or restore. Click Restore, and it will start resetting your iPhone. It might have to download the iOS software, which can take a while.

When the restore is finished and it turns on, it might ask you for your Apple ID and password to get past the 'Actviation lock' if you were signed into iCloud on it. After you've done that, you can set up the phone again.

When you're locked out of an Android phone

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If you've forgotten your PIN, password or pattern to unlock your Android phone, follow these steps. 

Almost every Android phone will have a Google account associated with it – without one you wouldn't be able to download apps from the Play Store or back up your phone.This Google account is the key to getting back into your Android phone.

AnchorUse Android Device Manager to set a new password

In order for this process to work, your handset must be powered on and connected to the internet, either via the SIM card or a Wi-Fi network.

 
 
 
 
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1.

On a PC or Mac, log in to Android Device Manager using the same Google account details that you use on your phone.

2.

On the panel showing your device information, click Lock. If you have more than one device associated with your Google account, make sure the right phone is selected.

3.

When prompted, enter a new password in the first box, and confirm it in the second box. If your device is expecting a PIN, set a password instead, and vice versa.

4.

You don't need to worry about entering a recovery message or phone number, they're not necessary for this purpose – and when you're ready, click Lock. This will replace your current lock screen with the new security information you've just set. You will now be able to unlock your handset using your new password, pattern or PIN.

Use your Google account to unlock your pattern-locked phone

If you've set a pattern lock on your Android phone and you're unable to replicate it, you may be able to use your Google account to bypass it. This will only work on handsets running Android 4.4 (KitKat) and older, and must be the Google account that you have set up on your phone.

 
 
 
 
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1.

Enter an incorrect password or lock code five times, and your handset will advise you that you must wait 30 seconds to continue. Tap OK.

2.

When the 30 seconds are up, you will see an option to enter the Backup PIN, or to follow a 'Forgot pattern' unlock. If you know the backup PIN, tap that option and enter the PIN to unlock your phone. If not, tap Forgot pattern or Forgot password.

3.

Enter your Google account details where shown and tap Sign in (or OK).

Your handset should now be unlocked. If you are unable to remember your Google account details, you can use their account recovery page to help you regain access to your account.

Unlock your Samsung Android phone using your Samsung account

If you have a Samsung account on your Samsung phone, you can manage your handset remotely from any internet enabled device by going to the Samsung account website and logging in with your Samsung account details.

Once logged in, you will see a variety of options to manage your phone remotely – and you'll also see if your phone is connected to the internet. If you look towards the bottom of the list you should see Unlock my device. Click the down arrow to open the menu, then click Unlock my screen.

On the main window, a button will show with information about how the service connects to your handset. Click the Unlock button in the middle of the main window.

As long as your Samsung handset is powered on and connected to the internet, the currently-set screen lock will be removed. If your handset is not connected to the internet, the service will continue to send the unlock command for up to 24 hours.

If you are unable to use any of these methods to unlock your phone, the last resort will be a factory reset of your phone. Almost every Android phone uses a particular button combination to enable a user to reset their handset. Google provide a list of manufacturers so that you can contact them directly for assistance with doing this, as button combinations vary across manufacturers and models.

AnchorBefore you go ahead and reset your handset, there are a couple of very important pieces of information you need to be aware of.

 
 
 
 
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  • Devices running Android 5.0 or newer (Lollipop or Marshmallow) are protected by Android Device Protection, which means that they will require the last sync'd Google account details being entered after the device has been reset.
  • If the device is running Android 5.1 or newer, Factory Reset Protection is another security feature you may encounter. This protects your phone and data by applying a 72-hour lockout to your Google account if you reset both your Google password and your phone within a short time. This is to stop thieves using your handset to gain control of your Google account, and therefore your data.

When you're locked out of your BlackBerry

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BlackBerry 10 and BBOS 5/6/7 devices

BlackBerry handsets have always placed security at the forefront of their software – so it should come as no real surprise that the device password on all of these BlackBerry handsets cannot be bypassed.

Simply put, you have ten opportunities to enter the correct password, after which your only option is to enter the word "blackberry" and reset your phone, wiping all of its data in the process.

When the handset restarts, the user is presented with the setup wizard, as if it were a brand new handset straight out of the box. Once you've set up your device again, you can restore any available backup to your handset – if you've made one – to get your data back on to your phone.

BlackBerry phones running Android

Newer BlackBerry phones no longer run the company's own OS software. Instead, BlackBerry have opted to run a version of Android instead, with their own security monitoring app running alongside. Unlike previous BlackBerry handsets, you do have a way of getting back into your handset – courtesy of Android Device Manager. We've covered how to use this in the Android section above.

If you need to factory reset your Priv, Android Device Protection will require you verify the handset is yours before you can complete the setup wizard by entering your Google account details.

Be wary of resetting your Google password in order to do this, however, as 'Factory Reset Protection' will prevent access for 72 hours if both the device and your Google password have been changed in a short period of time.

When you're locked out of your Windows Phone

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Depending on the version of the Windows Mobile or Windows Phone software your phone is running, you'll have a few different options for resetting it.

Windows Mobile 10

After four incorrect attempts at entering the PIN on a Windows 10 Mobile, you will see a Challenge phrase entry screen. This is to ensure you are able to enter upper case letters and numbers correctly. Enter "A1B2C3" into the box and tap Done. You will then get another chance to enter the PIN.

 
 
 
 
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If this is still incorrect, you will be advised that you need to restart your phone in order to try again, which will allow you another five attempts to enter your PIN.

If you are still unable to enter the correct PIN, your only option is to reset your Lumia. We'd recommend taking a few moments to read through the steps before you start.

1.

Turn off the handset by holding the Power button, then swiping down the screen when prompted.

2.

Press and hold the Volume down and Power buttons together until a vibration is felt, then release both buttons.

3.

Immediately press and hold the Volume down button until you see an exclamation mark on the screen, then release the button.

4.

To reset your phone, press the following buttons, in order: Volume up, Volume down, Power, Volume down. Your phone should now reset and restart itself, showing spinning gears on the screen while it does so – this is likely to take around ten minutes.

Once restarted, you can set your phone up again. Entering the same Microsoft account that you used on your phone previously should allow you to restore any data which was backed up automatically – including contacts, messages and settings.

If you are unable to use this method to reset your handset, you can reinstall the operating system (which will also reset the phone, deleting all its data) by using the Windows Device Recovery Tool.

Windows Phone 8/8.1

After five incorrect attempts at entering the password on your Windows Phone 8 handset, you will be locked out for one minute. After another five attempts, this increases to two minutes, another five attempts doubles this again to four minutes, and so on. There is no way around the password – and your only option is to reset your handset.

If you're unable to enter the correct PIN, your only option is to reset the phone, which will delete all of its data. Once it restarts, you can set it back up again.

1.

Turn off the handset by holding the Power button, then swiping down the screen when prompted.

2.

Press and hold the Volume down and Power buttons together until a vibration is felt, then release both buttons.

3.

Immediately press and hold the Volume down button until you see an exclamation mark on the screen, then release the button.

4.

To reset your phone, press the following buttons, in order: Volume up, Volume down, Power, Volume down. Your phone should now reset and restart itself, showing spinning gears on the screen while it does so – this is likely to take around ten minutes.

Once restarted, you can set your phone up again. If you are unable to use this method to reset your handset, you can reinstall the operating system (which will also reset the phone, deleting all its data) by using the Windows Device Recovery Tool.

Windows Phone 7

If you enter the wrong password five times, the handset will time you out for one minute before you can try again. If you make five more failed attempts, you will be timed out for two minutes, then five, ten, fifteen and so on.

If you are still unable to enter the correct password, then resetting your handset to factory default settings is the only alternative. The only way of doing this is through the Zune software on a PC.

Back up your phone and protect your data

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The one common theme with all mobile Operating Systems is that in almost every case, if you forget your password resetting the phone is the only solution. This will wipe all the data from the handset, so it is vital you take steps to backup your data before you need to worry about the contents of this article!

If you're in the unfortunate position of already being locked out of your phone, then I'm sorry to say this section won't help you recover any data from your handset. Hopefully though, it should help prevent a potential data loss in the future by helping ensure your data is backed up.

Back up your iPhone

iPhones can be backed up in two ways. You can turn on iCloud backup within the phone (Settings > iCloud > Backup) to back up your data online, or you can install iTunes to your computer and connect your phone to it regularly to make a physical backup of your data on your computer.

Back up your Android Phone

On Android handsets, the Google account backs up most of your data. Usually the option to turn on backup is shown when you're setting the phone up – but to enable this manually, go to Settings > Backup & reset and either tick the box or tap the switch to enable Backup my data.

If there is no backup account listed, you'll need to add a Google account (they're free to set up) to your handset through Settings > Accounts > Add account. We'd also recommend setting up Google Photos to ensure any pictures you take on your phone are backed up to your account too.

Back up your BlackBerry

BlackBerry provide software to allow you to manage your handset through your computer (there are versions available for both PC and Mac), including backing up your data and resettting your phone. BB 10 devices use BlackBerry Link, and older BB OS 5/6/7 devices use BlackBerry Desktop Software.

If you have a BlackBerry Priv, this runs the Android operating system – so your data will back up through the Google account on your handset. If you haven't already set this up, go to Settings > Accounts > Add Account > Google on your Priv, and sign up for a free Google account.

Back up your Windows Phone

The Microsoft account on your Windows 10 Mobile or Windows Phone 8/8.1 will back up your phone's contacts, apps, data, and other media such as photos.

On a Windows Phone 8/8.1 handset, all the options are in one place – so to set this up, head to Apps > Settings > Backup.

If your handset runs Windows 10 Mobile, then the settings to back up different aspects of your phone are in different locations. Microsoft's guide to backing up should help you find the settings you need to secure your data.

If you're on a Windows Phone 7 handset, you will need to download and install the Zune software to your computer to back up your phone.

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