How to Locate a Missing Person by Tracking Their Cell Phone

Tracking a cell phone can help to obtain a lost or stolen device, but it can also be used to find a person of interest or someone who is missing. Today there are two primary ways with which traces can be performed.

The first is the most common used by law enforcement and that is a call trace. A call trace functions by waiting for a call to be placed from the phone in question. If someone uses their cell phone to call 911, emergency call centers now have the ability to pinpoint the call within a 25-100 meter radius (for more see). Law enforcement authorities are able to use the same technology to "ping" a cell phone and find its position. This is how authorities are able to find children who are victims of kidnappings or those who have run away. However, a different set of circumstances arise when the phone belongs to an adult. In this case, the tracer should expect an array of red tape and jurisdictional issues.

Privacy, consumer protection and wireless protection acts that are put in place disallow any indiscriminate tracing. In certain cases, however, a simple signing of a waiver will allow either the cell phone service provider or the authorities to track the phone in this manner. In other instances it is not so easy. Law enforcement and investigators have to entertain the idea that the person in question wanted to disappear. It is within their rights to do so.

The second way, which is easier and used by non-law enforcement, taps into a phone's GPS chip or SIM Card. In nearly all cases, the phone in question will need to have a GPS chip already installed before any type of tracking can be accomplished. Many phones on the market today are already sold with this technology. If the phone does not have GPS capabilities, the chip can be bought through a service provider or online. Order according to phone model and install according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Once a chip has been discovered or installed, the tracking can commence. Software downloaded to a computer can then trace the phone at all times. Many people are not comfortable with having their whereabouts tracked on a daily basis in the off chance that they might get lost or abducted. Still, signals sent from a phone to a tower can aid in finding the person's location. Overlapping signals work to triangulate the location via global positioning system (GPS) coordinates.

If no access to a constant tracing program is possible. There are companies out like I.C.U. Inc.,, and AccuTracking that will charge a fee to perform this type of search for you, but you may want to try using Google Latitude or the My iPhone app (if they have an iPhone) to find them first.

If the cell number you are trying to track is one belonging to a family member that is on a plan with you as the administrator, a new set of options are open to you. There are also services that can be purchased through your service provider to locate devices using certain SIM cards. AT&T offers what they call FamilyMap, and Sprint and Verizon both call their service Family Locator. Both of these come with a monthly fee but can be used to trace the whereabouts of a cell phone.