On a recent, beautiful and unseasonably warm, Saturday I decided to take my 6 year old son and 1 year old daughter to our local town center while my husband was out of town. After watching the local kids show, part of a St-Patrick’s day festival, my 6 year old started saying he was hungry. I decided to go to the local sandwich shop and buy him a snack.
He picked a chocolate chip cookie and I went in to the counter to pay for it. Like most mothers out there who travel with kids, I have a lot of stuff in my purse/baby bag, which I had to dig through to find my wallet. While doing this I must have placed a couple of items on the counter – including my iPhone - on which I was just finishing off a text to some friends I was planning on meeting up with. I paid for the cookie and then my son got thirsty, so I got a cup to quickly get some water from the soda dispenser. While I was doing this, I had left my purse and things at the cashier’s counter. My little one decided (by balling her eyes out) that she did not want sit in the stroller any more so I had to pick her up as well. Anyways, after getting the water I turned around to put all the things back in my bag and saw that my iPhone was missing!
I asked the cashier and he said what kind of phone was it and before I could answer he said, “was it an iPhone?” I said, “yes, and it was black.” He then says that he saw three teenage kids on skate boards walk away with it. I turned around and saw them escaping through the glass doors. I came out but they were moving away fast on their skate boards. Luckily my car was parked just outside the shop, and I quickly loaded my kids into the car and followed the teenagers in the direction they were headed – the next row of shops across the street. I pulled my car into the parking lot and spotted them. I then pulled my car next to them and rolled down my window and asked them if they were just at the sandwich shop. They said yes and I asked them did they pick up a black iPhone? First they denied it but after mentioning that the cashier saw them they admitted taking it. I asked for it back and they said well they have it and they are NOT going to give it back and off they went. I saw them skating off, but with two kids in the car and no phone I felt helpless and realized that I could not follow them any further.
As mentioned, I had made plans to catch up with some friends who lived nearby and decided to go there to follow up on this incident, rather than home as I wanted to. Soon after meeting them and telling them about my ordeal, I used their cell phone to call the police and report the incident. I dialed 911 and told them the story and thus began the nightmare with the local authorities. The dispatcher asked where the crime happened and I told her just a few blocks away but I had come to my friends home (which was located in the adjoining town/suburb) to report it. The dispatcher then asked me if I could go back to where the incident happened and call the cops from there I was - so that I could get the dispatch of that area! I was shocked to hear the suggestion since I just told her the whole story and the fact I had no phone and was with two small children, and my husband was out of town. Well after a lot of convincing she finally said she will send the cops out.
The Police vs. Find my iPhone App
In the meantime my friend, who also has an iPhone, asked if I had the Find my iPhone option turned on, on my phone. I said I think so. This is a free feature that is available to any Apple device with the iOS5 operating system (or higher). By enabling it you can track your phone via the corresponding Find my iPhone application. She opened the Find my iPhone app on her phone and I entered my iTunes user details and viola I could see where my phone was via the built-in iPhone maps application. It was only a few miles away from where I was.
The cops arrived at my friends house half an hour later and I give them the details for their file report. They also asked me if I wanted to prosecute and I said yes. The officer tried to convince me not to, which was disappointing. I guess it creates too much work for them. I also told them about the location results from the Find my iPhone app and how I had just located the phone about 40 minutes ago but the phone was off now (so couldn’t be tracked). They said there is not much they can do about it currently but if I find out an updated location to notify them. The officer took my contact details and said he will be in touch. He also suggested in these types of cases the phone usually never gets recovered. I was really disappointed – both with their attitude and lack of real help.
I checked the Find my iPhone once more from my friends iPhone but my phone was still off and not trackable. But I enabled the ‘send me an email when located’ feature so that if the thieves ever turned on the phone on I would get an email with the map (GPS) location of the phone. Fortunately, my iPhone was also (pass code) locked so without the pass code at least my personal information on the phone was protected. I went home after that and hoped for the best.
Tracking my iPhone
Later that night after putting the kids to bed I checked my inbox and saw that I had recently received an email from the Find my Phone app stating my phone has been located. I was so excited, I called the police station straightaway and explained the situation and said I have the latest location. The dispatcher informed me that she would pass on the message to the case officer. I asked what actions will be taken and she said “The officer will be notified who will then pass on the information to the detective,” and since it was Saturday night nothing might happen till the next day or Monday. I was shocked and told her that the phone could be long gone before then. I finally convinced her to send the officer back to my home so I can give him the updated information and location maps I had printed out. I had done all the detective work, I just needed someone to get the phone!
So here is how the app works : It basically uses the GPS feature on the iPhone and pinpoints it’s location on the map (satellite or map view). It does not give an address. I had to use a combination of Google maps and Zillow.com to match the location and get the exact address. I then used a reverse look up on whitepages.com to get then name of the homeowners. It is surprising how much personal information there is online!
The police officer asked how I was able to get the address, and I explained to him the above process. He said he had never heard of this technology/app before – so much for tech savvy cops in the twenty first century. I asked him what will happen next and he said he would go to the address I found and check with the person(s) there about the phone. He said he would call me tomorrow afternoon with an update because his shift was ending.
So I eagerly awaited the officer’s update and periodically checked the status online for my phone status but it was turned off. I got a call back from the officer the next morning saying that he had gone to the house but no one answered the door. He also asked that if I was sure about going ahead and prosecuting. I said yes, again. The next steps he told me would involve him passing the information on to a detective who will take over the case. I was really disappointed in the police work and lack of proactive follow through. I know this is a small crime in the scheme of things, but the attitude of the police force, despite me doing all the work for them, was a huge let down and waste of my tax dollars.
Taking Things into My Own Hands
My husband came back on Sunday (I had kept him updated on proceedings) and asked him if we could go to the house I had tracked the iPhone to. I had thought to myself since it was teenage kids involved chances are the parents probably did not know what they were up to. My husband asked one of his Spanish speaking friends to come along since the home owners name sounded Spanish (Lopez) and the kids who stole my phone were of Hispanic descent. Plus it’s better to have an extra person, just in case.
We got to the house I identified and knocked on the front door, which was answered by a young woman. We explained the situation to her. But she, in Spanish, told us that she was not the home owner and that she would call them. She informed us that the owners were out and should be back shortly and that we could wait for the owners to get back. About 15 minutes later a car pulled into the driveway, which the house guest informed us was the owner. A middle aged woman and her two daughters (I assumed) came out of the car and we calmly explained the situation to them and why we came to their house. My husband and his friend showed them the print-outs from the Find my iPhone app.
I asked if she had a teenage son who also skateboards and she said yes. Her daughters were surprised and said they don’t know why their brother would do this. They all have iPhones. Well the boy (son/brother) showed up in a few minutes later and I was able to clearly identify him as one of the teenagers who made off with my phone. He looked shocked to see me and his mom asked him about my iPhone and he said his friend has it and made him take it. He didn’t even try and deny the theft! His mom asked him to immediately call his friend over who lived around the corner. The other boy showed up holding my iPhone and with head bowed handed it to me. No questions asked. They at least had the grace to apologize and look sheepish about what they had done. The mother looked the most angry and I am sure she was not going to let her son and his hooligan friend forget what they did anytime soon.
My iPhone had already been reset since the teenagers who stole it could not unlock it. The phone was basically useless to them they could only use it as an iPod or iTouch device. I spent the next day restoring my phone and calling my cell phone provider to tell them I had it back. I did lose some data, mainly pictures stored on the phone, but overall was able to get most of it back.
I was a blackberry person for years and had recently converted to being an iPhone user. This incident showed me how easy and useful it was to track my iPhone I am now a true ‘Apple convert’. God Bless you Steve Jobs. While I hope that no one goes through what I went through to get their stolen cell phone back, make sure you have the free Find my iPhone feature enabled in case you ever lose your iPhone.
Oh by the way it’s been over one week and I still have not heard back from the local police department.
This was a guest post from a local mom in my neighborhood. All opinions, actions and outcomes are from her point of view.