Law-enforcement technologyNew smartphone apps help catch thieves

Published 11 January 2012

Thanks to new laptop and smartphone apps, individuals who have had their devices stolen now have a tool to help catch the thieves

Apps such as MobileMe allow device tracking and locating, and remote application initialilzation, and have helped capture thieves // Source: unwiredview.com

Thanks to new laptop and smartphone apps, individuals who have had their devices stolen now have a tool to help catch the thieves.

With GPS technology and specially designed software, users can now see the exact location of their smartphones, tablets, or laptops after they have been stolen, allowing them to guide police to the exact location of their pilfered property.

In an illustrative example, on Christmas morning, Kenneth Gootnick of Los Angeles awoke to find that his iPad had been stolen along with $10,000 worth of Lakers tickets, a checkbook, a PlayStation 3, and an autographed basketball jersey.

Gootnick happened to have MobileMe, a cloud based system that allows a user to access their contacts anywhere, installed on his iPad. Using the app, Gootnick was able to see that his account was being accessed from his iPad just a few blocks away.

He immediately called the police and right before they showed up at the suspect’s door, Gootnick remotely activated a loud alarm on his iPad.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a twenty-year old man who was found to be in possession of Gootnick’s belongings as well as stolen goods from another home burglary.

I was able to sort of solve the case, if you will, to catch this burglar,” Gootnick said. “And not only that, to get all my stuff back, and to find out later that this guy was tied to another burglary down in Vista.”

According to Captain Mike Parker of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, over the last five years there has been a significant increase in the number of crimes solved with the help of embedded tracking technology.

Parker explained that thieves often steal more than one laptop or smartphone, so the discovery of one device often leads to the recovery of several others.

One detective had handled six or seven or eight (stolen laptop cases) in a year,” Parker said. “And in only one of those cases he didn’t solve multiple burglaries.”

As an example, Parker said recovering one stolen laptop in Palmdale helped solve ten different burglaries including six other laptops and four incidents of stolen rifles and shotguns.

Stolen laptops are most often recovered with Lojack for Laptops, a piece of software that can easily be installed and activated when the computer has gone missing. 

Once the computer has been reported stolen to the police, the owner can activate the program which tracks all activity that takes place on the laptop including a keystroke monitor and screenshots of the computer while it is in use so police can identify the suspect through e-mails or when they log into social networking sites.

The program can even display a warning message to users that include their name, phone number, and email address along with a note that reads, “This laptop was reported stolen and is now frozen you are strongly advised to return this laptop to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

You don’t want to dump it because it has your name,” Parker said. “You’re already caught.”

According to Absolute Software, the maker of Lojack for Laptops, the program has helped recover roughly 500 laptops a year in the Los Angeles area alone.

Parker is actively encouraging consumers to install these types of programs on their computers and smartphones as they have been proven to be an effective way of catching thieves and solving crime.

We’re telling people that these systems exist,” Parker said. “And if you would please use them, we would get your stuff back.”

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