Theft Darkens a Successful Conference; Suspect Tracked via GPS

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 7, 2010

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Was it a crime of opportunity? Or had the thief been stalking the women’s room?

Recently, one day after the end of an international conference in another state, a friend and two other women entered a restroom in the convention center. They were part of the host organization, and they had just finished an all-morning review of the multi-day conference.

Despite a challenging national economy, the conference was a success, judging from the number of attendees from across the nation and from dozens of countries, the number of vendors, and the large number of thank-you notes.

But in the restroom, a criminal act darkened the resounding team success. My friend placed her iPhone and her purse next to the sink as she washed her hands. She didn’t see or hear another woman enter the restroom and approach her from behind.

The silent stranger, ignoring my friend’s purse with its credit cards and some cash, grabbed the iPhone and fled. My friend turned and ran after the woman. She was only a couple of heartbeats behind the stranger, but the conference center was busy. Workers were breaking down the exhibits and carting them outside for transportation.

The suspect vanished in the crowd. My friend, using a colleague’s phone, contacted security and then reached for her iPad. She was able to track her iPhone, via its internal GPS, and watch it move on her iPad screen. Her iPhone was in the possession of the restroom thief who by this time was a block or more away, either walking down the sidewalk or in a car leaving the area.

Security officials reviewed their security systems. The security camera shows a woman entering the restroom after my friend and her associates. The same woman was first to leave the restroom.

Quickly, security workers identified the woman. They located her and confronted her about the iPhone. She denied any involvement. Investigators had nothing to link her to the theft, although the security camera shows that no one else entered the restroom.

The iPhone is probably a goner, according to one person instrumental in trying to recover it.

Police in San Francisco warn that iPhones have become popular among thieves who rush up and grab iPhones from the hands of distracted users. Photo by Mike Padgett

News accounts in San Francisco quote police as saying a rise in reported iPhone thefts suggest an organized effort by thieves targeting the popular device. Police are unsure whether the stolen iPhones are wiped and resold locally or in other countries.

Since every iPhone has a serial number, it could be traced back to it original owner if it ever lands in police custody, according to a recent story in the Detroit Free Press.

The theft of my friend’s iPhone reminded me of the many police reports and court records I read during my years as a newspaper journalist on the police and courts beats. The descriptions of suspects, no matter what crime was involved, could remind you of everyday people you meet on the street or in the grocery store.

The descriptions – color of hair and eyes, color and type of clothing, and so on – could remind you of a friend or neighbor. Criminals are everyday people. They wear sweatshirts and jeans or business suits. They are like you and me.

A logical first step after the theft of my friend’s iPhone was to remotely wipe its memory. That keeps names, phone numbers, e-mails, passwords and other important data out of the hands of strangers.

Wiping an iPhone memory is easy. But it’s unlikely anyone could ever wipe the incident from the memory of my friend, her two colleagues, and all of their families and friends.

If they are like me, as my friend, her colleagues and their families and friends reflect on the crime, they likely will become a little more vigilant and a little less trusting.

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Jul 7th, 2010

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