Touch that iPhone, and you're busted

At a time when iPhone theft may be rising, technology from Apple and app makers also provide more security. But sometimes, people can be wrongly accused of theft.

Clutch those iPhones tightly.

A photo of a suspected iPhone thief, taken by an app that automatically snaps pictures of anyone who incorrectly keys in a passcode. New York Police Department

Some evidence suggests that thieves are targeting the handset more than ever.

The good news is that, thanks to technology from Apple, as well as third-party security apps, authorities have a better chance of catching the bad guys and retrieving the phones. Not only can the device's GPS system help hunt down a handset, but apps such as iGotYa will snap photos of whoever is in possession of the phone.

The bad news is that sometimes, the cops grab innocent people.

Last week, police in Petaluma, Calif., kicked in the door of Moriah Stafford, and arrested her and her 44-year-old son, according to a story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The pair were initially charged with possession of stolen property, after police found Stafford with another woman's iPhone. Police had used the phone's built-in GPS system to track the phone within three feet, according to the newspaper.

The charges were dropped when Stafford explained that she found the woman's iPhone in a department store and didn't know how to answer it, when the owner called and texted. She asked her son for help, and he called and left the owner a message, which helped prove her honest intentions.

Stafford told the Press Democrat, "It was humiliating. I don't understand why they didn't check the messages before kicking in the door."

If all this talk about lost iPhones and doors getting kicked in sounds familiar, it might be because of Sergio Calderon, a 22-year-old man from San Francisco whose house was searched last July by Apple employees. CNET reported in August that Apple electronically tracked an unreleased handset, lost by an Apple employee in a bar, to Calderon's home. Sources said the Apple security team told police that they knew the "priceless" phone had been plugged into a computer at Calderon's residence.

The Apple security team was escorted to Calderon's home by four San Francisco police officers, who pressured Calderon to submit to a search of his home, car, and computer, according to David Monroe, Calderon's lawyer. He says police never informed his client that the search would be conducted by Apple security, and they should have. Monroe is asking the SFPD and Apple for information, and he says that if he doesn't get it, he will sue.

Then there's the case of a photogenic iPhone robber here in New York, which could offer iPhone owners some hope.

Last month, a man allegedly swiped an iPhone out of a woman's pocket and then ran. Unlucky for the perpetrator, the woman had loaded a crime-fighting app called iGotYa, which snaps a photo of anyone who keys in an incorrect passcode.

The photo is automatically e-mailed to the owner. She then took the photo to the police, who circulated it to the local newspapers.

NYPD charged a 23-year-old man with the crime, but the phone wasn't recovered. We'll see if the judge in the case is as impressed with iGotYa's technology. The accused man and his family deny that he is the guy in the photo.

 

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