What happens when a Prey employee gets his phone stolen?
TL;DR: Thieves get their asses kicked and the device is recovered in three hours.
Before we start, I want you to know that I’m one of the guys in charge of writing the awesome user-submitted recovery stories you read weekly on our blog. That fact could make you doubt every word I say, but please understand that this is a real story. We’re not making this up to show that Prey works, because we all know how well it does. There’s a police record involved for this case and a cause still under investigation here in Chile.
Long story made short, my Nexus 4 was stolen while I was trying on some clothes. It slipped from my pocket and I didn’t notice until I reached the cashier. I borrowed one of the store employee’s phone for a little while to save mine as missing, and in a few hours the police and I were busting the thieves while they were having lunch at a local restaurant. All that thanks to Prey.
How the hell did I do it?
I felt really stupid when I lost the phone, but when I noticed that it had been found, and that the person who did it wasn’t willing to give it back, my frustration turned into anger. The device was still on a contract with my local carrier and I didn’t want to keep on paying for something that I didn’t have anymore. I took a deep breath in front of the girl who lent me her phone, and decidedly told her: “It’s OK. I’m going to find the damn thing. It’s only a matter of time.” I knew this because:
- My phone had around 80% of battery life when it dropped from my pocket.
- It was on a mobile data plan that would allow Prey to do its magic.
- It ran the latest version of Prey for Android.
- That version of Prey prevents the phone from being turned off if its screen is locked.
- The Nexus 4 has a non-removable battery (at least not easily removable) so thieves just couldn’t shut it down.
- You need a special tool in order to remove the phone’s SIM card, so internet access wasn’t interrupted while I tracked the device.
- I went to the police an hour after the theft, so they could legally just act without any warrant. The in flagrante delicto was enough for my phone to be safely returned a few hours after it was stolen.
The story goes like this
I was buying a new pair of jeans, so I had to take off my current trousers. While I did that my Nexus 4 slipped from my pocket, and was forgotten at the store. I realized a few minutes later but it was too late: whoever entered the room after me had found the phone, and didn’t return it to the store. I borrowed an employee’s phone to call my number, but nobody was answering. I tried four times. Once I understood that the thief had no intention of returning my phone I accessed my Prey account, and saved it was missing to start getting reports. They started arriving a few minutes later, every two minutes because I have a pro Prey account. They would have arrived every ten minutes if my account was free. Reports included location, but all attached pictures were black, most likely because the phone was in a pocket. I sent an on-screen message to the device to inform the thieves that it was stolen, just in case, and that they please, please return it to the store. I was pretty sure of their intentions then, but I didn’t lose hope and went straight to see my girlfriend and ask her for her phone.
When I arrived at my girlfriend’s work I already had 12 reports. The Nexus 4 was moving and I had to act fast. I noticed that I had quite a lot of information already, so I literally ran to the nearest police station to file the report, share the phone’s location over time, a picture of someone’s neck showing the clothing he was wearing, and also a picture of a restaurant table with at least three people. I also explained that I worked at Prey, and that I really knew what I was doing. The police officers looked at me like I was some sort of secret agent, and when they understood how serious I was they called the nearest undercover patrol (not really undercover, but they didn’t wear any uniform), and we quickly went to the place signaled by the Prey reports.
Chilean law allows the police to act directly during the first few hours after a crime is committed. I’m not sure how this works in the rest of the world, but I was very lucky and the police officers were very helpful. They were even excited to live-track the phone, and were very fast to arrive at the place that Prey marked on the map. It ended up being a notorious local restaurant in Viña del Mar, the city I was visiting at the time. The two officers walked to the place, identified the person shown in the Prey pictures, and signaled me to ring Prey’s alarm on the device. Once I did (which took five seconds at most) they grabbed the thief from the shoulder, recovered my phone, and took the guy into custody. No more than three hours had passed since my phone was stolen.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I mean, of course I trust Prey, I wouldn’t work in here if I didn’t, but to actually track your own stolen device is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it was quite an adventure! Later I had to file the case at the police station, and it took longer than the procedure itself, but it was definitely worth it.
Summing things up, I can say that I was very lucky. If I had had an iPhone it could have been easily turned off, because, you know, Apple doesn’t allow us to do all those fancy things I mentioned above. Or if I had had a Samsung phone thieves could have easily removed its battery. I also happened to be very convincing at the police station, and early reports were extremely helpful to make a stronger case to the officers. I was also fortunate that the police trusted me, and that they weren’t particularly busy—you know, busting a bank robbery would have been more important than recovering my lowly cell phone. And finally, I was lucky enough that it happened after we introduced all those useful features to our Android client. It had happened months before, I wouldn’t have recovered the device.
A few weeks later, when I was near that very same store, I brought a huge chocolate box to the employee that helped me. After all, I couldn’t have recovered my phone without borrowing hers. I think I’ll never know what surprised her the most: the gift I brought, or me recovering my device. “I told you that I would find it, didn’t I?” I said while I waved goodbye. I hope there isn’t a next time.
PS: The photo was heavily inspired by this story. Amazing one, by the way.