To catch a thief
December 17, 2013 6:39 PM   Subscribe

About a month ago, my mom misplaced her government-owned (work) iPhone 5. After a month of searching her home/car/office/relatives/everywhere to no avail, she copped up and told boss. They took the news well and paid for not only her new phone, but also for the loss of her old phone. Being the mischievous son I am, I want to make an attempt to retrieve the phone.

She picked up her new phone today and was surprised to find her work contact list had been erased and a new one in it's place (they "restored" the contact list from the latest backup on the VZW system). Amongst the firstname-only list were entries for "Mom" and "Dad". Clearly, whoever found the phone had been using it before the account was suspended/canceled. To be clear, the old phone has been reported lost to Verizon and the ESN flagged as "bad" to prevent/hinder resale.

After a bit of Googling, I was able to determine supposed first and last names, as well as an address, of these "Mom" and "Dad" entries by reverse lookup. The last names and addresses match, so I presume these are the parents of whoever has the phone.

Like I said, I can be rather mischievous (clean fun!), so I kindly suggested my mom call the "Mom" on the phone and explain the situation, making sure to call her by name... if my mom started asking me about a phone I "found" I'd make damn sure it got returned.

Mefites: what would you do in this situation?
posted by mrrisotto to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't pull any shenanigans on a work phone, especially one owned/paid for by the government for a government employee presumably for use in the course of their official duties.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 6:43 PM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Unfortunately (as I am myself pretty mischievous) I think HonoriaGossip is right. If you want to take action, I would think about giving the parents' address to the local police (with the government boss' permission, of course).
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:50 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Hello Mrs. So&So? My name is mrrisotto. I got your number from a contacts update after my iPhone was lost. It seems your child has been using the phone and I would like to make arrangements to have it returned since it was provided to me by my employer. If I give you my work address, is it possible for you to send the phone or drop it off in-person?"

Just get the phone back. Alternately, report this info to the police and let them get it back.
posted by jbenben at 6:51 PM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

There are a lot of ways this could go badly, and pretty much no upside to digging deeper.


1. How do you know that "mom" and "dad" are the phone thief's actual mom and dad?

2. How do you know that this person is a minor at all?

3. How do you know that "mom" would even care?

4. For that matter, how do you know that "mom" wouldn't immediately take her baby's side and try to hurt your mom in some way?

5. How likely is it, a month later, that this person still has the phone, the phone is still working, the phone is not damaged, etc? What are the chances that there's anything to get back, at this point? Or that trying to do so won't just dig your mom deeper into a potentially dangerous (and certainly emotionally draining) situation.

Your mom's job not only bought her a new phone but paid any costs associated with the loss of the original phone. Your mother has lost nothing. This is the most optimal of outcomes. Why actively seek out a way to turn a good resolution sour?
posted by Sara C. at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Mefites: what would you do in this situation?

I would activate the fingerprint sensor (if it's a 5S, or an unlock code if it's an earlier model) on the new phone, install Find My iPhone, change any passwords that might have been compromised, and forget about retaliation.
posted by bcwinters at 7:06 PM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

how do you know if the person you're about to retaliate against has any idea the phone was stolen to begin with, it could have been purchased without that knowledge. You're about to, possibly, make someone's life miserable for no good reason.
posted by HuronBob at 7:09 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this person is a minor, that might bring harsh repercussions if you are perceived as harassing the person with the phone.

I also wondered why you/your mom/verizon/her boss didn't use the Find My iPhone function in the first place.
posted by jbenben at 7:14 PM on December 17, 2013

Mefites: what would you do in this situation?

posted by sm1tten at 7:41 PM on December 17, 2013

I'd do it and report the theft to the police. Can you call Mom and Dad from another phone?
So what if they bought it from the thief--receiving stolen property is a bad idea. Your mom's employer ( ie, taxpayers) lost money. Why are you supposed to let this person get away with theft? This isn't a prank.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:45 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

If _I_ was on the hook for hundreds of dollars I would go to the police with the information first and see what they do.
If nothing I would make an attempt to get the phone back by leaning on the parents.

BUT Since it's your mom and not you and it's a government phone I would be a little worried about messing up my mom's job though for a $300 phone.

I would at least make the case to them but maybe after I try to find out who the current owner is.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:50 PM on December 17, 2013

The additional information should be reported to law enforcement.

Receiving stolen property isn't just a bad idea, it's likely criminal. The only way to potentially modify future thefts by the same culprit - and reception of stolen goods, if there are two different parties involved - is to ENFORCE existing laws.

You doing it isn't a good idea, from any number - then they'd have your contact info. Do you want to set yourself up for harassment charges? Probably not, so let the people who are supposed to - law enforcement - do their jobs and give them the info.
posted by stormyteal at 8:52 PM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

I agree that calling the number--highly tempting as it is--could easily backfire on you and your mom, especially if a minor is involved. Furthermore, as pointed out above, you could cause serious problems for someone who bought a stolen phone in good faith.

I would pass on the additional info to the police, and your mom should also give it to her security department, or whoever paid for the new phone. Government agencies can be very bloody-minded in the recovery of their money, so they might well follow up on it.
posted by rpfields at 10:43 PM on December 17, 2013

Your insistence that you're just being mischievous and looking for some good, clean fun seems disingenuous. This isn't wacky hijinks, this is harassing someone (or the family of someone!) who may or may not be a minor, and may or may not have stolen your mother's phone. There's no obvious gain on your part--your mother isn't out anything, you personally haven't been wronged at all, and the person who took the phone isn't even able to use it because of the ESN flag--which makes me feel like you just want to one-up this person.

Report the information to the police or whomever was in charge of handling things at your mother's workplace, and then let this go and move on.
posted by MeghanC at 1:10 AM on December 18, 2013

My boss's phone was stolen once. We managed (somehow, this was years ago and I can't remember how) to get quite a bit of information about the thief, a kid. Had his home address, parents' names, etc. Eventually we called his father and asked to have the phone returned. He didn't give a shit. Oh, and neither did the police. Nada. This was in Honolulu. YMMV.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:35 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

This was in Honolulu. YMMV.
I'm curious as to whether the range of different responses here represent different attitudes, or different circumstances - are people considering the differing likely outcomes of dealing with strangers or police in very different places.

There are cities where I'd follow jbenben's suggestion,

and others where I would never activate the fingerprint sensor, in case they come back for my finger.
posted by compound eye at 3:31 AM on December 18, 2013

Most likely, the phone was resold to some unsuspecting person who thought they were getting a cheap, used phone. Move on.
posted by BearClaw6 at 5:52 AM on December 18, 2013

"This was in Honolulu. YMMV."

Was this a $700 smart phone? Or a $50 Nokia?

Between the tracking technology and the dollar value of new iPhones, I bet most police departments will at least make an attempt at retrieval.

You don't know if you don't ask!
posted by jbenben at 6:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

What would I do? I'd use this as a valuable lesson and make sure her new phone was secured properly (Passcode setup + FindMyPhone installed), and be grateful that learning that lesson wasn't overly burdensome.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2013

Hahalolno the idea that police departments in any but the sleepiest town would actually care enough to try to retrieve a smartphone is ridiculous. Maybe in Mayberry?

AFAIK even the fanciest iPhone retails below the threshold for Grand Larceny in most US states. The cops are as likely to take an interest as they are in a bike theft, or some kid pocketing lipstick at CVS.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2013

AFAIK even the fanciest iPhone retails below the threshold for Grand Larceny in most US states.

I understand that the value threshold for grand larceny varies from state to state, but the cheapest iPhone 5s retails for $649 currently, and the most expensive retails for $849.

The $199 - $399 prices you hear about are after a rather large subsidy from a cell phone carrier, not the actual retail (or replacement) value of the phones.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 12:52 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can't speak for every state, but in New York (for example) the limit for petty larceny is around $2000. You need to be stealing diamonds or something before anybody really gives a shit. If somebody stole 5 brand new still in the box iPhones, the cops might care.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 PM on December 18, 2013

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