GPS Cell Phone Tracking Finds Stolen Cell Phone, Catches Criminals

by Joe Mueller on September 11, 2009

There is recent news that an Apple application called MobileMe has been instrumental in recovering a stolen iPhone and catching the individuals who stole it at gunpoint.  This isn’t the first time that a GPS enabled iPhone has been used to catch criminals red handed, and it certainly won’t be the last.  GPS tracking for cell phones is only going to become more prevalent, and stories like this are going to spread the word about just how powerful GPS is on our mobile devices.

According to reports from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the owner of the iPhone was mugged by two individuals around 1 a.m.  The thieves took the man’s wallet, pin numbers, and iPhone while one of the assailants held what appeared to be a gun.  As the police would later discover, the “gun” was just a pellet pistol.

After handing over his belongings, the victim ran away and called police.  The victim then got on a computer and used MobileMe’s Find My iPhone feature to locate his cell phone.  He presumably passed this information along to the police who were then able to track down the thieves at a gas station.

Even though two suspects were involved in the robbery, three were arrested in connection with the crime.

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GPS Tracking As Theft Recovery

Using GPS tracking as a way to recover lost or stolen property is a great way to make use of this powerful technology.  The example from this news story is just one of many different ways that being able to track  your phone could be useful.  What if your purse gets stolen at a night club with your cell phone it?  Or how about your car?  Or your backpack while you are at school?  Wouldn’t it be great if you could just rush over to a computer and be able to give police laser targeted information about where you think your belongings are?  Of course it would.  That is why we think that the use of GPS tracking in cell phones is such an important thing for consumers to do if they can afford it and are able to do so.

In fact, you don’t even have to use the tracking on the cell phone primarily for theft recovery.  Many of the tracking applications available on mobile devices are social in nature, letting friends or family members know where you are during the course of your day.  If this is the type of thing that appeals to you then it also works great as a GPS theft recovery system as well.  All you would need to do to make use of it would be to go to a computer and log on and check out where your phone is.

If you are using the phone to monitor the driving of a teenager then this too will work in the theft recovery role.  Heck, it could even work in a find a lost cell phone role too since teenagers are so absent minded sometimes.  Again, all you would need is to have the phone turned on and for it to be receiving a signal from cell phone towers.  If these conditions are met then just run over to a computer and you can find out exactly where your phone is through the power of GPS.

What Is MobileMe?

The truth of the matter is there are literally dozens of different GPS tracking and phone location programs for cell phones – but the program used in the this particular example was MobileMe for iPhone.  This is a subscription program that currently runs for $99 a year (~$8.30 a month).  If this were just a GPS tracking application then this would be way over priced, but it isn’t just a tracking app.

It allows iPhone users to sync there data between their personal computer, whether it is a laptop or a desktop.  You are given a single email account (johndoe@me.com) that is always kept up-to-date.  If you check your email on your iPhone while you are out on the town then when you get home that email is going to be marked as read.  The same is true of your work PC as well.  This can be a pretty useful feature for on the go professionals or students.

Another feature is the ability to push contacts from your iPhone to your PC without having to hook anything up.  If you are out and you meet a client, contact, or study partner that you want to shoot an email all you will have to do is get their information into your cell phone and the information will automatically be synced with your Outlook account or Address Book on your Mac.

The last push feature that MobileMe offers is the push calander option.  Like the other two features, this turns your iPhone it the perfect mobile calendaring device.  You don’t have to worry about manually updating your home calendar of manually syncing your different devices together to make sure that appointments you make at your desk get put into your cell phone and vice versa.  MobileMe takes care of it all and does so seamlessly.

You also get a cool photo gallery feature, online file storage, and access to me.com.

In additional to all this, they have a Find My iPhone feature that is the source of interest in this news story. What this feature does is it allows users to put a special message on a lost or stolen iPhone, wipe person data from your iPhone remotely, and get a GPS derived location of your cell phone.

As you might suspect, each of these features is pretty powerful. Being able to display a message on your phone could help in the event that you forgot is somewhere. You could say something like, “Oi! I left my mobile phone at the coffee shop. I am on my way to pick it up right now. Please leave it at the counter for me please.” Or if it is stolen you could say something like, “You shall not steal. – God.” Either way, you get a message across that will keep your cell phone safe and hopefully get it back into your hands quickly.

The information wipe feature is also useful because it helps protect your privacy and the privacy of those on your list. Do you really want a thief to have the information of all your most intimate contacts? Do you want them to know your Grandma’s address? Or know where all your girlfriends live? No! Being able to wipe this data off your phone is a very useful feature.

And finally, MobilMe lets you find the location of your phone. If it didn’t this news story wouldn’t be much of a story.

Is all this worth $99 a year? For some it is going to be. For others it will not be. Thankfully, there are other options for those who want to use GPS tracking on their cell phone for theft recovery.

Free GPS Applications For The iPhone

Many phones on the market have the ability to be tracked with GPS, not just “cool” mobile phones like the iPhone. As a result, there are many free tracking programs available for a wide range of mobile device. Many of these programs only work with subset of all the GPS enabled cell phone on the market, so finding one that works for your particular phone is going to take some work – but free is a really nice word, so the work is worth it.

One free GPS tracking software package that is particularly well received is Instamapper. This program works on a lot of different phones and communicates the tracking information in a lot of different ways. It is completely free to use (but check out some warnings about free GPS cell phone tracking) so you really have no reason not to at least give it a try. It could be the difference between catching a criminal and letting them get away with their crime.

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