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.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Asha October 4, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Dear sir,

My name is Asha, i bought the cell on october 17th 2008 at univercell indranagar.
i lost my cell in the BMTC bus on october 3rd 2009.
i have very very important contacts and other important details in the cell phome regarding my career.

I kindly request to trace as early as possible.
hope my humble request will be fulfilled.

Your name: Asha [redacted].

Address: [redacted]

Phone model: Nokia 3110classic

Make: Nokia TMC Ltd

Last used No: [redacted]
[redacted], this was the number i cal’d around 12pm n i cal’d sm two ppl after i could remember those number as it was the lost phone memory.
But very sure that i received my last call from [redacted] before i could lose.

E-mail for communication: [redacted]

Missed date: 03/10/2009

IMEI No.: 355728023663088

Reply

2 Joe October 5, 2009 at 5:19 am

Hello Asha,

I am sorry to hear about your lost cell phone. It sure does stink to lose them, especially when thy have such valuable information on them!

Unfortunately, I am not able to help you at all. I am not a member of any cell phone company. Sorry. :(

But if your phone is GPS enabled and you had some GPS tracking software on it then you should be able to find it by going to your GPS tracking account and checking on its position. This might be hard since the phone is now two days gone and the batter is almost certainly dead. If it is still on the bus where you left it then there is almost no chance of you being able to find it unless you find the same exact bus that you lost it on.

If it has been taken by another person then the best you can hope for is that the person went to their home and the GPS tracking system was able to tracker them all the way to their home. This is possible, but you would probably have had to have installed the software yourself before the device was lost/stolen. If you did not install the software then I am afraid you are out of luck.

The great thing about the MobileMe software described above is that you can actually access your iPhone remotely and get all the important information off of it without actually having to recover your phone. That way you could know what your important phone contacts are and be able to call them and let them know about your lost mobile.

The MoblieMe GPS tracking capability could be used to track down your cell phone, but you wouldn’t need that if you didn’t want to.

-Joe

Reply

3 younus October 14, 2009 at 11:51 pm

plz plz track my phones.i lost three mobiles in four months.

Reply

4 Joe October 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Hi Younus,

Unfortunately, I cannot track your phone for you. There are plenty of resources available for you to consider using. I recommend that you check out our article on free GPS tracking software and see if there are any services that will work for your new phone. If you can find one that works then I recommend that you go with them and use them to track your cell phones so that when you lose it or it gets stolen you can have an idea of where it is so that you can recover it.

Good luck.

-Joe

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5 Silvia Brady October 7, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Earlier today approximately sometime around nine in the morning my cell phone was taken out of my hotel room. My cell phone number is [removed] can you please contact me at this number [removed] I would like a investigation on my stolen cell phone plse. My name is Silvia Brady. Respectfully Yours, Silvia Brady

Reply

6 Ravi Dixit March 7, 2011 at 5:55 am

Ravi Dixit, 07.03.2011
Dear sir ,
My name is Ravi Dixit .I have lost my mobile Nokia E-72 (White edition) . I hope you will help me for tracing it , it is having GPS tracking software also . I will be very much thankful to you .
Lost date : 06.03.2011
Time : 8 pm approx .
Place : Banglore
IMEI :354848040902946

Reply

7 Joe March 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Hi Ravi,

If you already have some GPS tracking software on it I suggest that you use it to find your phone. You will need to go on the website of your tracking software and login using the credentials you set up. Once in there you should be able to find out where your phone is. What software are you using?

- Joe

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8 allayssa emery May 2, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Dear sir, my name is ally (short for allayssa) i lost my phone at my school earlyer this morning, i cought a few people playing with it but dont want to confront them just yet without knowing if it was them or not. i first saw it was gone on my way back to my house, i have a family gps locater on my phone and can track it with my mothers phone but it just says it can not be found at this time. please help me this phone means the world and this is my second phone i have lost in 2 years. and i know you cannot help me track it but can you please give me some advice to help me have some ideas on who could have stole it and were i can look. :(

Reply

9 Joe May 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Hi allayssa,

Losing your cell phone can suck. Getting is stolen sucks even more! I would think the family GPS locator would allow you to find out a phones last known location, but I guess it doesn’t. They must have turned your cell phone off after they found or stole it.

I wish I had something to say to help you. The only thing that I though of was that if you though that they had it on them to walk up to them and ask to see the cell phone because you were “thinking about getting one just like it and wanted to know if it was awesome or not.” That is really just code for “find out if they are thieves.”

I really hope you find it.

- Joe

Reply

10 sadia November 2, 2011 at 2:43 am

how i gonna detect my lost cell by gps tracker?

Reply

11 Joe November 2, 2011 at 8:10 am

Hi sadia,

You can detect your lost cell by GPS tracker if you already have the software on your phone and it is turned on. If you have an Android cell phone you can install Plan B remotely and it email you your phone’s GPS coordinates as long as your phone is on and is still set up under that GMail account.

- Joe

Reply

12 terry thomas March 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm

hi someone has got my cell phone. the numbers are [number redacted]. if there is anyway i would like to know if there is something i can do to get a gps location on where it is .thanks

Reply

13 Joe March 8, 2012 at 6:31 am

Hi Terry,

That all depends. If your phone runs an Android OS (i.e. its a smart phone that isn’t an iPhone, Blackberry, or Windows Phone) then there is a high likelihood that you will be able to find its location as long as it is on and has coverage. I’ve outlined a few different steps to use to find it here: How To Install GPS Tracking Apps Remotely To Find A Lost Or Stolen Android Cell Phone

In that article I recommend using Plan B, which I did a full review of here: Plan B {GPS Tracker App Review}

If you have an iPhone you can use “Find My iPhone” to find it if you allowed it when you set up the phone.

I am not too sure about other cell phone OSs, but since iPhone and Android make up ~90% of the market I think I might have you covered.

- Joe

Reply

14 theresa porter September 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm

i have misslade my phone and need to find it i have a feling it was taken from my bag in carshalton high street , surrey

Reply

15 Joe October 16, 2012 at 4:56 am

Hi theresa,

What type of phone did you have? You might be able to track it if you have installed a certain type of app or have a certain type of phone.

- Joe

Reply

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