How to defeat the thieves after your iPad
Police in Australia are increasingly using tracking software installed on stolen Apple gadgets to find criminals despite one station's unsuccessful effort.
It comes as a Victorian detective urges police to become more savvy in their use of technology to solve crime.
Two tracking software success stories in NSW and Victoria have come to light following the story of a Melbourne man who has so far been unsuccessful in getting South Melbourne police to recover his tracked stolen iPad.
The man provided South Melbourne Criminal Investigation Unit detectives with evidence almost one month ago showing where the iPad was last located using GPS tracking technology installed on it. Officers told him they would try to get a search warrant to recover the device but are yet to do so.
Just last night police from Cabramatta Local Area Command in NSW said they had charged two men after a tracking app in an iPhone assisted with their investigation.
Detective Cliff Pickett of Boroondara Police Station in Victoria told Fairfax, publisher of this website, that he was able to get a search warrant for a place where a stolen iPad was located too.
Victoria Police also successfully used tracking software and a helicopter last December to locate a boy who allegedly stole a woman's iPhone from a hospital in Melbourne's north-east.
There have also been countless overseas cases of people tracking down their stolen iPhones, iPads and MacBooks using tracking software. In these cases police have had no issues with using the evidence.
In one overseas case, however, a youth baseball umpire reportedly struck out at a man he thought had taken his iPhone and was "arrested on charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct". The umpire reportedly used his son's phone to try and track down his iPhone which ended up being left behind at a "snack shack at the baseball field".
Officers need to be savvy
Detective Pickett said police should become savvier about technology and how to use it in cracking crime. He said technology can make policing easier but only if officers were willing to make use of it.
"I would encourage ... [police officers] themselves just to look at what technology is out there," Pickett said. "[Police need to] make themselves aware of the technology and also encourage members of the public to use the technology because it makes our job easier."
Pickett, who said he was not criticising other officers, also said there wasn't "a lot of ... training in VicPol" to catch criminals using GPS tracking technology installed on a victim's phone or tablet.
The computer crime investigators did, however, have a lot of knowledge, he said. But they often weren't always able to act fast enough. "Something like stolen property moves fairly quickly," he said.
After the publication of Tuesday's story on this website, many readers sent emails detailing similar cases.
Pickett's success story
In one success story, Melbourne man Jason Innes of Hawthorn, 39, told of Pickett's “fantastic” work, which led to his iPad and other goods being recovered within six hours.
On March 3 this year, Innes' car was broken into. He said his work bag, including his iPad, a laptop and other equipment, was stolen. Using the "Find My iPad" software installed on the device, which is available free from Apple, he tracked it down to a house in Richmond.
With Innes' information, Pickett convinced a Melbourne magistrate to sign a search warrant allowing police to enter the Richmond premises. "Jason was very cluey about what was going on and he was able to tell me all of the information that I needed," Pickett said.
The detective said the magistrate had also signed a search warrant earlier in the week with regards to a similar matter, and was very "accepting of the technology", Pickett said.
Once the warrant was signed, Pickett said police were able to go to the residential address where the tracking software had pinpointed the iPad. The house was “well known” to police, he said.
But just as police were on their way to the premises, the iPad's signal dropped out. Luck, however, was on the officers' side because when they turned up at the house, a man arrived in his car with the stolen iPad. "Coincidentally he just didn't have enough time to realise what was going on ... Otherwise I'm pretty sure he would've just kept going and driven off," Pickett said.
Police arrested the driver and another man inside the premises. They were both charged and are due to appear before a Melbourne court on June 6.
Pickett said some criminals were smart when it came to stealing devices they knew could potentially track them. "It's one of those things that you [have to] move on quickly because if you don't they [the criminals] can change the SIM card in the iPad and therefore you've lost it," he said. "Once they change the SIM and they pull it out you're gone."
He also said it could be difficult to give magistrates enough accurate information about a stolen device's location. In this case, the Find My iPad application was reporting the device as being "right on top of a known address” but it would be harder to convince a magistrate if it was indicating a block of flats or somewhere in the CBD.
The reported location of a stolen device could often move even though the device itself may be "fairly stationary", he said. The reported location often depended on "the strength of the signal and things like that".
In Pickett's case the signal stayed strong enough and in the same spot for police to tell the magistrate they had a "reasonable belief" of where the iPad would be located, Pickett said.
Had he and his team had a delay of about five or so minutes "we might not have had it [the iPad]," he said.
Tim, who told Fairfax of the South Melbourne matter, believed his iPad device was "unequivocally" at the address he gave police when he could still track it. He can no longer do so as the criminals likely wiped it.
In a statement to Fairfax on Tuesday, Victoria Police media said that, as the matter was under investigation, it would be "inappropriate to comment further".
"If the complainant in this matter has concerns about the investigation, the complainant should contact the officer in charge of South Melbourne [Criminal Investigation Unit]."
This reporter is on Twitter: @bengrubb
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