SPECIAL REPORT: How Safe Are Smartphone Tracking Apps? - 8NEWS - WRIC | News Where You Live

SPECIAL REPORT: How Safe Are Smartphone Tracking Apps?

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - Your smartphone or tablet gets stolen and you have one of those tracking apps to help you find it.

Good idea, right? Not so fast...police have a warning for all you "would-be detectives." An ABC 8News Investigation found a growing trend in Central Virginia that has many law enforcement officers concerned.

Smart phone owners, who have their devices stolen, are tracking the items down themselves and risking their lives to get their phone back from a thief.

"You don't realize how many things you have on your phone," said Katie Husband, who accidentally left her iPhone in a taxi after a night out with friends. She called it and no one answered so she contacted the cab company.

"He more or less was trying to get off the phone and said he'd call me back which made no sense because I don't even have a phone," she says.

Husband remembered she had an app on her iPhone that allows her to track where it's at from other devices.

"I knew where it was," she says. "It was just a matter of if I was going to get it back with all the information."

The phone app led Husband and her friend to the Omni Hotel in the heart of Richmond. When they arrived, they discovered that same taxi with the same driver parked right outside.

"He was right there in front talking on my phone so I hopped out of the car and grabbed it back," she says. "He said, 'I was trying to find you' and I said, 'No, you weren't. I've been trying to call over and over.'"

Husband's among a growing number of people turning to technology to recover property rather than going to police.

On YouTube, there's videos of people taking matter into their own hands to get their traceable electronics back. Fortunately for Husband, she recovered her phone peacefully. But that hasn't been the case elsewhere.

In New Jersey, a man ended up in custody after he tracked his lost iPhone and attacked the wrong person, mistaking him for the thief.

In San Diego, a construction worker chased the man he thought stole his phone and ended up in a fist fight.

In both of these cases, police were not involved.

When asked is she ever though to contact the police, Husband says "No. They're slow."

Even though that may be true in some cases, police say going after thieves on your own can be dangerous.

"Do not confront somebody who stole your phone," says Henrico County Police Lt. Linda Toney.

Officers admit stealing smart phones is big business for criminals and the numbers are climbing. Last year, over 3,000 were reported missing in just Chesterfield, Henrico, and Richmond.

Many of those owners likely tried to personally get their phones back but, according to police, there's a better way.

"You want to call the police and you also want to let your phone company know," Toney says. "You never know what kind of circumstance you may walk in to. It could be a violent situation. It could be somebody who may try to steal something else from you."

Husband admits she probably should have called police but knew she had to act immediately or risk never seeing her phone again.

"I didn't even have a pass code on that phone," she says.

Husband is glad she went because the cab driver had already erased a lot of her phone numbers and apps. She decided not to press charges but says she'll never ride with the taxi company again.
    
Even though she recently got a new phone, the same app is installed and ready to be put to work should she need it.

"I still have this mainly because it did help to save my phone," she says.

Many across the country are pushing phone manufacturers to install a mandatory kill-switch that would make stolen phones inoperable. They believe that could end thefts altogether. Some phone makers, like Apple, are beginning to offer this feature.

Here are five suggestions you can follow to help in a stolen phone situation:

     1.  Back up all your contacts, messages, photos and other information right away.
     2.  Install a "find-my-phone" app.  That will help police should your phone get stolen.
     3.  Put on a password so no one else get access your phone.
     4.  Call your phone provider as soon as you realize your device is missing.
     5.  File a police report no matter how insignificant you think the theft may be.

Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond


Have you ever used an app to track down a stolen phone or tablet? Would you if it did happen? Leave a comment here or let Nate know your opinion on his Facebook and Twitter pages.
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