|Updated: 10/17/2012 10:25 am
||Published: 10/15/2012 5:48 pm
Smart phone theft rings are growing. FOX23 News recently reported the threat, and how important it is to have an app that allows people to track stolen phones.
But tracking stolen phones is often only half the battle. Getting the phone back can be much more challenging.
Tulsan Mindy Barker was at Promenade Mall on Saturday when she put her brand new smart phone down next to her. She looked away for a moment, but in that split second a woman was able to grab the phone and take off without Barker noticing.
"It was instant," Barker said. "She just grabbed the phone and walked off. It was just impulsive."
The thief knew what she was doing, but the mall's surveillance cameras were able to catch her in the act. The surveillance video gave Barker a decent description, although the thief was long gone by the time security found the video clip.
But Barker was not going to let her phone go that easily.
"I didn't realize how much I relied on it until it was gone," she said.
Barker was able to use an app called "Look Out" to lock her phone and then track it to a specific north Tulsa block through GPS.
"We drove out there, found the house, and we even saw a lady standing on the porch and then went inside that even fit the description," she said. "So, we called police."
The problem was the GPS locater was only accurate to within 30 feet, which meant the phone could have been in one of a handful of houses. Unless it could have pointed her to a specific address, and she had proof the phone was inside, there wasn't much police could do.
"For a cell phone we're probably not going to knock on every single door," Officer Jillian Roberson with the Tulsa Police Department said.
After all, that's not the best use of officers' time.
"It's a very sick feeling," Barker said. "I just feel so helpless."
But even if Barker knew exact which house the phone was in, a GPS tracker is not reasonable cause to search someone's home in the legal sense.
"If they don't answer, there's nothing we can do about it," Roberson said. "If they do answer, we can talk to them and see if they know anything about the stolen cell phone. But, once again, if they don't, that's not going to be something we're going to be able to enter the house for that reason."
Barker said she understand the dilemma police face, but still found it hard to accept.
"It's very frustrating," she said. "And it baffles me they can steal something so small... it's so valuable, but it's so small and easy to steal and it's difficult to recover."
Barker said that since she doesn't expect the thief to voluntarily hand her phone back over to her, she will probably use "Look Out's" "wipe" feature, which erases all the information on the phone and essentially renders it useless. Barker said at least that way if she can't use her phone, nobody else can either.
Roberson said it's still important for people to report stolen phones to police, and to include serial numbers and GPS tracking information in the report. She said if and when smart phone theft rings are broken up, officers sometimes are able to return phones to their rightful owners.