The Orlando Incident Part 1/3: Find my iPhone, please!

The Orlando Incident Part 1/3: Find my iPhone, please!

Summary: I'm bummed. I lost my iPhone 4 this weekend and after tracking it via Apple's Find My iPhone service, I've determined that its stolen and being held hostage in central Florida.


I'm bummed. I lost my iPhone 4 (32GB) at Disney Hollywood Studios this weekend and it didn't turn up in either guest relations or at Disney lost and found.

Luckily, I'm a subscriber to MobileMe, Apple's $99/year service which includes a handy feature called Find My iPhone. Saturday night, after losing my iPhone, I logged into and immediately had chills running down my spine.

My iPhone wasn't on the Hollywood Studios property (or any Disney property for that matter) but instead in an apartment complex about 15 minutes north, as evidenced by a blue halo on the map:

My first instinct was to arm myself and retrieve my stolen property, old-school style. Luckily, I took a deep breath and instead decided to use a little tact in my pursuit. Discretion is the better part of valor, indeed.

I called AT&T and found out that one of my lines is eligible for "upgrade" iPhone pricing, but bagged the idea of a new, two-year contract with AT&T when the Verizon iPhone is less than 60 days away. Apple gets $700 for an unsubsidized, 32GB iPhone 4 -- which helped make the decision not to immediately buy another one.

Anticipating an insurance claim, I called the Orlando Police Department to file a report and the (hilarious) recording said that if my issue wasn't related to a known suspect or involving a weapon that I needed to file it online, which I did.

Then on Sunday night, I checked Find My iPhone and got chills again. My iPhone had moved from the apartment complex to a supermarket parking lot about two miles away.

What exactly was happening with my iPhone? Was the perp driving around with it and doing his grocery shopping? Had he just sold it to an unsuspecting buyer in the Publix parking lot? The suspense is really killing me.

I again resisted the urge to channel my inner Dirty Harry and mulled Find My iPhone's other options. When you find your device on the map, you have three options:

  • Display message/play sound - This displays a push notification-like message on the screen and (optionally) plays a sound for two minutes (even if the phone is muted).
  • Lock - This locks the device with its existing passcode.
  • Wipe - This removes all media and data from the phone but renders it unable to display messages or be located.

I sent several messages to the device offering a reward for its return and at least two of them successfully were displayed (Apple emails you to confirm this) but alas, no phone calls came in. Since my iPhone already had a passcode on it, I didn't feel compelled to lock it again, although I eventually did this too. I have yet to remotely wipe the iPhone because I have all my data backed up and like the ability to track its location.

I received a luke warm telephone lead from the flyers that I posted at the apartment complex, but there's been no progress on that front.

AT&T also offers the ability to remotely brick the device -- by reporting it stolen -- but there isn't anything stopping the perp from forcing it into DFU mode and restoring it as an iPod touch.

I'm at an impasse, so I decided to write a blog about it and revisit the topic in the morning.

I'm dying to read your suggestions in the TalkBack!

Topics: Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Smartphones, Telcos

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  • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

    Jason, keep sending messages when you're close to it. Eventually, you'll hear it, right?
  • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

    wow, a nice feature of iPhone 4<br><br>but i think that can also be used against the owner too<br>I mean, the company can track those guys with iphones, and if i want to go deeper, i can go to the network service provider and get his name right? which means i can track someone on the net, assuming they have always iPhone 4 on their pockets.
    • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

      @Martmarty What?!

      " i can track someone on the net, assuming they have always iPhone 4 on their pockets."

      Exactly how?
    • RE: Find my iPhone, please!


      The company (whether you mean Apple or the carrier isn't clear, but doesn't matter anyway) cannot 'tracks guys with iPhones' and neither can you just call the carrier and find out information about someone else's account
      Doctor Demento
      • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

        @Doctor Demento You may want to Google your answer. It'w wrong on 2 counts.
  • Tool up, saddle up, and go get it back ...

    ... or maybe not ...

    Kinda odd that someone would carry around with them a locked phone that they'd been sold.

    Time is also running out before the battery runs out. Maybe hit is with more aggressive messages (this handset has been reported stolen, I know where you are, offer a no-questions-asked return ...). If you lost it and someone (in other words an amateur) just picked it up, you might get lucky. If the handset was lifted from you, maybe not.

    Or wipe it and eat the loss, especially if you can do an insurance claim.
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

      @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

      I agree. Wipe the iPhone and file an insurance claim.
    • It's Florida.

      That means you're in Coke country and getting the kind of tools you need for a hard-core take back aren't very hard to obtain. Lock and load, m-fers!

      ...Okay, so I'm not really making that suggestion. But the fact that you haven't bricked it yet is telling me that you're enjoying this, somehow. Wipe it, brick it, and get the insurance claim on it. Then when you get a Verizon iPhone in 2 months, you can sell the phone as only used for 2 months.
  • You should probably sit in the parking lot...

    ... Checking the location repeatedly until the person leaves the apartment, then follow them to the grocery store, and slash their tires while they are inside ;o)
    • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

      @x21x I LIKE!
  • If you haven't gotten it back by now...

    Consider it lost for good.<br>Don't try to locate the perp and risk getting in a confrontation that could turn ugly.<br>Have fun with your new phone.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
  • Wipe the device already!!!!

    If you worked in my employers IT department, you'd be done. Wipe the device and move on.
  • Bricking the iPhone

    Didn't Apple file for some kind of patent, a few months ago, where a device could be bricked if there was some kind of unauthorized use detected? It seems that it would be a useful application to offer MobileMe subscribers, if they ever get around to implementing such a technology.
    • RE: Find my iPhone, please!


      Read above - it can be bricked now on demand using MobileMe.

      The patent covered alert on unauthorised use, in case of lending it and the borrower doing something nasty that you did not approve of then you would get notified.
  • Wasting Time. It's a VACATION!!!

    1) You're wasting precious vacation time by not deciding to let go or pursue the phone.

    2) Your use of cool features to play scavenger hunt is clearly taking away from the Disney experience

    3) Battery Life is limited. You've missed key opportunities to take advantage of location tracking before juice is out.

    I think the route of aggressive messaging was the way to go. You knew they were in a public place so a message saying

    "i see you have my phone in ______ parking lot and
    sent several reward messages to you that you ignored. The police are now tracking this and will find it whether it's on or off so leave it with the store manager."

    If they bite they'll do it. If not then cut your losses and carry a fanny pack next vacation.
  • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

    Option 1: Grab a couple of friends, find the location. Approach the location and call your phone (from a friends cell perhaps (you can answer calls when locked, yes or no i can't remember)). Surround the perpetrator from all sides, politely ask for your phone back. Show him a map with your iphones location to confirm. Doesn't work? Take a picture. Show to authorities.

    Option 2: go to your local police department. Say you had your iphone stolen and show them the location with find my iphone. Hopefully they'll help you out (drive in a police car to the designated location) and retrieve the device.

    Best of luck.
    • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

      @iPhoneDude777 : I think Option 2 is the best, all things considered. Certainly the most legal!
      • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

        @levinson ...and least likely to get your butt shot off.
  • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

    When my iPhone 3GS was stolen AT&T said there was nothing they could do to help since I didn't subscribe to mobileME. They said a criminal could put a new sim card in the phone and have it reactivated. I asked them how they would allow that since all iPhones have a unique identifier and they said next time subscribe to mobileMe.
    • RE: Find my iPhone, please!

      @4cmiller Hey, Apple just made FindMyIPhone service free of charge, so no need to pay mobileMe subscription!