Graf: More options needed against smart phone theft

BY L.C. GRAF | OCTOBER 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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On a normal Friday evening in Iowa City, my phone was stolen out of my purse.

My iPhone 6, lovingly named Sparkey, was only a week old. Its life was suddenly before me, picking out its case, fumbling with the screen protector … All memories. I would go home to a heartbreakingly lonely array of chargers.

With my panic came anger and determination. I logged into my iCloud account with help of fellow iPhone enthusiasts. I tracked and locked my phone and watched as Sparkey began to blip its way down North Dubuque Street to an apartment complex.

I went after my phone. I called the police.

The police needed my serial number on my phone so that if it showed up at a pawnshop they would be able to trace it back to me. They told me that iCloud location services were not always accurate, so they could not check to see if the apartment number that my phone had been tracked at was correct or not.

So my iPhone thief got away that night.

The phone was unusable, with the fingerprint technology introduced in iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6’s Touch ID is required alongside the passcode when you “shut down the phone.” It can’t be turned off. I sent sad messages, demanding my phone’s safe return. That didn’t work.

Then, little Sparkey got in a car and drove away to Davenport where it spent six hours in a Wendy’s backroom. I attempted to contact Davenport police, but because phone theft is a non-emergency, I could only fill out a confusing online form that didn’t really give the option to report my phone theft.

My “full coverage insurance” still meant I’d have to pay $300 out of pocket plus some for accessories.

So instead, I drove to Davenport on a reckless (and highly ill-advised) journey to get my phone back. I followed my thief. I sent messages, and finally, at the Davenport mall, the thief followed my instructions to just “hand it over.” A tank of gas, lots of frustration and tears later, I got my phone back Saturday night at 19 percent battery.

According to a consumer report, 3.1 million Americans have reported a smart-phone theft.  In February, the Smart-Phone Theft Prevention Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would require mobile-service providers and mobile-device manufacturers the ability to remotely delete data from cell phones and render them inoperable. The bill indicates that cell-phone theft costs consumers $30 billion a year and that 1 in 3 robberies involve smart-phone theft. 

While this is a good idea, and my iPhone comes equipped with this “kill switch” option, I chased my phone down not just because I’m a rabid texter but because I did not want to risk being without it. My phone is my whole life.   While phone dependency is a different subject, I couldn’t afford, financially or emotionally, to be without it.

In this ordeal, I learned that we need more options. For such a prevalent crime, there needs to be more solutions than “Well, if it turns up …” and “we can just delete everything on the phone (whether you saved it or not).” While my iCloud tracking was incredibly accurate, I recognize that that is not the case in all devices, but rather than “kill switches,” I’d like to see tracking devices put to good use and more recovery plans as well.

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