Saturday, January 16, 2010

Busting an iPhone thief

Monday - The Setup

The whole thing started when my plane landed in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon at 2:55pm coming from Cabo San Lucas. The guy sitting next to me on the plane asked me to loan him a pen so that he could fill out his customs form. I watched him fill out the form and clearly remember his birth year of 1984, but am a bit unsure about his name. I think it was -----, but in this story, we will refer to him as Pinche.

How It Was Lost

As we were about to disembark from the plane, I sent my friend Ramiro a text saying that I will be out of customs in about 30 minutes. I placed my phone back in my right pocket. I was sitting in seat 27A, next to the window, and Pinche was sitting in seat 27B. When it came time to move into the aisle, an old lady sitting in 27C started moving and so I stopped, but Pinche saw this as an opportunity. He bumped me, then jumped in front of the old lady and ran off of the plane. I waited for the old lady to step into the aisle, and I walked behind her. Five seconds later, I reached for my phone and it was not in my pocket anymore. I waited for everyone to exit the plane and went back to my seat. I looked everywhere but was not able to find the phone. One of the flight attendants (Karen) offered to help. She called the phone and it was not ringing. This was strange because I had perfect reception a minute ago. We concluded that the phone must be in customs because there is no reception in the customs area at LAX. My guess at this point was that as I rose from my seat, my phone fell out of my pocket and into Pinche’s bag. I hurried off of the plane and into the customs area.


In customs, I skipped passed the line and found Pinche. I asked him, “hey, did you accidentally grab my phone?” He responded, “No,” and took out another mobile phone from his pocket. What could I do? I didn’t want to accuse someone of a crime without any proof. I got the phone number of Karen the flight attendant, filed a report with the lost and found department for American Airlines and left the airport.

Tracking the iPhone

When I got to my office, I pulled up the MobileMe site and used the Find My Phone feature. To my surprise, the phone was in Sun Valley at a Daniel's Taco Stand!!! My conclusion was that the phone had actually fallen in Pinche’s bag and he was driving around without knowing that he has my phone!

Why did I assume this? Because if I were to steal an iPhone, I would unload it fast. I would not want to drive around with homing device after committing a crime! I wrote down the address in Sun Valley. At this point, I remotely locked the iPhone to protect my personal information. I also placed a message on the screen saying, “Please return this phone to Sam. (310) 856-xxxx. I did not get a call. I sent message after message. You can make the phone sound an alarm even if is on vibrate… so I was hoping that Pinche would find this thing and return it.... but no cigar. Boy, the phone must be deep inside his bag and probably in the trunk of his car because, an hour later, the phone had moved again, to another location in Sun Valley. Then, to my dismay, the phone went offline! I guessed that it’s probably inside of a parking lot, or just in one of a billion AT&T deadzones. I kept tracking it and by 10pm, it was at 1500 Gramercy in Los Angeles. Interesting swimming pool in this picture no?

Now I was beginning to get suspicious. I had sent 20 messages. Pinche must have opened his bag by now.

Tuesday - Faced with Defeat

The next day, I tracked the phone again, and it was traveling on the 99 freeway at exit 255 in Stockton! Now I knew that the phone was stolen. It might have been the cleaning crew, it might be Pinche, it might be someone who has purchased it. Again, I assume that whoever has it will soon, unlock, jailbreak and sell the phone on eBay. I sent message after message, but seeing that the phone was offline I assumed that it was either dead, thrown out of a car, or unlocked and sold. Goodbye my dear iPhone 3Gs. We had a beautiful month and a half together.

Wednesday - It's All Over

I did not see any trace of the phone all day. Whoever had it had either turned it off, or reprogrammed it. I began looking for a new phone. A new iPhone without renewing your plan runs about $700 after taxes. Man, I was feeling down. It's so depressing when you realize you've been had.

Thursday - Don’t Pickpocket the Devil

I got up on Thursday morning and checked my MobileMe account. Someone had turned the phone on at 7:30pm the previous night and he was in Lodi California. The iPhone lives! I posted the image of the apartment building and a map of the neighborhood on Facebook.

Many of you began commenting and a genius recommended me to check the calls made from the phone. I didn’t expect to find any calls because, why the hell would an iPhone thief leave a trail like that? It’s such a stupid crook thing to do.

I checked the calls, and HOLY CRAP!!! Someone made 2 calls to Mexico, one call to LA and one call to somewhere near Stockton within 5 minutes of me losing my phone!!! Pinche picked my pocket and began making calls as he was walking towards customs.


Now, I like using google to find information on people, but I never really dive in too deep. By stealing my phone, Pinche gave me the moral greenlight to stalk the shit out of him and take away any sense of privacy he has for the rest of his life. I really couldn't get law-enforcement to help (they said that unless someone's life is in danger, they cant do anything), so my only option was to keep fucking with this guy until he returns my iPhone.

I wanted him to know, I know where he is, I know who his family members are, I know where he lives, I know who his roommates are, I know who his roommates cousins are, I know what his sister drives, I know where he eats, I know his name, I know his age, his mothers age… anything and everything to prove to this Pinche that he is holding Satan’s cell phone.

My tools are, Google, AT&T, MobileMe, White Pages and

The (323) Number

When I googled the (323) number, I came up with a name and an address.The address was the same location that I had tracked the phone to on Monday night. This is where he slept that night. Notice the

interesting swimming pool? I also got a name. The name sounded familiar. I remembered that Pinche had filled out “m-----” on his customs form. At least now I know for sure that the guy on the plane is the one who took my phone, and he doesn't seem very iPhone savvy.

I ran a ussearch on the phone number and name and came up with an apartment number at this location. There are 6 people living in Apt ### at this address. I saved this information in case I needed some "make you shit your pants from the sheer terror of how little privacy I have now" ammunition.

I called the number, but the person that answered was an old lady and she only spoke in Spanish. So I asked my friend Ramiro to talk to her. He told me that the woman is really old and he doesn't want to harass her because she seems like a nice lady. He just told her that someone who has stolen my phone called her on January 11th at 3:44pm and that we just want the phone back.

Me and a friend planned to go to the apartment on Friday and leave a document with all this information. Just so they know that we know who they are, and that we know where Pinche is and what he's done!

The Mexico Number

I asked a lovely friend in Mexico to call the number since I was guessing nobody at that number would talk English. My friend told me that this number is from a place near Guadalajara. This is interesting because now I can devise that Pinche was not in Cabo for vacation, but probably connecting a flight. Also, he might be fearful of getting sent back to Mexico. More to scare him with! The woman who answered denied, denied and denied some more. She said she lives in a house with several other people and she has no idea who called who. She also said that she cant read or write so she cant write down our number or get back in touch with us. I have a feeling that this woman was his mother.

We called her again later that day to see if she found out who the person was who called her twice on Monday. Again she denied, but I think we got to her. I'm sure she had a talk with Pinche after that call.

The 209 Number

I called the (209) number. A woman picked up who called herself Luz. Luz was a bit confused as to why I was calling. I explained that someone who had stolen my phone had called her. She denied it, but I told her that she had a 4 minute conversation with him. She still denied it. Again I said, "he called you right after we landed, then he came to your town the next day. You must know him." Finally she gave in and said that perhaps someone had left her a message (but who leaves 4 minute messages?). She “checked” the message and said that it was silent. No name and no message. I was going nowhere with this call unless I had more SCARY personal info on her. I said I would call her back.

I googled the number and got nothing. Then I tried For $10, I got Luz's full name and three other names associated with the phone number. Then I ran the names in the White Pages and got an address. I googled the address and got a streetview of the house. There is a white Ford Explorer parked out front of the house. Now I know what they drive. Muh huah hah hah ha ha hah hah hahhhh ha haaaaaa

Friday - I Own You Pinche!

I called her back and left a message using her full name, her husband’s full name, and mentioned their address in Manteca California. I also told her the street address of where I had tracked Pinche in Lodi California. I said, “If you’re protecting this guy, what you should do is have him call me and return my phone. If he doesn’t return my phone, I promise that I will have every law enforcement agency looking for him."

Twenty Minutes Later

Luz called me and was extremely nice. She said she knows who called me and she is very mad at him. She apologized for his behavior and said that she was very embarrassed by what he's done. Then, she said in a tone that is only possessed by angry Latinas, "If he doesn't call you, I WILL MAKE SURE HE RETURNS THAT PHONE! I WILL GET TO HIM AND I WILL TEACH HIM A LESSON!" I thanked her and she insisted that I should not thank her because it's my phone that was stolen. I'm guessing by the fact that she was embarrassed by the situation that Pinche is somehow related to her.

One hour later

I'm assuming at this point that Pinche's mother, sister, aunt, uncle whoever these people were have talked to him and he is aware that we know his location. This is the image that was on the iPhone when he would turn it on. It says his name and his address in LA.

Pinche called. However, now he didn't speak any English. No problem, Ramiro was in the office and he grabbed the phone. By now, we have so much info on this guy that we should be able to hear him crap his pants. Now, Pinche is not a good liar. First he said that he bought the phone in Mexico, which is ridiculous because I used it in front of his face in LA. Then he said that he's in Nevada, but we had a track on him in Lodi California. He said his name is Alfonso... His voice was quivering. Ramiro told him to put the phone in a package and mail it overnight to LA. Pinche said "Okay, but you know, I spent a lot of money buying this phone. Can you reimburse me for the money I lost?"

Ramiro asked, "Who sold you the phone?"

"A friend of mine."

"Well you have a very bad friend, maybe you should ask him to give you your money back."

"Yeah, but I don't think he can."

"Okay, what we can do is, file a police report and have him fined and arrested, then he can pay you back too. We know the ---- family that live in 1500 Gramercy in LA, the ---- who live in Manteca and we know where the robber has been for the past five days. Should we file the report?"

"that's okay. I'll mail it."

He gave us a phone number to reach him by, and I immediately did a background check on the number. It was a Lodi California phone number belonging to a man named Fernando N -----.

We told him that we'd give him a check for the postage if he doesn't have it. He was very happy about that.

I showed Ramiro the name that had come up on the search. Ramiro asked, "Who is Fernando N. ____"

Absolute silence.

Ramiro started giggling.

Pinche gave us an address in LA to send the check to. It was the second location that I tracked in Sun Valley on Monday afternoon. Ramiro mentioned that we saw him at that location at 6pm on Monday.

Silence. Then he said, "It's okay. You don't have to send a check."

I will still send him a check... to see what name he puts on it. I dont think he realizes that I can see a scan of the check on the website.

Saturday - 12pm - Reunited