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Discussion in 'Android Apps & Games' started by tomcatmwi, Dec 27, 2013.

  1. tomcatmwi

    tomcatmwi Lurker
    Thread Starter

    Hi everybody. I am opening this thread for one particular reason: let's discuss ways to catch phone thieves.

    No, I don't mean anti-theft apps, and I am not a newbie needing advice. In fact I've been catching thieves for years already. I am the founder of a civil crimefighting group named Thiefbusters (Tolvajkergetők) in Budapest, Hungary. Started in 2011, we outfit bicycles with GPS trackers and radio beacons, have them stolen and catch the perpetrators. Since we started it our organization grew into a national one, with local chapters in several Hungarian cities. Currently we are well beyond our 100th thief, though we lost count after a while.

    Maybe you wished to take a look at Tolvajkerget?k to see a web series about our team. A new series is being edited right now.

    Recently we moved from bicycles to laptops and phones. First we squeezed a GPS tracker into a laptop. It worked fine, we had it stolen several times and caught the thieves red-handed every single time. But when it comes to phones, it's quite a challenge. One can't modify a phone and stuff trackers into it. The only way is to change the phone itself into a tracking device.

    Sure, you wanted to say Cerberus. Indeed it's powerful but has its limitations. Everybody thinks it's rather easy to catch a thief if you have a GPS tracker on his ass. Let me tell you it's not. Not even a bicycle is tracked that easily, let alone a small object like a phone. The problem is not how to tell where the thief is. You can easily find an address. But where is the phone inside the building? Let's say there are twenty apartments in that house, and the same on the opposite side of the street, where it can also be. Will you tear down all the doors till you find it? Nope. Will you use Cerberus' alarm function and see if you can hear it? That's a surefire way to alarm the thief and have him smash the phone or simply throw it out of the window. What we need is a silent way to find the phone inside a building.

    For the bicycles we used tiny, short-range radio beacons. We substitute it with wi-fi tethering on the bait phone. Turn on wi-fi sharing and use another phone to find where it is. However the range is quite limited. There's another drawback: Cerberus is able to tell you what Wi-Fi networks can the phone see, but if you turn on wi-fi sharing, that function will not work. You can't have wi-fi and mobile data turned on at the same time.

    Currently this is what we use as a bait:

    - Sony Xperia Z, 4.2.0 rooted
    - Cerberus
    - AGPS injector, set to inject every single hour (so we have a fast GPS lock as soon as the thief goes outdoors)
    - Wi-Fi sharing app constantly running
    - Power menu has been disabled, so the thief can't turn the phone off
    - SIM card is superglued into the tray (such barbarism, yes)
    - The owner's phone number is displayed on the lock screen, so the thief can't say that he just found the phone on the street and didn't know who to call

    Of course if the thief is a professional, he can circumvent all these things during a meticulous process. But we won't allow that. Usually we catch them within an hour after the crime. Also, phone thieves are usually primitive crooks who sell their loot to fences or pawn shops, and they do all the unlocking. They don't expect a team cracking down on them. All they know is that even if there's some anti-theft app on the phone, it will take days till the police even starts investigating.

    So, this thread is to find other people who wish to crack down on thieves like we do. Let's help each other both with tech tips and experiences. If someone wishes to start a team like ours, I am glad to help. We've gone through all the speedbumps already, so you won't have to!

    funkylogik likes this.

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  2. Rukbat

    Rukbat Extreme Android User

    One problem in the US - trying to arrest the thief would be illegal and calling the police ... if they have someone to send, it could be a while. I believe it would be illegal in the UK and Canada too.
  3. tomcatmwi

    tomcatmwi Lurker
    Thread Starter

    Come on, it's not illegal even here, where you can go to jail for possessing a simple pepper spray or hitting an armed assailant. As far as I know there is a thing called citizen's arrest in the USA. In fact we rarely have to catch the thief in the open. We usually follow him home and just call the cops to the address.

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