A woman whose phone was stolen at a fast food restaurant in South Trinidad two weeks ago was able to track down and recover the phone using the device's built in security features.
30-year-old Krista Gilkes and a friend were determined to recover the Samsung device even after police hit a dead end.
Gilkes recounted visiting the restaurant on December 1, where, while distracted, the phone was taken without her knowledge. She suspected the phone was taken by an employee.
She brought the incident to the attention of the restaurant's management which said it reviewed its CCTV footage but the theft was not captured on camera.
Gilkes said she called the number several times hoping someone would answer and return the phone.
However calls to the phone went right to voicemail indicating it was either switched off or the SIM card had been removed.
Over the next few days, Gilkes said her Facebook, e-mail and other accounts were accessed from the stolen phone.
Worried about her personal information and photos being accessed by a stranger, Gilkes logged into her Samsung account trying to find a way to erase the information on the device.
She was surprised by the range of security options available.
Through Samsung's “Find my Mobile” feature, Gilkes was able to see exactly where the phone was located on a map.
She provided this information to the police, who accompanied her to the Couva location on Saturday night.
However, Gilkes lost all hope of recovering the phone when she was made aware that the location was an apartment complex.
Police said they could not search the entire apartment complex for the phone and there was nothing else they could do.
Nevertheless Gilkes refused to give up and enlisted the help of a friend to continue to track the phone.
Over a 24 hour period, the two women painstakingly monitored the phone's usage through Samsung's “Find my Mobile” feature.
They were able to find out the date and time the SIM card was switched and the new number being used in the phone.
The feature allowed them to lock the phone remotely, making it inaccessible to the new owner without a passcode.
They also discovered an option to set off an alarm on the phone, which they did repeatedly hoping to annoy the person who had it in their possession.
Additionally, they realized they could access a list off all incoming and outgoing calls to the new number from the time of the theft.
The two women stored each number, including the new number of the stolen phone, and added them to messaging app “WhatsApp”.
They were able to get a photo of the person using the phone through their WhatsApp profile.
The photo was that of an elderly woman.
Gilkes and her friend called and messaged the number to no avail.
They decided to message each of the stored numbers asking for help to identify the person in possession of the stolen phone.
No help was forthcoming.
Gilkes resolved to accept her losses and post all the information she had been able to gather on social media.
She messaged each number letting them know of her intentions to use social media to shame the thief.
Several minutes later Gilkes' friend received a phone call from a woman who said she had been given the phone as a gift from her son.
The distraught woman was apologetic and said she had no idea the phone was stolen.
She immediately arranged to return the phone.
Gilkes and her friend were able, using the Samsung features, to identify the man who had stolen the phone, his name and his photo.
Gilkes said the man appeared to be an employee at the restaurant who had assisted her on the day she visited.
She said she was happy to recover the phone but upset that an innocent elderly woman had become caught in the middle of it.
She thanked the woman for her honesty and advised others to keep a closer eye on their valuables to avoid becoming a victim of theft.
Detective Constable Dave Baboolal of the Couva CID who accompanied Gilkes to try to recover the phone on Saturday night told the Express the man had committed an offence of larceny that carries a penalty of five to ten years imprisonment.
His mother may have inadvertently committed an offence by accepting stolen property. He said the onus would be on her to prove she did not know the phone was stolen.
Baboolal said even without the security features used by Gilkes and her friend, the phone could be traced through its IMEI number which is as unique as a fingerprint.
He said some criminals usually discard phones for this reason, while others are unaware that phones are easily traceable.
However he said persons must take steps to protect themselves, such as ensuring their devices are password protected and have GPS enabled.
Security apps also help and most are available for free download, Baboolal said.
However he cautioned against persons doing their own investigations and taking matters into their own hands.
“Go to the police. We have the resources to make a diligent search and find the device,” he said.
Baboolal said the area where the phone was located initially is a “hotspot” and Gilkes could have put herself in danger if she had attempted to go there and recover it herself.
“She could have become the victim of another kind of crime.”
Baboolal urged citizens to be vigilant with their belongings especially during the Christmas season when petty thefts are known to increase.
He also urged persons to be honest and turn in lost or stolen property to the nearest police station.