IT | Security

The Dangers of Device Theft Vigilantism

By: Absolute Team | 2/5/2012

You'll hear in the media many sensationalized stories of how people tracked down and recovered their own laptops & data devices. These people often receive a lot of praise for what is a seriously dangerous activity. What you don't often hear, however, are the cautionary tales of such actions.

Stephen Treglia, Legal Counsel for Recovery at Absolute Software, sees multiple ways this vigilantism could go bad:

"A face-to-face confrontation where one person claims the other possesses something that was stolen could easily turn physical. Just think for a second. If the victim is confronting the actual thief, a person who apparently has no reluctance in committing a crime, what will be the natural response of such a person when he or she realizes the jig may be up? Why does law enforcement ask crime victims to leave the investigation up to them and not take part in vigilantism? Either the victim now becomes an assault victim or maybe the thief becomes the loser in the fight with the victim and successfully seeks the arrest of the victim of the stolen device. Either way, the victim becomes a victim once again."

Risk of Personal Harm

You track your stolen device to someone's home. In the middle of the night. You bring a weapon. You think you're going to be safe. Maybe you will be - maybe you'll get lucky and get your device back. What if you're not? What if you are walking into an area with multiple armed assailants, inciting violence? What if even a single person decides to respond to your threat or presence with violence? What if you are unknowingly walking into another robbery in progress? You could risk personal harm or even death.

In another scenario, you decide to use tracking software or your own phone number to leave messages for the person now using your phone. You threaten to go to the police. You leave your phone number or arrange for a place to return your stolen property. What if, instead of getting back your stolen device, you are physically assaulted at the drop point or even at your own home (after sharing your contact details)?

Identifying the Wrong Person

Here is the story of a man who used the iPhone GPS data to track down his lost iPhone on his own. However, the data was faulty, as were his actions. He attacked a man using an iPhone, believing that man had stolen his device. Turns out, the iPhone was simply left at a snack bar... and now this man has charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct for his unprovoked attack. Both parties are lucky the incident did not escalate into further violence.

Impeding Police Investigations

When customers take it on themselves to track their own devices, they are bypassing the work of law enforcement professionals. Though a thorough investigation may take longer, following the course of the law ensures that evidence is compiled for a warrant and arrest. Following the tracking information on a single device may uncover many crimes, so impeding with one investigation can mean that the criminal evades justice and continues to perpetrate crimes.

Direct confrontation with an assumed criminal can put consumers at considerable risk of harm. Some consumers will instead offer the criminal a "warning" sent via email or message; this may result in the stolen property being destroyed, rather than returned.

While you may be tempted to send messages to your stolen device, making threats on your own or threatening police action without the involvement of the police, you should also be aware that such actions can constitute harassment and lead to legal troubles of your own.

Leave Investigations to the Professionals

Most people don't realize that the legal process does take time. Though tracking software may supply information quickly to police about a location of a stolen or lost device, police must still follow protocols in gathering enough evidence to obtain a search warrant and arrest. Many devices are re-sold, further complicating the process and leading to a longer investigation to find the original perpetrator of the crime.

Consumers should realize that it can take up to 45 days to recover a stolen device, even when it has been tracked down. In our society of immediate gratification, it's difficult to sit back and wait. However, hopefully some of these cautionary tales will make you think twice about being a vigilante.

When it comes to device tracking, choose software such as that from Absolute Software that will not only track down the stolen device, but will use their team of 50+ investigators and information analysts to work with law enforcement to retrieve your stolen device without violating any laws and without putting you, the theft victim, at any personal risk of physical harm or other forms of retaliation.