IT | Security

Why Mobile Recovery Isn't Real Time

By: Absolute Team | 8/17/2013

When someone steals your mobile phone, what you want is to get it back and right now. We hear stories of police chasing down suspects moments after thefts or using GPS tracking to immediately follow leads. Unfortunately, in most cases the legal process takes longer - up to 45 days to recover a stolen device, even one with tracking.

As Melinda Maldonado reported for The Star, police called to a scene cannot immediately begin investigating a stolen phone (even one with tracking) until an interview has been conducted.

The first step after a robbery is to respond to a call in person to make sure the victim is safe, says Supt. Ron Taverner [Toronto Police], who added that detectives or primary investigators may use GPS-based apps to find stolen phones, but only after responding officers deal with the situation.

A robbery includes "violence or a threat of violence," said Taverner. "If someone rips it from your hand, that’s a robbery."

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, during which time devices are often turned off and wiped, deleting most tracking software before it can be used by police to recover the device and catch the criminals.

As the author of The Star article notes, there is only a very short window of time for most mobile devices when traditional tracking software is useful. Consumers often believe that tracking apps are a guarantee of a returned device, but that's just not true.

Factors that affect recovery time include:

  • If police are nearby or called to the scene
  • The necessity to interview the victim post-theft
  • Whether or not tracking software is installed
  • Whether or not the phone has been switched off
  • The speed at which the phone is resold, potentially wiping off non-persistent tracking software
  • The inaccuracies of GPS data
  • The ability to use tracking information to obtain a search warrant
Given the high number of mobile thefts occurring each day, police will spend more time on crimes that are more violent or have a higher solvability factor (eye witnesses, tracking, other evidence). Most mobile thefts do not have enough solvability factors to be assigned an investigator and instead are reviewed occasionally to see if the stolen phone appears in future recoveries.

Although the legal process may be slower than you'd like, do not take device recovery into your own hands. Vigilante justice and self-recovery can lead to serious personal harm while also interfering with police investigations (read more in this whitepaper).

If you want to take mobile theft into your own hands, do so now. Learn what you can do to prevent theft and read up on the post-theft best practices here. If you are a Samsung Galaxy S4 owner, you can take advantage of the only security software on the market that can survive a wipe, LoJack for Mobile Devices, giving you a real chance at device recovery. The experienced Theft Recovery Team works with police, lending years of experience to the recovery of devices and apprehension of criminals.  

Image credit: bvdwiel