The Thief, The Police and the Honest Person

The Thief, The Police and the Honest Person

About five years or so ago, my late wife was shopping in her local Sainsburys and returned home with the groceries and discovered her phone was missing.  She checked the usual places, and drove back to the supermarket and couldn’t find it.  The nice security people checked the CCTV for her, but to all intents and purposes, the phone had been stolen from her handbag whilst browsing the aisles…

The number of times I told her to keep her bag zipped and over her shoulder I’d lost count.  We tried iPhones “Find My Phone” feature, which showed the phone was switched off, we set a message and locked the phone, before calling the police to report the theft.

During the call with the police call handler, they requested the password for Janice’s Apple Account. I understand their rationale as it made tracking the phone easier when it came online, but also created privacy issues, as they would have access to all her contacts, messages, emails, notes and documents stored in the apple cloud, and that’s a big No No, even for the existing DPA that was in place at the time.

It did make me think though, that maybe Apple should enable a law enforcement flag/account/password that would allow both law enforcement and insurers access to the phones location data when it appears online to help with solving crime, detecting patterns of criminal behaviour and the ilk.

It was frustrating, as we had the choice of setting a message or erasing the phone.  Janice, decided to change her passwords to everything, bought a new phone and we both thought that would be the last we saw of that device.

Fast forward a couple of years, after Janice passed away…

I’d just eBayed my iPhone having upgraded to the latest model, and two weeks later I receive a phone call from a Russian saying he’d been told to call my number to unlock the phone.  After the initial confusion as I knew my phone was unlocked when sold, A strange thought crossed my mind… I asked the gentleman the colour of the phone, and he described my late wife’s iPhone.  

What are the odds of a stolen iPhone turning up years later?

I asked how he got my number, and through the course of conversation his flat mate had done a runner owing rent and left the phone.  I explained the phone had been stolen a few years ago and he explained he would like to get the phone back to me.

Being cautious, I didn’t want to pass a stranger my home address (it could have been a scam), after taking some details from him, I called our local police on 101.  After a two hour on-hold message, I spoke to a helpful lady on the control desk, who took some details and managed to find the original crime reference number.  She understood my concerns and promised to call me back after speaking to the gentleman. 

As promised, I was called back within 10 minutes and they felt he was genuine and suggested that he arrange to return the phone via his local police station.  Obviously, he wasn’t giving his address out, other than London.

The next day, I got a phone call from the Russian, who had tried three local police stations to return the phone with the crime reference number and was politely told that they (The Metropolitan Police) don’t accept stolen/lost goods over the counter any more and suggested he post it.

I contacted out local police again, and after another two hour on-hold message, I spoke to another helpful person who was just as confused as I was, but also explained that they couldn’t provide an address for posting stolen goods to as it may be treated as a suspicious package etc.  What do I do to get the phone returned to me?

The lady/officer I spoke to promised to call me back, and put me through to the Met call centre.  Long story short, the Met confirmed they no longer accept stolen/lost goods which is shocking.  I cheekily said, 

“If I find a wallet with £500 in on the street, I may as well keep it as I can’t hand it in?”

“Correct the Met confirmed!”

It is worth pointing out here, that each police force has its own rules on handling and returning stolen goods.  Turns out, my local force had good handling procedures, however those only work if the goods can be returned locally and unless the finder is prepared to travel they are stuck with differing force rules. 

I have no idea why a UK Police Force have differing rules for each county, or interpret and enact them in different ways/styles, surely there should be a common shared experience and responsibility to remain consistent across the country?  Or a way in which members of the public can return stolen/lost goods… That’s a blog post for another day.

Thanks to helpfulness of our local police, the phone was finally returned to me, intact, the same passwords enabled and locked with apples security, unfortunately photos, messages and other memories were lost with the phone as it looks like someone erased it.

I wished Janice was here to see the return of her phone, I mean what are the odds/chances of this happening?

I am thankful and impressed that Apple’s iPhone security held up to who knows what attempts to reset and sell the phone on up until it’s final recovery.  Who knows what journey this phone is on, it was finally returned in good condition.

I also want to thank our local police force who were extremely helpful and professional in helping to recover what is essentially a non-priority item.  Even they were surprised a phone would turn up after so long of being stolen.

For my next trick, I’ll buy a lottery ticket!

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