Tracking app outsmarts wily cellphone thief in city

2016-03-09 11:35
(File, iStock)

(File, iStock)

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Pietermaritzburg - Wielding the power of technology a Pietermaritzburg couple used an application to trace cellphones stolen from their unit in Marble Arch complex, resulting in a man being arrested.

A team effort between a dedicated security company, police and a determined couple resulted in a manhunt for a burglar yielding positive results on Friday last week. In a letter to Red Alert, Chloe Boshoff said on Friday morning just before 4 am, while asleep beside her partner Stewart Nolan, she was awoken by a “thump”.

Searching for her cellphone to check the time, Boshoff soon realised it was missing.

“At that moment I noticed someone briskly walking outside on the ground floor. I stepped out onto my balcony as the door had been left open because of the extreme heat and noticed a medium built man climbing the wall into my neighbour’s garden,” Boshoff said.

The couple soon realised both their phones and a laptop were missing after someone had allegedly climbed up to their room, gaining access through the open balcony door, and stolen the items while they were asleep.

Without any means of calling anyone, Boshoff said they activated their alarm, knowing a response vehicle would arrive.

While waiting for Red Alert, the couple used their computer to access a programme called ‘Find my iPhone’ which uses cellphone masts to triangulate the position of an Apple device. Similar applications are available for Android phones. The couple were able to follow the burglar’s movements from Roberts Road, into Villiers Drive and across the railway line into the CBD.

With the help of a Red Alert guard and police, a “suspicious individual” was spotted on Boom Street where the tracking signal was last transmitted.

“When they slowed down he had made a run for it into an empty plot with long grass. When we arrived less than a minute later he was unfortunately out of sight. The Red Alert officer described the suspect and it matched what I had seen exactly one hour before,” Boshoff said.

As dawn broke, while searching through the grass, Boshoff said Nolan’s cellphone began to ring on the ground a few metres away.

Using her boyfriend’s device, Boshoff began tracking her own cellphone. “I decided to sound the radar sounding alarm via the app. On the third attempt I heard the signal right behind me on the other side of the road,” Boshoff said.

“Spinning around I saw a man walking with a satchel over his shoulder and as he peered into his bag, the light of the screen shone on his face and the radar sound rang louder. He quickly closed the bag, looked straight ahead, and continued to walk at a moderate pace.”

The man was apprehended but according to Boshoff, he did not match the description of the burglar.

He was taken into custody for the possession of stolen items.


KZN residents have successfully tracked thieves of smartphones and laptops using location apps in numerous cases.

In 2014 a tech-savvy Durban mom Barbara Whiting, and her daughter Lauryn in Cape Town, aided in the recovery of a stolen iPhone and other items after a robbery in the early hours of the morning.

Whiting used the “Find Your Phone” app on her iPhone to locate the direction in which the iPad was travelling. The app allows the user to locate other devices connected to it in real time through the device’s GPS. Her husband, along with the local CPF, managed to track the suspect down along a nearby railway line before he was arrested by police.

In the same year, a security company tracked down a suspect who had stolen two cellphones from an Umhlanga home, using a phone locater app, in the KwaMakhuta area south of Durban.

How to protect your own device

For Apple users, an app is available across all devices which enables the user to track their device, whether it be an
iPhone, iPad or MacBook. On iOS, the app, Find My iPhone is available for all Apple devices from the iTunes app store for free.

For Android users, a variety of apps, also for free, are available, with the most popular and highest rated being the Where’s My Droid app on the Google Play store.

To use these apps the user must install the software and make sure location settings are enabled, which the app will request permission for once installed and launched.

Each app will require the user to sign-up to a web-based account — iOS devices use iCloud — which then allows the user to track the device, and sometimes play a ringtone or wipe the device of all personal data

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  app  |  arrest  |  robbery

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