When we first heard about the Burner iPhone app, which allows users to create disposable phone numbers, last week, one of our first thoughts was, “Wow, criminals are going to love this!” But it turns out the service works well for the good guys, too.
Case-in-point: Jake Gillum, a 28-year-old graduate student and self-described “blue-collar guy” from Portland, Oregon, recently used Burner to set up a “home-made sting” operation to get back his stolen bicycle.
Less than a week after Gillum’s 2009 Fuji Team road bike — which is worth about $2,500, including upgraded components — went missing, Gillum found the bike for sale on the Seattle, Washington, section of Craigslist. Gillum then used a disposable Burner number to contact the thief, and set up the sting at a shopping center in Seattle.
“I was afraid the thief would notice if I had Portland’s 503 area code,” Gillum told Digital Trends in an email. “I was planning on buying a pre-paid cell phone, registering it with a Seattle zip code. Phone companies assign area codes according to the address you register it with. I actually was on my way to buy a phone, and my friend texted me to tell me I could do it for $1.99 on my iPhone. It was my friend’s idea to use Burner.
“Burner lets the user pick any area code. I chose Seattle’s 206, and it assigned me the rest of the numbers. From that point, all of my texts and phone calls appeared to come from Seattle. The guy had no clue what was coming down.”
Gillum says that Burner was “very intuitive to use” and “worked very well,” but he does have one complaint: “I saved the thief’s phone number as ‘bike thief,'” he says. “My friends and I were testing the app, and they were calling me. Every single phone number that called me through the app also popped up with ‘bike thief’ as the same name. It was a little confusing, but we figured it out.”
As you can see in the video (below), Gillum and his friends successfully connected with “Craig,” the alleged bike thief. Sure enough, Craig showed up, girlfriend in tow, with Gillum’s bicycle. When Gillum accused Craig of stealing the bike, Craig quickly denied the allegations — and then the chase began.
NOTE: Gillum goes by the name “Simon” in the video. He says this was simply the fake name he used to deal with the alleged bike thief. Also, this video contains some NSFW language.
Gillum says he and his friends decided to confront Craig alone after the police told him they might not show up. Instead, they met up with Craig first, then asked him “stupid questions” for about 40 minutes while they waited for the police to arrive. When officers failed to show, Gillum says he simply changed his plan.
“I thought, ‘I can beat him up. F**k it,'” says Gillum. He then went to a nearby bank — Gillum told Craig he needed to get the cash — and asked a teller to call mall security. Finally, Gillum and crew went out to confront the alleged thief. Luckily, says Gillum, the standoff didn’t result in violence.
“I’m glad it didn’t come down to it, but we were ready for a fight,” he says. “I had running shoes on. I had thick Carhartt pants on. I wore a sweatshirt to look bigger. I even grew out my beard to look tougher/older. Again, we had no plans to break the law, but we were prepared for the worst.”
Though Craig never admitted to actually stealing the bike — just to selling property he knew was stolen, a crime for which he was arrested — Gillum says he believes Craig was the real thief.
“While the guy is claiming that he bought it on Craigslist, I am almost certain he is the original thief,” says Gillum. “I have no hard evidence of this, which is why he’s being charged for ‘Involuntary Trafficking of Stolen Property’ up in Seattle. He’s not being charged in Portland…
“However, let’s face the facts: he lives a few blocks away from where it was stolen. We passed his car on the freeway on the way to the meet-up. He had a $2,500 bike that was stolen on 8/3/12, and he posted this bike on 8/7/12 (first post I saw, but he may have done one earlier… he put one up on the 10th as well). He is claiming that in a four-day period, he bought a bike on Craigslist for dirt cheap. He then decides to drive his new bike to Seattle and sell it?”
In the end, Gillum just hopes that his experience will help dissuade others from stealing bicycles.
“I want thieves to be afraid of people like me,” he says. “I’m not a victim, and that’s because I stood up for myself. Don’t mess with cyclists.”
Update: For more information on Gillum’s story, see his Reddit post here. Also, it turns out that so-called Craig had a number of other bikes loaded onto his car prior to his arrest. Check out the photos to see if any of these bikes belong to you or anyone you know.