6 vigilantes who used Find My iPhone to confront phone thieves

Sometimes you have to take the law into your own hands. Thanks to Apple’s Find My iPhone app, iPhone owners can remotely track their iPhones in the event that their handsets are lost or stolen. This has lead to a rise in phone vigilantism. More and more iPhone/iPad owners are taking matters into their own hands or directly working with authorities to search for their missing phones. Here are seven instances when such events took place.

Knocking on your thief’s door

Sarah Maguire

26-year-old Sarah Maguire had a little too many drinks the night before and found out that morning her iPhone was missing in action, according to a New York Times report. Oddly enough, her roommate’s iPhone was nowhere to be seen, either. Maguire did what anyone else with a stolen iPhone would do: use the Find My iPhone app on her computer. She discovered that her, as well as her roommate’s, iPhones were in West Covina, California, a good 30 miles away from her West Hollywood apartment.

She phoned the authorities, who told her and her roommate that they could go to West Covina to track the iPhones down. However, if they felt threatened in any way, they were to call 911 immediately. After debating for hours, Maguire decided to go to West Covina and go to the thief’s house. Her reasoning? “It wasn’t Compton. It was West Covina.” A justifiable one, given the quiet residential street where the thief lived.

After pressing the 30-year-old thief, saying GPS led her to his location. The man went back inside and returned with her iPhone. However, Maguire wasn’t done, since he also had her roommate’s iPhone. After more accusatory talk, he went back inside and returned her roommate’s iPhone. Not necessarily feeling safe, she ran back to her car. Would she do this if it happened again? “Yes, def.”

Catching a movie theater thief in the act

Elizabeth Curtiss and 15-year-old Annika Anderson

18-year-old Elizabeth Curtiss and 15-year-old Annika Anderson left the movie theater around 12:45 a.m. when Curtiss realized that her iPhone was missing. They went back to the theater only for the search to come up empty. Anderson downloaded Find My iPhone, and within moments, they saw that Curtiss’ iPhone was moving across the image of the theater.

They called the police, who arrived and accompanied them back to the movie theater. They searched Theater 9, which was where the app told them was the iPhone, and while the search turned up nothing, one of the cleaning services employees confessed. The police and the girls discovered that the iPhone wasn’t in either Theater 8, where Curtiss lost her phone, or in Theater 9. Rather, it was shoved into padding that lined the theater walls for soundproofing.

An iPhone thief on a bike, pepper spray, and a citizen’s arrest

26-year-old Kenneth Schmidgall is a San Diego construction worker. When his iPhone was reportedly stolen at a reggae concert on December 20, 2012, he added vigilante to his résumé, reports The Blaze. With his friend, Greg Torkelson, Schmidgall used Find My iPhone to track down his iPhone and, hopefully, the thief.

After looking for hours, Schmidgall and Torkelson were able to trace the iPhone to a man riding a bike. Eventually when the man stopped riding his bike, Schmidgall got out to confront the thief. A fight erupted, with both Schmidgall and the thief fighting until Torkelson used pepper spray in order to make a citizen’s arrest. An off-duty police officer stepped in until police arrived.

According to Schmidgall, it wasn’t about the iPhone: “It’s that people get away with this kind of stuff all the time with cellphones being stolen.” Schmidgall believes that, while people shouldn’t be fighting because of a cell phone, “There comes a point when you have to stand up for yourself and say, ‘This is my stuff, and I’m not going to let people get away with taking it.'”

A shootout over an iPhone

During the early morning hours in August 2012 in San Francisco, two men held up a pedestrian, demanding the person’s iPhone. Police officers caught wind of the theft and used Find My iPhone to locate the stolen iPhone. Officers were able to pinpoint the iPhone and approached the suspects. Case closed, right? Far from it.

Unsurprising to just about everyone, the suspects fled. While the officers were in pursuit, one of the suspects turned toward one of the officers with his hand concealed close to his body. A move like that won’t be taken lightly by the police, with the officer responding in kind by firing at the suspect. The officer missed, and one suspect got away; the other wasn’t so lucky.

However, it still doesn’t end there. Officers tracked down the iPhone to a car with a person sitting inside and another person hiding in the trunk. Officers found not just the stolen iPhone, but other stolen property and two replica firearms. The police then found the address of the registration of the car, which led to two more suspects slapped by the mighty hand of justice.

An umpire who assaults a man … that’s innocent

Unfortunately for 52-year-old Carl Ippolito, things didn’t go as well as he had hoped. According to NJ.com, the youth baseball umpire noticed that his iPhone was nowhere to be seen, so he used his son’s phone to track it down. Ippolito eventually confronted 27-year-old Brent Johnson, the man believed to be the thief, and Ippolito grabbed Johnson’s shirt, pulled him to the ground, and punched his head and body. “I got the thief,” Ippolito must have thought.

Sadly, Johnson wasn’t the thief. Ippolito later discovered that his iPhone was located in the snack shack at the baseball field where he was umpiring a game. It was still there. Ippolito was arrested and charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct.

Catfishing a man to get an iPhone back

okcupid profile iphone ownerNadav Nirenberg had his iPhone stolen on New Year’s Eve in 2012. However, in this case, Nirenberg didn’t have to use Find My iPhone since he noticed the thief sent messages from Nirenberg’s OkCupid account. Instead of tracking his iPhone using the app, Nirenberg did what any comedian would be proud of doing: posed as a fake woman named Jennifer.

Through OkCupid, Nirenberg, as Jennifer, had flirtatious conversations with the thief, eventually arranging for an in-person meeting. The thief even arrived with a bottle of wine that he probably drank by himself later than night. It all ended peacefully. The thief gave Nirenberg his iPhone back, Nirenberg gave the thief $20 for his time. 

Don’t go vigilante before you call the police

While Find My iPhone can give people the ability to serve some of their own justice towards would-be thieves, it’s not something everyone approves of. 

Before you go get your own iPhone justice, contact police first. Police have no problem using Find My iPhone to find the suspects. While Find My iPhone is more than happy to tell you where the iPhone, or any iOS device, is, it doesn’t tell you who the thief is. As such, you could be walking into a very dangerous situation that could even claim your life without the help of authorities.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: