Tracker Apps Find Lost and Stolen Cellphones in Seconds
Whether they are left behind in a taxi, forgotten at a restaurant or plucked from a purse by a thief, millions of cellphones are lost or stolen each year.
While users previously could do little more than call their phone in hopes of hearing a good Samaritan on the other end who was willing to return it, new tracking apps and software built around GPS technology are making things easier.
Statistics show 113 cellphones are lost or stolen every minute in the United States; with the new technology, users can locate them in seconds.
While there are numerous free and for-pay apps available for both iPhones and Android-supported smartphones, most of them work in essentially the same way.
Once the app is loaded onto the phone, the user is able to visit a website, log in with a personal passcode and immediately see a map that pinpoints the location of their device wherever it may be. Some apps also have options of sounding an alarm on the phone, allowing the user to locate the device by sound or scare off a potential thief. Many also have the option of remotely setting new passcodes or wiping the phone clean of all personal data if they think the device is lost for good.
Communications expert John Minor said tracking apps and services can be a valuable tool, as long as the users is diligent about keeping their phone locked when not in use.
"Tracking services can be worth the investment, but only if a smartphone or notebook user is willing to use adequate security precautions to prevent a thief from disabling the location tracking service on a device," Minor told TechNewsDaily.
"A simple four-digit passcode on smartphones or tablets can defeat most attempts and delay the best of hackers, buying valuable time to begin the live search for a missing device."
Available apps include FoneHome, which allows tracking of an iPhone's current location, speed, heading, battery status and IP address. The app also sends a message, displayed on the device's screen, letting those who see it know where to return it. When the message is viewed, a photo is snapped to help learn the identity of the possible thief.
Other popular iPhone apps and programs include iHound, Find My iPhone and Gadget Trak.
Android users have a similar variety of options. Produced by McAfee, WaveSecure offers similar features to FoneHome, including GPS tracking and the ability to remotely backup and clear the phone. Other popular Android-supported tracking apps include PinTail, LookOut and WhereIsMyDroid.
There also are services offering tracking features for laptops. Similar to the apps for mobile devices, LocateMyLaptop allows users to track and monitor a laptop computer from any other computer and remotely delete any personal information. Adeona, Loki and LocatePC also are popular.
While such apps can give users who’ve lost a precious gadget peace of mind, Richard Weinblatt, a security expert and principal consultant for The Cop Doc, warns users not to be fooled into thinking that they have the detective skills to retrieve their stolen items themselves.
"While some people have been able to confront the thief and retrieve their items, the risk involved to reclaim property is not worth a person's safety," Weinblatt said. "Property can be replaced; people can't."
Weinblatt suggests people turn over any leads provided by online tracking to law enforcement officials.
"The police need to maintain the integrity of the investigation and evidence discovery in order to best position the matter for successful prosecution," he said.
While it isn't an everyday occurrence, Minor said the apps can sometimes end up doing more than just tracking a lost mobile device.
"Tracking a lost or stolen device is also important when a user goes missing," Minor said. "I work with law enforcement in missing person and missing device cases, and location services can make a huge difference."
In one recent and tragic example of this, rescue crews in Chile located the position of a plane that crashed into the ocean using the Find My iPhone feature of one of the accident victims.