New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police follow Find My iPhone directions to nab a suspect and recover an iPhone in the space of four hours.
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During her morning commute on Thursday, Megan Juliano set her Apple iPhone down for a moment on the adjacent train seat. She had just received a text message and after reading it, she was eager to get back to studying for the GMAT on her iPad.
Moments later, the train she was taking from Penn Station in New York City to Great Neck, Long Island, stopped at Flushing Main Street and the doors opened. Juliano looked up to see someone snatch her iPhone and bolt out the doors.
Juliano, a senior financial analyst at InformationWeek's parent company, UBM TechWeb, got up as as the doors signaled they were about to close. Holding the doors, she shouted as the suspect ran. "I yelled, 'Hey, he stole my phone!'" she said.
A conductor emerged from the train farther up the platform, just as the suspect ran past. He too raised the alarm but the suspect escaped before anyone could take action.
After a brief delay, the train continued and Juliano disembarked at the Great Neck station where she met with MTA police. She feared her phone was lost. One of the MTA officers she met with contacted another MTA detective, Ed Ruiz, and provided him with Juliano's iCloud login and password.
Through iCloud's Find My iPhone feature, which can place registered, active iOS devices on a map, the MTA was able to observe the location of Juliano's iPhone. It wasn't far. Ruiz and his partner, Detective Brian Longaro, drove to the location. They had a good description of the suspect: He was apparently the same person a conductor had found hiding on the train earlier and had ordered off for lack of a paid ticket.
Juliano meanwhile, having filed her report, continued her journey to work at UBM TechWeb's Manhasset office. One small consolation was that her iPhone was a personal device, so she didn't have to worry about losing company data.
At the office, she logged into her Windows laptop and into her iCloud account. She contacted Ruiz to find that he and his partner were looking around a large parking garage, but had not located the suspect.
When she refreshed the iCloud map, the phone's location had changed. Juliano asked whether a car had just left because it appeared that her phone was on the move.
"As I refreshed the map, they followed it," she said. "It was wild."
Because UBM TechWeb's Manhasset office has an open work environment, Juliano's colleagues noticed something was going on. A crowd began to gather around her as she tracked her phone's movement and relayed turn-by-turn directions in real-time to the MTA detectives, who still had not made visual contact with the suspect or the suspect's vehicle.
The detectives followed her directions through the borough of Queens, from Flushing to Hunters Point. The phone stopped moving for a few minutes, but the detectives weren't sure which car they were following. Then the phone was moving again.
The second time it stopped, the detectives noticed a car pulling out of a driveway just as Juliano reported that the phone was again moving. And then it was stationary once more. Juliano, conversing with the detectives through her phone headset as she refreshed the map, said the phone was at an intersection. The car the detectives had identified was stopped at a light.
Ruiz said that he and his partner pulled up behind the car, got out, and knocked on the car's window.
"We asked him if he had the phone and he had the phone," said Ruiz, chuckling as he recounted the incident. The phone was in plain sight beside the driver. The driver was arrested, but he turned out not to be the person who had taken the phone. The man arrested was in his fifties but the initial suspect is believed to be in his twenties.
Ruiz and his partner had recovered Juliano's iPhone in about four hours. "That's not common," Ruiz observed, noting that although some phones can be tracked using GPS signals, they're often turned off once stolen, making recovery much more difficult. He said that cellphone thefts are on the rise.
Juliano said she was thrilled. "I'm very happy about it," she said.
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