“I started my car this morning to let it warm up,” my coworker, Jon, told me on Tuesday. “And when I went back out to my car two minutes later, it was gone.”
It took a few seconds for that to register. “Stolen?” I asked, finally.
That’s not a story you hear every day. Not even in the crazy world he and I live in.
He didn’t just lose his car. His bag was in the car too, containing his laptop and his tablet.
So Jon and his wife called the police and called the insurance company, and both of them were on the phone off and on most of the day arranging everything they were going to need. The insurance company–a rather small company–said it was the third car in the area that they’d had reported stolen that morning.
Most likely, someone was driving a bunch of people around, looking for exhaust coming out of unoccupied cars, and the passengers were jumping out, getting into the cars and driving off.
While Jon and his wife were taking care of the logistics of getting a car so they would have transportation and making arrangements to change the locks on their house, their 10-year-old son was taking a different angle. He spent much of the day searching Youtube for ways to find a stolen car.
That evening, he had a breakthrough: Google Device Manager. He signed in to Device Manager, and Google pinpointed Jon’s phone, at their address, where it was supposed to be. And just a few miles away on the map, there was the tablet–allegedly with a margin of error of 12 meters.
“Dad! Dad! I found your tablet!”
So they pulled up Street View and could plainly see what house the tablet was in. Jon promptly called the police. The dispatcher was a bit reluctant, especially when he had latitude and longitude coordinates but no precise street address, but finally she agreed to send a couple of officers over there.
Jon arrived a few minutes after the police did, because he’d had to stop off at a gas station. As he was pumping gas, a woman in a Jeep drove in, steam pouring out the hood. He looked at it with her, and she asked if it was safe to drive.
“It’s much safer to have someone pick you up here than for you to end up stranded on the side of the road,” he advised.
“You’re probably right. I’m having such a bad day.”
“Yeah, me too,” he said. “My car got stolen today.”
I don’t know what happened with the woman and her Jeep, but I do know when Jon arrived at the house, the police were there, and so was his car–right in front of the house where Google said the tablet was. The car’s windshield was sporting some sloppily applied window tint and one of the sun visors was broken, but otherwise it seemed unharmed. The cops dusted the car for fingerprints and helped a tow truck driver prepare to haul the car off.
“My stuff’s in that house,” Jon said.
The police were skeptical, but they finally agreed to knock on the door after he showed them his phone locating his tablet inside the house–almost down to the room, and there was a light on about where it said the tablet would be. The guy in the house refused to come to the door, but talked to them from an upstairs window. He denied knowing anything about the car and repeatedly refused to come to the door. This hadn’t been his first time around the block, it seemed. After a few bangs on the door and a few threats from the police he finally admitted to having a tablet, but he wouldn’t come to the door with it. Instead, he threw it out the window to one of the officers, who caught it and handed it to Jon.
“Is this your tablet?” the officer asked.
Jon unlocked it and had a look. Indeed it was.
Getting the rest of his stuff was going to take a search warrant, which was going to take some time. But Jon had his car back. And his tablet. All because his 10-year-old outsmarted an experienced auto thief.
You can disable location tracking in Android. Jon’s glad he didn’t.
Too bad the cops didn’t tell the crook that, because the only thing that would make Jon’s story better would be the crook yelling, “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for your meddling kid!”