Smartphone apps allow owners to record, warn possible phone thieves

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by JIM DOUGLAS

WFAA

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 5:02 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas -- You've probably heard stories of people tracking down and recovering missing smart phones -- this is not that story.

This is about what smart phones can do to someone who steals, or maybe just fails to return one.

"I kept monitoring it on GPS, and it kept moving around," said Scott Ellison, pointing to a computer screen map with a pin showing the last location of his phone. "Eventually, it stopped moving in a neighborhood."

The device was lost by or stolen from Ellison's daughter Wednesday at a Target store on Overton Ridge Boulevard in south Fort Worth.

Ellison, a former Air Force navigator, tracked it through a Google app called Latitude to houses on Natalie Drive and Ashridge Road.

"When I first started looking for it, it showed up in the backyard of this house," he said, showing precisely where the phone was.

He called it repeatedly, but no one answered.

Then he found an app that let him operate the phone remotely.

"An application called Android Lost," he said.

He used it to set off alarms to get the attention of whoever had it. He could tell they were using it, and recorded the numbers called. Ellison activated the microphone, and was able to record people talking as they watched TV. One man made a possible drug reference. Then Ellison started taking photos, which were fed back to his laptop.

The people with the phone took a spy into their lives that can record intimate, even incriminating behavior.

Ellison sent them a verbal warning, and offered a $50 reward. They seemed startled and puzzled when the phone suddenly announced in a computerized voice, "this is not your phone" and "I want my phone back."

Scott Ellison said police told him there wasn't much they could do to get his phone back, so eventually he just shut it down.

He's annoyed.

But people who steal smart phones perhaps should be paranoid.

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