Don't risk your safety, leave finding stolen iPhones and iPads to the police

Find my iPhone, a technology that allows you to track down your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or Mac to the last place it was connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network, has unsurprisingly lead to incidents of "hero complex" over the years. That's when an every day person, not affiliated with law-enforcement, decides to take crime intervention into their own hands, track down the perpetrator, and make them pay. And, tragically, sometimes that's the last thing they ever get to do. Numerous recent incidents have been collected by the New York Times, which also offers this quote from San Francisco DA George Gascón:

Some have been successful. Others have gotten hurt.

That's the most important part of the entire article. A phone is just a phone. If yours is ever stolen you might be out some money, maybe some pictures — remember to back up! — but if you chase after a criminal and create a secondary crime scene you could lose a lot more, including your life.

Phones can be replaced. People can't.

Chasing after an iPhone thief is no different than chasing after a mugger. You just don't know what kind of a situation you'll end up in. We, none of us, are the Batman. We won't always win. Justice and karma won't always come out in our favor. And even if we do, we could go to jail for our own actions.

Use Find my iPhone to track down your device if you lost it in your house or left it at a restaurant or anything else dumb like that. Leave law enforcement to the people who are trained, equipped, and backed up enough to do it properly.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • What a lame article. The police do not care about someone's phone. Sure, they will take your info so they can see crime stats after a year but they aren't going to track down a stolen phone. I would find whomever has my phone and get it back one way or the other.
    Posting bail is cheaper than a new phone
  • I've lost at least two people I know to "hero complex". When people are dead, you're a lot less caring about bits in your pocket, and a lot more careful about using the word "lame". There is absolutely no LEO nor anyone trained in defense that would advise anything other than calling the cops and filing an insurance claim. And that's not just for stolen phones:
  • Wow. Sad it ended like it did.
  • I don't disagree with you regarding leaving it to the police, but in my case, (actually my sister's case) the police won't do anything. The police said they would need a warrant to get the phone even if the thief was standing next to officer and she made the phone ring! They wouldn't do anything without a warrant and left it without that, implying there would be no way to get a warrant and its was best to move on.
  • But repairing a gunshot wound after busting into a stolen phone operation isn't.
  • Unfortunately, Danny is right. We had dozens of devices stolen from our office. We tracked the devices, which sat at the same location for days. The CPD did NOTHING. We couldn't even get a squad car to go over to the address and look around. Now we can't ever leave anything at the office, which is a real hassle when we have all kinds of development work in progress. I understand the point of not risking your life—it's sound advice—but recommending calling the police is just an insult. Call the police if you have to file an insurance report; otherwise, just kiss your phone goodbye.
  • Renee, there's nothing lame about what you've written whatsoever. And thanks for all the fine articles you write for the Mac and iOS community. This is good advice not only from you, but from law enforcement agencies as well. If someone wants to be Rambo and hunt down someone over a phone, go ahead. Just know that you are risking physical and legal consequences for doing so. Furthermore, your article is really for the average person to know that just because you can locate your phone with Find My iPhone, it's a bad idea to pursue a thief to get it back. Just because you can locate your device, you can't be naive and simply walk up to someone's door and say give me my phone back. And one piece of advice from me; use common sense when using tech gadgets so publicly. Whether it's a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, thieves are looking to steal. It's a sad reality, but at least you can be smart about this.
  • Danny Doyle - Seriously, what a lame message. If the message is simply to report the fatal consequences of tracking down your stolen phone, then this guy clearly doesn't have his priorities straight. Like you said, best case scenario is you post a bail that might be $5000-$25000 depending on where you live, and of course, rack up a criminal record. Worst case scenario is you get killed over a phone or put someone you care about in danger. But like you said, getting your iPhone back right away is WAY more important than that. What a lame article, indeed.
  • Well, you could track it and give the info to the police. Or if you have a second mobile device, track it in their presence. Rene is right. You just don't know who you are dealing with. Desperate people will take desperate measures to hold onto what they just stole from you. Better to let the cops do their job.
  • Cops? Do their jobs? Sorry, all the police do around here is drink coffee and hand out tickets for not having your seatbelt on. ...or beat people up because they can. The police are a joke. Nothing but corrupt pigs with too much power. Posted from my TARDIS!
  • Speak for yourselves. I didn't spend three years in Afghan and iraq so I could roll over and let someone enjoy my $600 phone.
    A cop is obligated to make a report and that's it. They are too busy figuring out what civil rights that are going to step on to do any real police work
  • Sadly, and with profound respect, people who served in the military, along with pro athletes, fighters, etc. are the ones most prone to create secondary crime scenes because they think they can handle just about any situation themselves. And they can... until they can't. The risk assessment just doesn't work out in a phone's (or wallets) favor. Please check out that link I posted.
  • I didn't spend 17 years on the African Plains to let some petty American thug enjoy my $600 phone. I'll speakchuck him. Dude, drop the ego, this is legit what he means, you're going to strut in thinking you can handle something you just can't. Yeah this isn't as "dangerous" as a battlefield, but a bullet kills anywhere. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • It's escalation of force. I'm not going to strut into a situation with a pistol raised. It's been my experience that most ppl don't want to get into a conflict so talking may get the desired result. If not, then I guess we are trading punches. Whatever happens after that happens
  • We could, and should, still utilize find my iPhone. Give that info to authorities, and go from there. I don't know if it's hero complex to try and get back what's yours. And what happens if you know exactly where your phone is, and the cops don't do jack? Are you gonna sit around? I would think that would be hard to do.
  • It's not that serious. I would be pissed about losing my phone but this is something that can be replaced. Apple makes millions of iPhone's annually, but only 1 of you are made in life. Sent from the iMore App
  • +1
    As someone who lost a family member to murder (not smartphone related), let it go!
    Now on the other hand, if I were in my brut hers situation when he list his life, things would have *probably* turned out differently.
    Not going into details, bc it's personal. But I'll tell you this... When justified, I'll use lethal force. A smartphone to me does not justify lethal force though. Sent from the iMore App
  • I understand the message and this POV has valid points but we aren't living in a perfect world. Too bad that law is a joke established by the society to sleep better at night, those days real criminals are walking free and enjoying life while the 'little people' are being treated as the enemy of the system. Law is for the poor and weak. Right & wrong ? It's all about scale and bending the rules but in those kind of situations I wouldn't expect much help. If someone steals from you he probably deserves your personal punishment, if someone tries to kill someone he also deserves to be killed (that's the game).
  • Umm anybody here ever heard of a guy named Bernie Madoff? I don't think he was looking for scraps in garbage cans when they caught him. Neither was Aaron Hernandez last I checked. Some people live in dreamland. It's an article from someone who cares throwing out a piece of advice. It's like the radio, if it offends you turn the channel or move on, jeez.
  • Law is for the poor and weak?? Where do you live? The poor are more likely to find themselves in jail than the rich.
  • Yes, that's what I was meaning to say - law is a made up invention that affects poor/weak and since it doesn't work there's no sense in acknowledging or abiding by it. If others are not playing by the rules then why should anyone ? This probably leads to anarchy but if an alternative is to live in a corrupt world that screws you over....
  • Oh please.....what bunk OP.
  • I would've thought this type of article wasn't needed as it's common sense. An insult to iMore's readers' intelligence. Surely, people aren't this stupid right? But then I read the comments..
  • There's no stupidity in defending what is yours. Just be prepared for the consequences. You'll either stand up for what's yours, or let it go. There's no wrong decision.
  • I think it's a fair point that Rene makes but it falls apart in two areas that stand out to me, at the moment:
    1) Many times, on TWiT shoes, analysts have said that there is a lot more than pictures to worry about if you lose your phone. The data can be very compromising.
    2) Multiple times, it's been said that the police don't care about our lost device concerns. They file a report and keep it moving. So a very valid point may be shorted by the omission of the above.
  • A friend had his phone stolen. He used Find My Phone, Google-mapped the location and sent a screen shot to the local police. 2 things: First, the police said they had previous experience with the address. So without a personal SWAT team, what the hell are you gonna be able to do in that situation? Second: The police said that just because Find My Phone said his phone was at that address, they had no authority to search and/or arrest anyone for it. (Suspect can claim "I found it", and there is often no proof otherwise. Strong-arm situations notwithstanding). Police rang the bell, asked nicely, heard a BS story, and got the phone back. Any other option would have created that secondary crime scene Rene refers too.
  • If I located my stolen phone using Find my iPhone, I would probably tell the police I found the phone and I will meet them there at the thief's location to get it back. I doubt the police would ignore me then, and they could handle the situation for me while I wait in my car out by the road and activate the alarm on the iPhone.
  • Great article. Unfortunately when people get robbed they are not in their right mind and sometimes they do the unthinkable. Hopefully if they'll read this it might remember comman sense.
  • It is very complex now. The police used to go to locations, and get phones. Now attoenys got involved, and the slow as snail process of getting a warrant signed is very difficult. They say find my phone is not accurate enough to give exact locations, and rights are being violated. Yes bad guys have rights. To me report it, tell them the last location find my phone indicated, then wipe the phone, and get another one.
  • Sorry to be pedantic, but the headline is wrong, you have to *find* your device. Whether you or the police *recover* said device is the issue.
    14-Year Old Killed (WBEN) Buffalo Police suspect foul play in the death of a teenager. The body was discovered Saturday afternoon on Amherst Street near Churchill, in the city's Black Rock neighborhood. Neighbors say the victim is a neighborhood boy, 14-year-old Ameer Al Shammari, who went missing the day before. They believe he tried to get back a phone stolen by a group of other teens.