Knoxville police use apps to track stolen smart phones

Knoxville police use apps to track stolen smart phones

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Your phone allows you to access everything from your bank account to your address book all in the palm of your hand, but that allows means your information can easily fall into the hands of a thief. Your phone allows you to access everything from your bank account to your address book all in the palm of your hand, but that allows means your information can easily fall into the hands of a thief.
Kelley Strange is a law student at the University of Tennessee and she uses her phone for everything, from texting to email to a virtual wallet. Kelley Strange is a law student at the University of Tennessee and she uses her phone for everything, from texting to email to a virtual wallet.
Last year, she lost it near campus. Using the "Find My iPhone" app, she tracked it to a house in Fort Sanders. Last year, she lost it near campus. Using the "Find My iPhone" app, she tracked it to a house in Fort Sanders.
As long as your phone is turned on and you have the app installed, you can use your computer or another device to track your missing phone. Testing it out, 6 News found it was pretty accurate in pinpointing the phone’s location. As long as your phone is turned on and you have the app installed, you can use your computer or another device to track your missing phone. Testing it out, 6 News found it was pretty accurate in pinpointing the phone’s location.
Tech experts say if you don’t have a passcode and you don’t have an app that will allow you to remotely lock it, he recommends you should cancel your service. Tech experts say if you don’t have a passcode and you don’t have an app that will allow you to remotely lock it, he recommends you should cancel your service.
By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) Your phone allows you to access everything from your bank account to your address book all in the palm of your hand, but that allows means your information can easily fall into the hands of a thief.

More online: Smart phone thefts rose to 3.1 million last year

A recent study from Consumer Reports found smart phone thefts last year were nearly double from 2012. Here in Knoxville, it’s a trend police are seeing as well.

Now, more and more apps will help you track your stolen phone, but do they work? 6 News is on your side to find out how to find your phone safely.

Kelley Strange is a law student at the University of Tennessee and she uses her phone for everything, from texting to email to a virtual wallet.

“Everything’s pretty much on it, I’m using it all the time,” Strange said.

Last year, she lost it near campus. Using the "Find My iPhone" app, she tracked it to a house in Fort Sanders.

Video: How to set up your phone to help police track it (iPhone version)

“It was at a house a few blocks from where I was walking. I called a friend and we knocked on the door and asked if they had found a phone and they said they had and gave it back,” she explained.

In her case, the situation ended with her reunited with her phone. However, police say knocking on a stranger’s door is the last thing you want to do.

"It’s very important they do not confront anybody once they locate it," explained Capt. Bob Wooldridge.

Capt. Wooldridge works with the Safety Education Unit for Knoxville Police Department.

According to KPD, 109 phones were reported stolen since January 2013. The Knox County Sheriff’s Office says they’ve had 55 reported stolen in that same period.

Capt. Wooldridge says they’re using the location apps more often to help track down stolen phones, so you don’t have to.

“It’s greatly increased our ability to track stolen phones as well as thieves,” he explained.

As long as your phone is turned on and you have the app installed, you can use your computer or another device to track your missing phone. Testing it out, 6 News found it was pretty accurate in pinpointing the phone’s location.

“The closer you get the more accurate they are. But in some cases, rare cases where you have a very large complex, sometimes it doesn't pinpoint to an exact apartment. It gives you an address or a street there and you might have to go door to door, but again we go door to door,” said Capt. Wooldridge.

Video: How to set up your phone to help police track it (Android version)

For police to find your phone, you do need to leave it on, so we wanted to know does that leave the information stored in your phone at risk?

“Consider it a huge security risk,” said tech expert Victor Agreda.

Digital sales associate Cassie Alsup stores everything on her phone. When it went missing one night at a bar, she panicked.

“We installed the 'Where’s my Android' app on the phone and we could see it going down I-40. At that point I realized someone had stolen it,” said Alsup.

She tracked it to an apartment complex but didn’t feel safe going after it and knowing there wasn't a passcode on it, she wiped the phone.

“The passcode is really your first line of defense,” explained Agreda.

Slideshow: Knoxville police use apps to track stolen smart phones

Agreda says if you don’t have a passcode and you don’t have an app that will allow you to remotely lock it, he recommends you should cancel your service. 

“You have to think about this as your wallet or credit card or even your bank car. You wouldn’t let that go too long without notifying someone,” he explained.

Kelley Strange says she knows she was fortunate. Her information was safe and so was she.

“In hindsight, I should have called the police and let them track it down, but I wanted my phone back so bad I just went to the house,” she said.

Police say your phone is not worth the risk.

“You always have to play worst-case-scenario,” said Capt. Wooldridge. “Better to have the citizen let us do our job. We'll get that phone back.”

Watch the videos above for a step-by-step guide to setting up your phone to ensure you’re ready if it’s ever lost or stolen.
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