The story of a California woman hunting down an iPhone thief has been getting a lot of attention recently. Sarah Maguire of West Hollywood awoke after a night on the town to find both her own iPhone, and her roommates', were nowhere to be found. She booted up Find My iPhone, went to the address and convinced the perpetrator to give the phones back. Hooray for citizen justice!
But before you put on your vigilante hat and begin using the built-in iDevice locator service as your own crime-fighting tool, think it through.
Maguire's story is a very, very unique one, and the chances that a thief is going to willingly hand over your stolen property is probably slim to none. Confronting such an individual -- or group of individuals -- is not only extremely dangerous, it's also pretty foolish.
In this particular instance, Maguire notes that a call to the local police department was met with advice to seek out the phone on her own, and to call back if she felt she was in danger. I honestly have a hard time believing the police actively encouraged her to hunt down the thief on her own, as doing so would seemingly make them at least partially liable for a potentially disastrous outcome. If they did indeed point her in that direction, I'd like to think it was a fluke and a mistake that would not be made again.
There are several stories out there of theft victims pointing the police towards the possible perpetrator only to be told that Find My iPhone is simply too unreliable to warrant a search or confrontation involving police. On the other side of the coin, there are many tales of police doing exactly that, and using the GPS data from the device to track and retrieve it. It seems to change on a case-by-case basis, and in the end it's up to each individual precinct or officer to decide how to handle the situation.
Find My iPhone vigilantes aren't a new trend, and their failings are well documented. Taking matters into their own hands, individuals have gotten into violent altercations with the people found to be holding their precious gadgets, and have even accidentally attacked the wrong people, ending up behind bars themselves.
Regardless of your local law enforcement's outlook on Find My iPhone, nothing should ever push you to a confrontation with a thief. File a police report, make the data from the Find My iPhone feature readily available and clear, wipe the device remotely if you are able, and put your personal safety above that of your smartphone.