We’ve all heard the stories about how enterprising iPhone users have used Find My iPhone to locate stolen phones, and how there was a court case in the ACT about a stolen iPad being tracked to a garage, and then the thief tried to argue that the iPad’s owner had trespassed on his property by using WiFi signals to locate it.

Fact is, stolen phones are a sad reality — if you’re carrying around expensive technology in your pocket, there’s a good chance that someone else would like to deprive you of it.

Spare a thought for Bill who wrote to us with this interesting tale.

Not long ago, Bill’s HTC Incredible S went missing. It seems it didn’t just get up and walk away, but that someone actually took it, because over the weekend Bill found some interesting things happening on his other Android handsets that were still in his possession.

Bill had been using an old HTC Dream as his backup device — the Incredible S was only two months away from retirement, so jumping straight into a new phone didn’t make too much sense. Whoever found/took/stole/liberated Bill’s Incredible S must have been a bit dim, because they didn’t wipe the phone before deciding to use it as their very own.

How did Bill know this? It looks like this person must have simply inserted their own SIM card into the Incredible S, which diligently uploaded all the SIM contacts to Google Contacts. That is, the same Google Contacts linked up to Bill’s Google account, which also happens to be linked to his HTC Dream.

Not only did the thief decide to give Bill all his friends’ contact details (as well as his employer’s number, and that of his landlord), but the Play Store keeps an eye in the background on which devices with which SIMs are linked to your Google account. Given that the Incredible S was already linked, when the new SIM was inserted, the carrier details synced up to the Play Store. Thus, Bill now knows the thief is using a Vodafone SIM.

This information will be rather helpful to the Police, and may result in a bit of justice for the person in possession of the handset, and possibly even the return of the handset to its rightful owner.

Here’s hoping the matter resolves well in Bill’s favour, and it’s a timely reminder for the rest of us:

    • Make sure you keep a backup of important information that you carry on your phone.
    • Always use a PIN number or a password to minimise the risk of unauthorised access.
    • Consider installing some form of anti-theft software, to increase the chances of getting stolen items back.

    Editor’s note: Fictional names used to prevent any interference with ongoing police matters.

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      I need help finding my stolen ipad. I don’t have any of my info on my ipad Cuz I never thought it’d get stolen. So I threw all my papers and box that came with it away. So needless to say its going to be even harder considering all I have to try to find it with is an android phone. Witch I don’t thinkin it’ll work. How can I locate lock or send it a message from my android to get the thief to bring it back. Please help.
      Email me at [email protected]

      Evan Whiteside

      I had my Galaxy Nexus stolen when i was in Darwin. But only realised after getting back to Sydney. I had Cerberus installed, which was able to survive a wipe. So I tracked the thief to the backpackers they were staying in, managed to get a photo of his face. (very simple, just call so the thief looks at the phone, then send the command to take the photo) – I also managed to get the call and sms logs, so i knew who he was contacting. Obviously, he didn’t intend to give my phone back, never answered my calls… Read more »


      Pretty damn lazy on the cops’ part. I know a stolen phone isn’t exactly high priority for them, but if they can’t even send a guy down there with all the evidence on a platter isn’t that just saying “we don’t bother arresting phone thieves”? Not good.


      When stealing a phone, do a full wipe.


      Lost my new Nexus 4. I had Google Latitude and Where’s My Droid Pro installed. I then proceeded to watch my phone on the move and take photos of the person who found it (and was deciding not to answer it). Sadly, I never got a good shot of their face, and they turned it off after awhile.

      Fingers crossed they turn it back on with a new sim and I get all their details! Thanks for the post, and my new found hope that my phone will be reunited with me once more. 🙂


      Another reminder – if you’ve unlocked your bootloader then anyone who gets your phone can get access to any of your data by installing a custom recovery/using the custom recovery you already have without needing your device PIN/password. Assuming you use titanium-backup, a lot of confidential information may also be on your SD-card.

      Consider encrypting your device so that at least they can’t boot and internal/USB/mass-storage is not accessible without your PIN/password.

      If you have not unlocked your bootloader these options won’t work as they will need to factory reset it first.