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Filmmaker Installed Security Software On a Decoy Phone To Spy On Smartphone Thieves (theverge.com) 118

An anonymous reader writes from a report via The Verge: Dutch film student Anthony van der Meer had the unfortunate pleasure of having his phone stolen while having lunch in Amsterdam. Unsatisfied with the response from the Amsterdam police, who register an average of 300 stolen phones per week, Meer decided to find out what kind of person steals a phone. He downloaded DIY security software on a decoy Android phone, intentionally got the phone stolen, and was able to spy on his thief for weeks. He recorded the ups and downs of his covert investigation and turned it into a 22-minute documentary called Find My Phone. Meer preloaded the decoy device with an anti-theft application called Cerberus, which allows the owner of the device to access any file on the phone remotely, as well as discretely activate the phone's camera and microphone. Meer and his friends were able to navigate the technicalities of surveilling the thief with relative ease. They even snapped a close-up of the guy's face. The hard part, it turns out, was getting the preloaded phone stolen in the first place. It took Meer four days to get his device pilfered in a city with high rates of theft because concerned citizens kept coming to his rescue.
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Filmmaker Installed Security Software On a Decoy Phone To Spy On Smartphone Thieves

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  • Not to sound too paranoid, but a guy who switches out phones to use a new stolen phone every two weeks or so, sets the phone to Arabic, and makes a few calls back to Egypt every few days... does the film make find nothing even a tiny bit odd in all that?

    The rest of it wouldn't matter but the "use a phone for two weeks than toss it" approach to phone use seems mighty suspicious, along with apparently just sitting idle... waiting to be activated as it were...

    Also, no description of his preferred porn? Not a

    • You find it odd that an Egyptian speaks Arabic and calls home every few days, then takes his phone to a phone shop after he mysteriously gets remote credit where the phone is evidently wiped?

      • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @02:26AM (#53520313)

        You find it odd that an Egyptian speaks Arabic and calls home every few days

        As I siad, no. Actually that part is pretty normal, UNTIL....

        then takes his phone to a phone shop

        Then the phone is sold off every two weeks, and a new one obtained illegally... meanwhile he does nothing all day. Where is his income from? Have you ever lived in Amsterdam? I have, it's damn expensive. Also I don't swap out phones every two weeks. Have you never even seen a single episode of Breaking Bad? Nothing seems at all off about the way this guy lives his life and treats his phones? OK then, I look forward to your self-introspection covering for you if we see that guy in the news someday.

        • Well, maybe there's a reason it's better to wait two weeks before selling a stolen phone. Like a limited number of phone shops to sell them to. Might set off some alarms if someone brought a used phone to sell daily.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Then the phone is sold off every two weeks, and a new one obtained illegally... meanwhile he does nothing all day. Where is his income from?

          Selling stolen phones.

        • meanwhile he does nothing all day.

          How do you know what he does all day? I missed the part of the movie where the filmmaker described the guy's routine every day. Maybe he has the phone off while he's working. Maybe he helps his friends. Maybe he meets women and tries to get them to give him money.

          Where is his income from?

          He stayed in at least one homeless shelter and doesn't have enough money for a bus. He probably doesn't have a huge amount of income, or maybe he just sends what he does make to family somewhere else.

          Then the phone is sold off every two weeks

          Where are you getting this "every two weeks

    • The rest of it wouldn't matter but the "use a phone for two weeks than toss it" approach to phone use seems mighty suspicious...

      Calling Egypt from Amsterdam is not cheap.

      He probably used the phone until he exhausted all the money on it.

      Also, no description of his preferred porn?

      Most people use tablets or computers to watch porn.

      • by thermidor ( 4252377 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @08:35AM (#53521311)
        An alternative would be to actually watch the film, where you'll learn that he regularly topped up the phone (and did watch porn).
      • He probably used the phone until he exhausted all the money on it.

        Did you watch the movie? The guy repeatedly added credit to the phone.

        I happened to have watched the whole thing before it was posted to Slashdot.

        Most people use tablets or computers to watch porn.

        Again, I refer you TO THE ACTUAL MOVIE.

    • Somebody who steals and uses other people's phones isn't exactly a model citizen; but the notion that an Egyptian immigrant who doesn't...exactly...look to be living the high life would want cheap telecommunications, prefer an Arabic localization, call home periodically; and take 'his' phone in to the shop for a look when its weird behavior becomes too jarring to ignore doesn't seem terribly suspicious.

      Yes, I suppose a particularly low-budget terrorist might also do all those things(though apparently the
    • He kept the same SIM card in a new phone (as you can see in the movie that the phone's original owner calls the guy at the same number long after the phone has been offline), making changing the phone itself rather pointless. The phone was probably either damaged or pawned. Better put the guy on a watchlist for being Egyptian, poor, and possibly clumsy though!

      • He kept the same SIM card in a new phone (as you can see in the movie that the phone's original owner calls the guy at the same number long after the phone has been offline)

        Incorrect. Watch starting around 20 minutes in. He says that he lost it at a phone shop as "that is where the sim was removed". He doesn't know what happened after that and did not try calling the number after that. He simply that that if the phone is enabled again the story will continue...

        Way to cover for a possible murderer though

        • A criminal? That's the thing that filled me with dread throughout the movie, the best evidence we have that he actually stole the phone himself is that the language was set to Arabic immediately and never changed. It's quite possible this guy just bought a used phone from the actual thief who also spoke Arabic, and this movie is exploiting a man who simply unknowingly bought stolen property. The 4 days of inactivity soon after the theft makes more sense in this scenario.

          Getting back to the matter of the SIM

          • >But he's a possible murderer for doing weird stuff with a phone while Egyptian!
            He's a definite thief.

            >Next time some innocent brown person
            He's no so innocent. He's a thief.

      • >Better put the guy on a watchlist for being Egyptian, poor, and possibly clumsy though!

        Or for being a thief maybe.

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @02:06AM (#53520261)

    The "story" such that it is doesn't go much deeper than the Slashdot summary. It would be nice if there was a more tasty tease to watch the film, such as the perp used the phone to run some sort of huge prostitution business or a huge drug ring or maybe some sort of Islamic terrorism.

    Given that there is no such tease, we can assume the perp used it to call his grandma now and then in some faraway place.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...I'll have to vent my frustration here. You don't take last names by just taking the last separate word of someone's name. The guy doesn't have two middle names "van" and "der" his last name is "van der Meer"

  • Nuts (Score:5, Funny)

    by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @02:18AM (#53520299)
    "van der Meer had the unfortunate pleasure of having his phone stolen while having launch in Amsterdam."

    You really got to watch out for that... Having Launch. That's what sent Bob Denver into space [youtube.com].
  • Praying (Score:5, Funny)

    by kanweg ( 771128 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @02:43AM (#53520349)

    I had to laugh when the thief consulted an imam who told him that Allah would give him what he wanted if he prayed every hour for 24 hours. But the thief didn't notice Allah had already given him a smartphone without praying! Those mysterious ways are really universal. Take another person's possessions and thy will receive. Fool another person, and you will receive tithes.

    Bert

    • I had to laugh when the thief consulted an imam who told him that Allah would give him what he wanted if he prayed every hour for 24 hours.

      If this is the best financial advice muslims receive, then I feel bad for them.

      Following that advice won't get them very far in our modern society.

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
        Poor naive fools don't realise that you're supposed to pay lip service to religion and then do what you want.
    • Re:Praying (Score:5, Insightful)

      by twosat ( 1414337 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @07:25AM (#53520993)

      "When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised that The Lord doesn't work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me." Emo Philips

    • Re:Praying (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @07:40AM (#53521063) Homepage Journal

      That's basically how most religions work. Tell people to pray really hard and claim credit for anything good that happens. Offer some vague, poorly translated dogma that can be twisted to justify whatever the interpreter needs at the time. Interesting to see it in action so candidly though.

      • ... and blame the infidels for all the bad things that happen.

        • That's actually what motivates a lot of western terrorists. Look at most of them(Al-waki, the Nice terrorist, the Charlie Hebdo guys, the Orlando shooter, the list goes on) and you will find that most of them lead very "sinful" lives before "finding" religion and then committing terrorist acts

          The religious leaders convince them that they aren't at fault for "succumbing" to sin, its the fault of society for allowing them to fail in the first place, thus the "logical" conclusion for them is to attempt to c
  • Unfortunately, also probably a good way to get yourself thrown in jail or murdered.

  • by sanf780 ( 4055211 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @05:03AM (#53520605)
    Well, it was not a fan favourite iPhone but a mediocre HTC. I do not believe the aftermarket for HTC spare parts is too lucrative, even if the police told so.
  • Phone Theft (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jon3k ( 691256 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @09:39AM (#53521723)
    I'm not sure how phone theft is still happening. At least iPhones, not sure about Android. But if you put a password on your phone then report it stolen, I thought it was useless at that point? Could never be reactivated by another person. Is that not the case?
    • by gavrc ( 982925 )
      That's what the Apple tells you. Do you believe the manufacturer or what happens in real life?
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      It is the case if you activate a pin and register your phone with Apple, also report it stolen afterwards to police and Apple. It also can give it's location among other things. Many people don't know that though and many thieves target and get away with unlocked phones and many people don't bother reporting thefts like that to police.

      On the other hand, a nice iPhone is always good for it's parts, a car is relatively 'unstealable' as well between VIN numbers and online registries, that doesn't mean that sto

    • by phorm ( 591458 )

      Phones are often like cars, the value of the parts meets or exceeds that of the whole. Even if they can't use the phone itself, they now have a working LCD/digitizer (often $150-$300 value for newer phones), battery, buttons, speaker, etc etc.

  • In the end, the police response was the most efficient and correct. After all the effort and expense, not a thing was done to further the cause of "justice."
    Report the crime, recover data and wipe the phone if you can and move on.

All this wheeling and dealing around, why, it isn't for money, it's for fun. Money's just the way we keep score. -- Henry Tyroon

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