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A strange tale of a stolen and recovered iPhone 4




Every once in a while people lose their precious handsets, either unintentionally left behind or stolen. I’ve personally lost 2 iPhones, a Nexus One, an HTC HD7, a Galaxy Nexus and Droid Razr. If only there were more accurate or high-tech ways to recover them.

The most frequent suggestion is to use an app like Find my iPhone (or something similar) to locate the last known location fo the device.

This interesting story that was recently told to me is a bit extra-ordinary.

A messenger was sent to the telco’s Business Center to pay the bills of a customer. While the sales clerk was checking on documents, he intentionally placed his iPhone 4 inside his table drawer which the messenger saw. The sales agent left his station to go to the back of the office and when he came back, finished the transaction and saw off the messenger.

By lunch time, when the sales agent looked for this iPhone 4 inside the drawer, it was already gone. After frantically looking for it, they decided to seek the help of the network engineers and was able to locate where the last signal the iPhone 4 was sending out from (this is where cell site triangulation is done) before it was turned off.

The suspected location was Makati Cinema Square. Several of his officemates then proceeded to the mall and asked around, pretending they were looking to buy several 2nd-hand iPhone 4 units. They were specific with the iPhone’s color and capacity to narrow down the search.

For each iPhone 4 that was presented to them, they would pretend they were just checking the settings when in fact they were already looking for the IMEI number of the device.


After the 3rd device, they finally found the stolen iPhone 4 with the matching IMEI number. Since the incident happened inside the business center, the telco sent out police officers to the mall and confront the stall owner.

And since the usual strategy in malls like MCS is for one stall owner to scout from other stalls for available units (and just get a commission afterwards), the original stall owner that bought the device was already gone by the time the police arrived.

The iPhone 4 was eventually recovered. It was already restored back to the default factory settings but was already upgraded to iOS 5.

The customer who sent his messenger to the business center was also contacted and the messenger was confronted.

Now that was a lucky one. In many cases I’ve heard which is of similar nature, the stolen phones are rarely recovered. This one’s just that lucky.

Update: The concerned person has messaged me last night over FB confirming that this story happened to him, with some slight deviations.

Update 2: Changed some parts of the story as we get additional details of what happened (had to ask for some more questions). Apologies for some of the errors — was writing this while on the road and only had 2 hours of sleep in the last 2 days.

Update 3: Check out how you can try and use Globe Tracker to find a person or handset via cell triangulation here.



Abe is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of YugaTech. You Can follow him on Twitter @abeolandres.

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59 Responses

  1. michael says:

    i agree, he was just lucky that day.
    mahirap na kaya i already secured my devices using an anti-theft sofware called “PREY”. I ran several test with it and it works pretty well. I hope in case my devices got lost (please wag na wag naman sana), matulungan ako ng software na un.

  2. So, that telco business center doesn’t have CCTV?

  3. Edu says:

    I am more interested on how you lost your Six smartphones. Sayang naman :-/

    • Emerson says:

      That tells something about the owner, doesn’t it? Hehe Peace

    • tinikling says:

      basta apple product lahat gustong isulat ni Art. Sino nga kaya ang totoong naka una ng pag-mamay-ari ng iphone 4s sa Pinas? Si Art na kahit sa tv ay binanderang siya ang naka una or si Pnoy?

  4. John says:

    Lucky for them as the victim is a telecom personnel. But for the rest of us that don’t work at telcos, we’re powerless..

    • buggie says:

      I totally agree with you on this.

    • riclags says:

      Yup. I hope that they would also extend the same help if the person who lost the phone doesn’t work for the telco.

    • Jay says:

      I am with you guys. Ditto.

    • Yo says:

      Kaya naman pala ma trace ng telco basta may imei. Ano kaya reason nila why they reject this type of phone rescue to regular customers.

      Kung magiging commercial to, baka mabawasan na ang cellphone snatch parang dati, nung wala pang caller ID may prank callers kami sa landline kase we have a business and naka display ang landline, pero nung magka caller id na ang landline, nawala ang prank calls kase may identity na sila via phone number.

      Kung may way ma locate yung phone, mag dadalawang isip ang magnanakaw at buyer sa mga tiangge ng cellphone.

  5. Hmm says:

    I agree with John. If it were an ordinary customer, the telco will never cooperate.

    But I doubt if this story is true at all. For one, a customer service frontliner of a Telco does not earn enough to buy an iPhone4 even at an employee discount. 2nd as pointed out by another reader, it is very unlikely that they don’t have any CCTV camera.

    Please avoid writing stories that are neither true nor confirmed as true as it is rather an irresponsible act on your part to share “chismis”.

    • frenchy says:

      “a customer service frontliner of a Telco does not earn enough to buy an iPhone4 even at an employee discount..”, i totally disagree on this. i know several frontliner CSRs of a leading telco who always have the latest flagship phones na nire-release ng telco nila. i was with a couple of them yesterday at ang gamit nila ay iPhone 4S and Galaxy S2. karamihan na mga CSR na bata pa ay madiskarte at yung iba sa kanila ay nasa poder pa ng parents nila. so if they’re earning P15K-20K per month, do you think they won’t be able to afford a P2500 postpaid plan whihc has free iPhone 4S?

    • ZP6 says:

      Di rin. Yung iba wala talagang CCTV. Dito sa Pavilion Mall, (Binan,Laguna) yung Globe Center dito walang ganun. At yung 2 agent nila naka-iphone 4. :)

      Swerte naman nung agent. Pero sa atin na wala namang ganun kakayahan. Ibigay na lang sa mga skwammy. Kaya naman paltan eh. Lol

    • Eason says:

      I believe that the story is true and yes for me as well that if this is to happen to a regular customer this would be ignored by the telco.

      but saying ” For one, a customer service frontliner of a Telco does not earn enough to buy an iPhone4 even at an employee discount. ”

      Its like you judge their lifestyle based on their Salary. Sheez, salary isn’t everything you know, for one fact even people who can afford the high end phones doesn’t have those, because they prioritize. Now questioning a person what phone they have is surely “Judging a book by its cover”.

      Hope your phone is that LUXURIOUS to make statements like that.

    • Eason says:

      I believe that the story is true and yes for me as well that if this is to happen to a regular customer this would be ignored by the telco.

      but saying ” For one, a customer service frontliner of a Telco does not earn enough to buy an iPhone4 even at an employee discount. ”

      Its like you judge their lifestyle based on their Salary. Sheez, salary isn’t everything you know, for one fact even people who can afford the high end phones doesn’t have those, because they prioritize. Now questioning a person what phone they have is surely “Judging a book by its cover”.

      Well, Hope your phone is that LUXURIOUS to make statements like that.

    • vince says:

      even Call Center Agents who earn less than 15K can get a postpaid iPhone 4S. Dami nga nila eh, pag gusto maraming paraan.

    • Kris says:

      I am one of those frontliners and proud of it… and mind you…I have an Iphone 4s unlocked bought it from singapore when our team went there last week for our team building..so funny some people thought sila lang kayang makaafford…well…si manong guard namin Iphone 4 din gamit but have no plans updating for 4s…kasi he is thinking of getting Samsung Galaxy Note…

  6. Apache says:

    Ok i understand all of the but answer me one thing how the hell they ping the iPhone4 if you said they already Restored it to the factory Settings. And for the love of God please tell me they left the sim card in the phone so that i can call them the Most stupid cellphone thief. :D

    I already experience loosing smartphones and cellphone but the problem with my i always realize it a few second when i always try to call my phone then number is not in service or out of range so in short that my sim card was already remove. so i can’t event call or text it.

  7. pinoy persuasion says:

    “After frantically looking for it, they decided to seek the help of the network engineers and was able to locate where the last signal the iPhone 4 was sending out from (this is where cell site triangulation is done).”
    Were you even reading?

  8. migs says:

    from, the story, to get your lost phone back, you need:
    1. a strong connection – with an engineer inside a telco
    2 a dependable network – true friends who are willing to help

  9. Name: IC DeaDPiPoL says:

    seriously want to believe Prey is reliable, unfortunately it is easily bypassed by flashing the ROM with a fresh one.

  10. Name: says:

    I think the Telcos should start providing these kinds of services because only they have direct and fast access to the triangulation of mobile phones. Anybody else who wants their phones triangulated has to pass through a very long, legal, and tedious process. By then, chances of recovering the phones are slim. I would gladly pay premium for this kind of service so I can see that this will be quite feasible and profitable for the Telcos since probably a small amount would actually use it. Moreover, it may also create more jobs if the demand becomes bigger.

    I only had one phone stolen in my lifetime back in the ’90s. I left my phone charging in our cottage in Fontana Clark when we had breakfast. The room had an electronic key so we’re sure the management knows who took it because there were no forced entries, but we really didn’t find out who took it because the people at Fontana didn’t want to tell us. They did replace my phone do after a year, but we all know how fast the turnover of new phones so by that time, there were a lot more new phones already out in the market.

    • Mr A says:

      Having this service available compromises the secruity of every individual in the country. What if a government official hire a hitman to track down his adversary. Surely enough connections would pave way to get this done and with out any data trail.

      Although, any high power offical would had done this anyway. If the government can request for disabling cell towers, I wouldn’t be suprised if they can do this already.

  11. miongb says:

    Wait. When you pay your bll, you pay at the cashier. In all centers of both smart and globe i’ve been to, the cashier is separated from the pack, with a booth covered in glass. How did the messenger get the iphone? He broke through the glass?!

    • estong says:

      yun ang tanong!

      baka nga winasak nia yung glass. pwede??? lols!

      Saka sabi di ba inilagay sa drawer?

      siguro iniwang nakalitaw yung pinakadrawer (as in yung pinakalagayan making the phone exposed) tapos sobrang haba siguro ng kamay nung messenger. o baka naman si lastikman yung messenger. hehe!

      kaya nagdududa tuloy ako sa kwento. Mukhang may maisulat lang si author ah. hehe!

  12. Benchmark says:

    I may not be working in telco but I hope wag natin silang mamaliitin whether or not they can afford an expensive phone.

    To what I know, they have this employees discount at the same time they have this installment basis scheme only for them that they can pay the unit zero interest and salary deducted…I think around 12 months or so.

    And I too agree with John. I think its good to protect the consumer by blocking the I ME…And I hope there should be a law here in PH that change of I ME is illegal like in other countries.

    I am not sure right now with the new smartphone if I ME numbers can be changed like those outdated nokia phones before.

    • riclags says:

      I agree with you re CSRs not being able to afford high-end smartphones. My cousin works as a CSR and he has been with the company for less than a year (he just started working) and already, he has an iPhone 4. He said employees are given discounts and special arrangements with regard to payment.

      While me, on the other hand who has been working for close to 9 years already, personally use a Nokia X1.

      So please don’t belittle CSRs or other similar types of jobs.

  13. Andre says:

    ive been to globe stores with no glass infront of the several cashiers

  14. tebenets says:

    try downloading the free version of Lookout (for iOS and Android) or Zoner (for Android).

  15. hahaha says:

    Duh? This is trash. Don’t you have better articles to write Yuga? If this story was even true then post details. You should be posting stories based of facts and not based on hearsay.

  16. Agrimensor says:

    It’s a tale.Period.

  17. daniel says:

    so ganun na pala? pagka nawala phone mo at nagtaatrabaho ka sa engineering side ng company ay malaki ang chance na ma-recover dahil experts sa tracking ung mga tao. galing! hahha

  18. Van says:

    i miss my galaxy s2. bwisit na mga magnanakaw

  19. jericho says:

    bobo talaga nung messenger na yun. sana naghintay na lang siya ng ilang araw iPhone4S na sana yung gamit ng CSR. tsk! tsk! tsk!

  20. lawrence says:

    Kaya nga sinabi niyang STRANGE TALE. Please understand what you’re reading guys, may disclaimer oh. Even Yuga is doubting it. Sinabi bang news report ito? This is his blog, FGS!

    Mga tao may macomment lang, pa henyo effect pa.

    • frenchy says:

      LOL. I second to this. Some people just can’t differentiate a blog from a news site.

    • frenchy says:

      LOL. I second to this. Some people just can’t differentiate a blog from a news site. Kahit ano pang ilagay ni Yuga dito pwede dahil blog niya ito. Nakikibasa lang tayo.

  21. coachjojoc says:

    Urban myth?

    • reader says:

      @Coach: Nope, it’s fact.

      As long as you have someone in the telco do it for you, you can track a cellphone’s signal through triangulation of a signal. It only gives you an estimation of a signals location that’s pretty much it.

      Long time back, I had a friend in a telco track a particular cellphone’s location of a person who I thought to be scamming me for my money. He didn’t have the triangulation done but at least he gave me the closest cellsite to where the phone was actually sending/receiving signals from.

    • coachjojoc says:

      @reader,
      Remember those text messages asking you to send pasa load or whatever?

      I wanted to reply “Go f*%k yourself” but here comes my nephew telling me that if I texted back the scammer would be able to get my load and phone details.

      Fact or urban myth?

  22. Mitee de la Cruz says:

    I, for one hate criminals. Pero hindi ba bawal yung ginawa nun CSR na pina triangulate nya yung cellphone niya sa engineering department nila? I know cellphone niya eto at pwede niyang gawin kahit ano. Pero the fact na ginawa yun ng Engr Dept is parang bawal na technology na pwede gamitin kahit kanino even if ka trabaho nila. Even sa mga Engineers. If totoo nga eto nawawalan ako ng trust sa mga telco ng Pinas. :(

    • lawrence says:

      I guess this one is some sort of an exception since nangyari yung crime sa vicinity nila. this can serve as part of the investigation which is important in keeping the security of their offices. they have the facilities, so they can use it for their own benefit I guess.

      the incident I think can reflect the security flaws of the telco’s offices so it can help them improve as a whole. I guess apple can give them these kinds of privileges rin.

    • reader says:

      @Mitee:

      It could be illegal to triangulate a cellphone signal to locate it. However, two things to consider:

      1. It does potentially clash with a citizen’s right to privacy. You may only legally do this on valid reasons (i.e. solving a crime, national security, etc….)

      2. Do take note that triangulation of a signal does require resources to specifically track it down. Telcos simply cannot do this on a whim. Before we think that telcos can play the role of Big Brother to us, the answer is not as straightforward.

      Technically they can monitor where we are at, but from a logistics perspective, it will cost them too much time and resources to do so.

    • I completely agree with reader’s point #1. That’s the reason why cell site triangulation will never be made available to normal customers because it can be subject to abuse.

      Tanga na lang talaga yung messenger. I heard a similar story in Smart, may nagnakaw ng CP inside Smart tower’s premises but the CP was never recovered. When they detected where the last signal of the CP was sent out from, it was still inside the premises. That means matalino yung nagnakaw – he turned off the phone first and took out the sim before leaving the premises.

  23. emignatius says:

    OT: There’s an app for android devices called androidlost and it’s a great app. You can take pictures remotely, install it remotely in case you lose your phone and you haven’t installed it yet, remotely enable gps and data, and much more. The best part is, it’s totally free.

  24. kgraphx says:

    I have a related success story!

    Two years ago, my msi u230 netboook was a week old. It got stolen from my very room. It got robbed by around 3-4am. I woke up with the smell of a fail tear gas. The day was really bad I needed a powerpoint from that laptop. I reported the case to the police but that morning I really had no hope I could bring it back.

    During lunch I was already at work. I got this phone call from a concerned person. I was told the laptop is being sold at greenhills at that moment. Apparently, some neighbors are the ones who stole it and was asking help from this concerned person to help them explain to greenhills security. At greenhills they were asked to operate the laptop but they couldn’t. In greenhills pala you can’t just sell a gadget you have to verify that it isn’t a stolen one.

    So I rushed to greenhills with the police and recovered the laptop. Whew. That night the robbers came to my place to return my IDs and some more accessories. I was not there anymore and I don’t live there now. Bad neighbors.

  25. To those who commented that cell site triangulation = IMEI tracking, you’re greatly mistaken. I highly recommend doing a little google search first before posting.

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=cell+site+triangulation

  26. Azalam says:

    Stop wasting our time with your made up stories.

  27. arsie says:

    Whoa! darn that was so close. Indeed he is one lucky person. That is why we should never leave our things unattended.

  28. techgazine says:

    I agree, you can never trust anybody specially iPhone is one hot mobile nowadays.

  29. Grey says:

    Wow! Happy ending! Last time I lost my phone was when we had a drink, the unit, nothing compared to today’s smartphones, was a Nokia 6250. I’m all praises with such apps from IOS and Android, hopefully, local network providers would support this to the end

  30. This happens all the time, seems the globe tracker is the way to go. But that service never seemed to make it on a prime time. If im not mistaken their was a tv ad for the globe tracker service but maybe it was too early for the masses to adjust on that technology. I remember it was the era of nokia 3310 :D

  31. Bim says:

    This happened to me on Baguio City, my phone got stolen (it was a w580i) .Its been missing for a week. One day, I was walking down Session Road when my girlfriend pointed a similar phone(displayed on a stall) and ask me if I miss my phone, I said yes and looked at the markings. To my surprise, it was really my phone. I confronted the stall owner, but we cant leave because we were surrounded by the Muslim vendors. We wanted to ask for the police’s help( about 5 blocks away in session road), BUT, im pretty sure if we leave and did that , They’ll just runaway and bad things will happen on later on. THEN out comes the deal. Just pay 1k and ill get it back, which I did out of adrenaline rush and caution(I know we had the right to file for an anti-fencing in this case),but we just wanted to leave with my phone and our lives intact :)

  32. marc says:

    weh. hindi to true. walang cctv?!

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