We have been trying to get a smartphone stolen in recent weeks to see where it ends up.
Our initial attempts were unsuccessful, but we finally succeeded on a Sunday morning in September when visiting a factory outlet mall in the northern Johannesburg region.
While most shoppers were there for discounts on clothes, we planned to make use of the pickpockets and shoplifters who descend on busy weekends.
It was not long before the smartphone was stolen. After we put it down next to us to “try on shoes” in the store – with our backs only turned for a moment – the device was gone.
After the phone was nicked, we left the store and opened the tracking software we had installed on the device – but the thief had either turned it off, or burned through the mobile data.
Preparing for theft
To track the stolen phone – an AG Mobile Ghost – we loaded anti-theft system Cerberus before visiting the factory store.
The system includes tracking, remote locking, and wiping features. It can also survive a factory reset, provided you install it with root privileges.
Crucially, you can use it to get the device’s location via SMS or a data connection.
You can also set it to send you an SMS or a photo from the front camera when the SIM in the device is changed.
About an hour after the phone was stolen, we received the first notification – a new SIM had been inserted.
The phone was briefly reachable over the Internet, before we lost the connection again.
A while later it reappeared, with the new owner on the move, heading north through Hillbrow.
We were able to obtain information from the phone and capture video of the thief from the device’s front-facing camera – shown below.
Cerberus also lets you take photos and screenshots from the smartphone, and later that evening the device’s new owner was looking at a photo of a high-end Mercedes-Benz car.
From Sandton to Mpumalanga’s border
The phone was stolen at around 11:30 from the factory outlet mall in the northern Sandton area, and was quickly ferried to Hillbrow.
The new owner remained here from around 12:30 until at least 15:00.
The device then reappeared an hour and a half later in Etwatwa, a township east of Benoni near Gauteng’s border with Mpumalanga.
Maps showing part of the device’s journey to date are posted below.
At the time of writing, the bait device had not left Gauteng and was with the person who originally took it from the factory store in north Sandton.