Security Firm Unveils 'Theftie' Alerts To Address Smartphone Thefts
May 29, 2014

Security Firm Unveils ‘Theftie’ Alerts To Address Smartphone Thefts

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

Mobile phones get stolen all too often, and according to a Consumer Reports survey last year some 3.1 million Americans had their mobile devices taken. That number is double from just 2012.

Most users don't have a way to protect their phone but mobile security firm Lookout on Wednesday introduced a new feature that provides users with contextual alerts any time there is suspicious activity on their device. In addition to a warning Lookout utilizes its Lock Cam technology to snap a photo of a would-be thief and can even email a map to the device's location.

These "theftie" photos are designed to be more covert than say the "selfie" trend and most thieves might not even know they've been photographed.

"Not everyone here likes the name," David Richardson, Lookout's lead product manager for iOS, told Cnet.

The name aside this technology could address what Lookout maintains is a significant problem.

"Chances are, the sooner you discover your phone is missing, the higher likelihood you’ll get it back," the company noted in a factoid. "The golden hour after the theft occurs is key because, let's face it, thieves are sneaky! To avoid being tracked, thieves take common actions seconds after stealing a phone, like immediately powering it down, putting it on airplane mode, or removing the SIM card. This prevents the owner from calling or tracking it. While 90 percent of phone theft victims take steps to recover their phone, only 32 percent of all theft victims are successful in recovering it."

Beyond the value of the actual handset there is also the issue of the data that it holds. Lookout's goal has been to help in the recovery process.

"From the day we started Lookout, we've dedicated ourselves to fighting smartphone theft," Lookout CTO Kevin Mahaffey said in a statement, as reported by PC Mag. "Today, the problem has grown so large that nearly 70 percent of phone theft victims never get their phone back. This is not right."

The alerts are triggered by actions that thieves typically make – such as entering the wrong password, attempting to uninstall security software, putting a device on airplane mode, removing the SIM card or just turning it off. These actions cause Lookout to do its thing. In addition to snapping that "theftie" Lookout's app also allows users to toggle on or off individual functions. It also allows users to track the phone.

However, those in law enforcement do warn that caution should be taken before simply going to get one's phone.

"There are too many risks, aside from the location being wrong," Nuria Vanegas, a public information officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, told the Wall Street Journal. "You could knock on the door and it could be a grandma or it could be a gangster."

The information – such as photo of the alleged thief and the device's location – could be used to help law enforcement, however. Already, the police use this sort of technology, including any built-in software that can report a phone's location.

"We use it all the time and make arrests," Sgt. Danielle Newman, spokesperson with the San Francisco Police Department, told the WSJ.

Lookout Premium is available now on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store for $2.99 per month, or for $29.99 for a year.