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GPS Devices Lead Authorities to Thieves' Home 124

Posted by Zonk
from the please-put-the-stolen-locatermabob-down dept.
Radon360 writes "A trio of not-so-bright thieves in Lindenhurst, NY stole 14 GPS position reporting devices used on public works equipment from a nearby township garage. Authorities didn't have to look too far to locate him or the devices, as one of them was still active and indicated the location of his home when it was queried. From the article: 'Town officials said the thieves didn't even know what they had: they thought the GPS devices were cell phones, which they planned to sell.'"
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GPS Devices Lead Authorities to Thieves' Home

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  • ahh yes... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bananatree3 (872975) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @03:43AM (#17692850)
    how sweet, the ignorance of youth. They're almost begging for police to come get them. Kind of like the dimwhit students who posted their vandalizing a school on youtube [slashdot.org] for the whole world, including police to see.
    • by mpe (36238)
      how sweet, the ignorance of youth. They're almost begging for police to come get them.

      Maybe they mistook "America's Dumbest Criminals" for some kind of reality TV show you need to apply to...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 20, 2007 @03:45AM (#17692866)
    So if the thieves had stolen one less GPS tracking device (as only the one was still on and functioning), the headline would have read:
    "Idiot Thieves Somehow Manage to Make Off With Armloads of Location Trackers"?
    • by bh_doc (930270)
      Perhaps, only if they somehow managed to leave the one that was activated and not any of the others stolen, be that by good judgement or, more likely, luck.
    • by Joebert (946227)
      Close, "Cringely predicts stolen GPS units will turn up".
    • Now, if they had deliberately lefto one running and attached it to some random vehicle...

      Or for more prank value, if they had stolen a small number (say 2-4) and somehow attached them to squad cars that would be on patrol, that would have been interesting.

  • Town officials said the thieves didn't even know what they had: they thought the GPS devices were cell phones, which they planned to sell.

    Don't a lot of cell phones also report on your location via AGPS?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ForestGrump (644805)
      I think they only do it when in dire need of your coordinates (like when you call 911). Otherwise, it's probably a waste of resources (computing power/network data). After all, how much does the cell phone cost? free w/signing your soul away for 2 years right?

      Grump.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I think they only do it when in dire need of your coordinates (like when you call 911).

        My (CDMA 2000) phone has an option to restrict the GPS reporting to 911 calls only, but it's not the default.

        Otherwise, it's probably a waste of resources (computing power/network data).

        It wouldn't be that bad. The phone already has to periodically allocate a channel in order report its presence to the base station. Tacking on a few extra bits (probably only when requested by the base station) isn't going to be that much overhead.

        As for computing power on the phones, these things can run reasonably complex audio codecs in real time during a voice call. That's a lot of spar

        • by ForestGrump (644805) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @05:03AM (#17693118) Homepage Journal
          The phone has a GPS receiver, but it's primarily designed to take a "snapshot" of the satellites and send that off to an assisting server for the actual number crunching. I'm pretty sure these assisting servers aren't cheap and the phone company wouldn't spend money buying these servers if they could sell you a new phone instead.

          Now, if you implanted one of these phones in your baby called 911 saying I LOST MY BABY! Then I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to use the gps on the phone to locate the baby.*

          But what do I know, it was my roommate who worked in a cell phone shop. I worked on emergency dispatch equipment instead.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_GPS [wikipedia.org]

          Grump

          *If child protective services comes after you, I didn't seed the idea!
          • Now, if you implanted one of these phones in your baby called 911 saying I LOST MY BABY! Then I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to use the gps on the phone to locate the baby.*

            Some people have weird ideas!
          • by Peet42 (904274)
            I am not an expert, but I was led to believe that US cellphones have a GPS receiver chip that outputs a string of numbers, and these numbers are incorporated in the "header" every time it talks to a cell tower. The "authorities" can use these at any time to locate where the 'phone is reporting itself to be.
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by C_L_Lk (1049846)
              This often makes me wonder how often the GPS receiver in my cell phone is actually working. I have both a Garmin and a Magellan hand-held receiver, each which cost several hundred $, and neither of them pick up any useful signal or work even 10% of the time anywhere indoors, in my vehicle while I drive, or even when I'm under moderate to heavy tree cover or building cover. They stick themselves in "acquiring signal mode" until they return to a relatively clear view of the sky to get signal from at least 3 s
              • by topham (32406)

                Your typical GPS has problems aquiring signals because it has to work out the following: The precise time, the likely location. It needs both of these to being able to even start getting a fix. This is why your typical GPS takes a lot longer to get a fix when it has been off for an extended period of time, or has moved a considerable distance when not in use. Garmin quotes 500 Miles for instance. Ephemeris data is collected by your GPS over a period of time and is used to cutdown on the amount of time it ta
              • by Peet42 (904274)
                The Garmin will have a CPU, database of landmarks and roads etc., while the 'phone will just have the "front end" chip that spews out some raw numbers. Just sending those numbers in a "header" puts little or no extra load on the system, since you don't actually need to process them unless you're actively tracking the 'phone.
          • by pruss (246395)
            Since GPS software for Sprint cellphones costs as little as $20, and gives you an unlimited number of fixes with no monthly fee for GPS use, the load on the servers can't be very high.

            Frankly, I think cell phone companies should be, but probably aren't (there was an old story about how Sprint refused to locate a cellphone in a stolen car when the car had a baby in it), willing to report coordinates to law enforcement when a theft report has been filed. (In fact, I think they should be required to do such r
      • by owlstead (636356)
        It's not as much retrieving the phones (or, in this case, GPS devices), it's about apprehending the thieves. How many small crimes are actually solved by the police? But you can rest assured that many, many crimes are performed by a small group of people. Getting these people out of the street and putting them straight is what it is all about. Also, if people are being caught, it's a message out there to all the other (wannabe) thieves; crime does not pay - not that this message is true all the time, but th
      • I think they only do it when in dire need of your coordinates (like when you call 911).

        Among other things, there are privacy issues involved. Every cellphone call generates signal strength data from cell towers, but that doesn't determine a location to better than a few blocks. GPS, on the other hand, can locate you to within a few meters. The fine print on your cellphone contract probably says something about this. This is also an issue with CDMA [sendum.com] and GSM [falcom.de] location devices (a couple of vendors that come

    • by Gordonjcp (186804)
      Mobile phones don't have GPS. You *might* be able to triangulate a position if it's visible by a couple of sectors, but even that's iffy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Detritus (11846)
        Many mobile phones have partial or full GPS receivers. It's one way to meet the FCC's mandates for E911 cell phone location.
        • by Gordonjcp (186804)
          Erm, *what*? Isn't that a massive privacy invasion?
          • by Detritus (11846)
            When you make a call to 911, you usually want the emergency dispatcher to have an accurate fix on your location. Of the phones that I've seen with GPS capability, they all had an option to restrict transmission of location information to 911 calls only.
            • by Gordonjcp (186804)
              Hm, yeah, and that would *never* be switched on by anyone other than, oh hang on, the police to name but one. No thanks. I'll stick with my nice non-GPS GSM mobile, thanks.

              Anyway, what's wrong with simply telling the 999 operator where you are?
              • by Detritus (11846)
                Don't feel too smug. There are a number of technologies that can be used to accurately track the location of GSM phones, without your knowledge or consent.

                The problem is that people often do not know where they are, or they only have a vague idea as to their location. I've been in that situation, on a highway between two major cities, where there are few references that can be used to determine a location, or in unfamiliar neighborhoods where I don't know the name of the street that I'm on.

              • by karnal (22275)
                In the off chance that you dial 911 and can't effectively tell the other person where you are due to:

                1. Having your face smashed in from that drunk who decided you'd be a good punching bag.
                2. Being a tourist and having no clue where you're at.
                3. Being in a position to not revealing you actually dialed 911 (store worker during a robbery?)

                There's times where it'd be useful. And in a panic, I don't know if I could give someone exacting directions to where my current location is (for instance, if my wife wa
  • honestly i'm so sick of all these petty stealing pricks. i got broken into and they stole my aircon remote and a tin of wall putty. if your going to steal things, atleast put some thought into it and steal something worthwhile. like the people who stole a prize winning garden gnome and took photo's of it at places around the world and sent them back to the owner. otherwise your just a dumb punk.
    • by Phil246 (803464) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @04:17AM (#17692978)
      Someone in southampton, UK not too long ago stole a urinal from a pub; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/62344 45.stm [bbc.co.uk]
      Bottom line is , people will steal anything. Expecting them to do it in style is a bit much to hope for.
      • by chanrobi (944359)
        One of my friends had his u-lock cut (bicycle) and his front wheel and tire removed. They only stole his front wheels inner tube. Left the rest of his bike and wheels intact.
        • We're probably lucky thieves aren't as organized and devious as they could be.

          Thieves could make it the common practice to ruthlessly trash any bike with a u-lock on it. Or, to be more discreet, they could simply start squirting superglue into the keyholes of u-locks.

          Moves like this would discourage bike riders from oversecuring their bikes, leading to a world of free bikes parked all over communities for anybody to use. Or maybe not, but it's something one can ponder.

        • hey, my friends and i did that one time! it was cuz the bike was a piece of shit, and all we really wanted was the inner tube to begin with. he didn't go to the University of Illinois did he?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Cassini2 (956052)
        We once had a 15 year old, 40 MegaByte Hard Drive stolen! It was virtually impossible to source a replacement non-IDE hard drive. The hard drive was embedded in an industrial machine, and it was a nightmare to source spares. We finally wound up replacing the entire computer.

        I think the bill came to something like $45,000 in machine downtime, $2,000 in a replacement hardware, and $20 for a USB memory key ... It was an expensive 40MB hard drive.
      • Okay. Someone stole a urinal from a Southampton pub.
        According to that BBC article, the whole theft was caught on CCTV.
        Why would a British business put a CCTV camera in that sort of location?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rob1980 (941751)
      I had the face plate stolen off of the radio in my car about a year and a half ago. There were obvious signs of distress in the console around where the radio was mounted indicating the kid who did it had tried to steal the whole thing, but in the end he gave up and just took off with the face plate. What really made things amusing was he took the stub from a ticket to a football game and left nearly ten dollars in change sitting in the ashtray. Talk about not making it worthwhile.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ChipMonk (711367)
      Tell me about it. A couple years ago, when I was living in a not-too-nice neighborhood, someone broke into my car and took the stereo (which self-destructed on disconnect), the amplifier (woefully under-powered), and the speakers (which were wearing out).

      What did they leave? A Magellan GPS unit, mounted in a bracket on the dash, with "GPS 315" printed on it in big white letters, in full view. Five seconds for that one item would have doubled the street value of their take.

      Idiots.
      • by jedrek (79264)
        Not bad.

        I had my car broken into last week as I left my cell phone inside by accident. (I know, dumb move.)

        Stolen: cell phone - bought new for $130 w/o contract, spare change, olympus mju II film camera - $40 used (I got it for free)

        Left behind: 6 DVDs in a box from amazon on the rear seat, 60 GB 4th gen iPod.
      • Maybe the thieves that broke into your car didn't want to risk your big bright GPS being on. After all, look what happened to the thieves in the fine article.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by pafrusurewa (524731)
      like the people who stole a prize winning garden gnome and took photo's of it at places around the world and sent them back to the owner.
      Did that really happen? That's awfully similar to one of the plot lines of a movie called "Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain".
      • by Ciggy (692030)
        I presume this is this is a possible story [fultonsun.com] being mentioned, but this one [csmonitor.com] mentions something more likely (Ms Austin's gnome). I hope they're true.
      • by icebrain (944107)
        This has reportedly been done several times with the "T" from the top of Tech Tower [wikipedia.org].
        • by jc42 (318812)
          Not only has this happened (several times), but some people have taken it far too far [wikipedia.org].

          That article has links that will lead you to stories of several of the travelling garden gnomes.

          I also read an article a while back about a gang that look for plastic flamingoes, and when the owners aren't home (or during the night), sneak into the yard and move the flamingoes around. I saw one photo of a plastic flamingo that was found perched in a nearby tree.
    • by Romwell (873455)
      Mod parent up for Amelie reference, please !
    • i got broken into and they stole my aircon remote and a tin of wall putty

      Couldn't have been a geek, they would have hacked your robot & made it snail mail that stuff to them.

      I believe, it was terrorists.
      The terrorists have obviously enlisted the help of McGuyver, McGuyver, having become outraged when his show was canceled, will use the remote as a timing device for the C-4 that will become of your wall putty & the lint in his new terrorist buddies pockets.

  • Not news IMO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jack9 (11421) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @03:53AM (#17692904)
    Digg and Fark cover general stupidity.
    • I guess the news is the GPS devices ACTUALLY WORKED! I had a GPS receiver for my Palm Pilot for a while. That damn thing was frustrating. It would only work with a CLEAR and UNOBSTRUCTED view of the sky, and even then it took like 5 minutes to get a lock (or whatever its' called) on the satellites. How often do we have that good a view of the sky every day? Me - just when I'm driving to work.
      • by wwwillem (253720)
        That sounds very much like the HandyGPS. Luckily I paid only 10 bucks for it on eBay, but indeed the thing is a complete mess.
  • It reminds me... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gooman (709147) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @03:57AM (#17692924) Journal
    My dad likes to say, "If they were smart, they wouldn't be crooks, they'd have real jobs."

    • by ColaMan (37550) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @04:02AM (#17692938) Homepage Journal
      If they were smart, they'd still be crooks, just at large.

      Smart crooks are not identified - you hear very little about them apart from statements such as, "Police are appealing for help from the general public to help catch a criminal who did X."
      • If they were *really* smart then nobody would know that a crime had been committed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by atcurtis (191512)

        The smartest criminals are so deft at their art that no one, least of all the police, is aware that a crime has even taken place...
        • I know all about this.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hughk (248126)
          you forgot that they are probably working on Wall St wheer as long as they steal in the name of the company, they will be rewarded handsomely with end-of-year bonuses.
          • Or, they're within the ruling party in countries with Socialist governments.

            But now I'm broadening the discussion in ways probably unwelcome.
            • by rednip (186217) *

              Or, they're within the ruling party in countries with Socialist governments.

              or within the ruling party of a 'democratic' government. I suspect that many of them are now switching from 'Republican' to 'Democrat'.

          • you forgot that they are probably working on Wall St

            Or Washington, DC.
        • by mpe (36238)
          The smartest criminals are so deft at their art that no one, least of all the police, is aware that a crime has even taken place...

          Then there are those who work for the police.
      • by kfg (145172)
        Smart crooks are not identified. . .

        Although the smartest ones get their names on the front page and a civic award.

        KFG
      • by NSash (711724)
        Be that as it may, most crooks are not smart. Most crimes are spur of the moment rather than carefully planned, and have a low payoff relative to their risk. Most crimes are committed within 1 mile of the criminal's home. Most petty criminals average 20 crimes before they are caught: those are the ones who think they are smart, not realizing they're playing a fool's game for what amounts to chump change.
      • by Cyberax (705495) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @05:33AM (#17693220)
        The smartest crooks do not violate laws. They MAKE them.
        • by Sique (173459)
          That's like the famous quote from the Beggar's Opera:

          "What is breaking into a bank compared with founding a bank?"
        • by Hinhule (811436)
          Oh they are RIAA board members ;)
        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          This isn't really all that funny, its the most insightful post i've seen on slashdot in awhile.
        • by cazbar (582875)
          Although somebody getting caught with wads of cash in their freezer [cnn.com] can make one reconsider that statement...
          • Man, that congressman must've done something really bad. CNN's copy of the search warrant that let law enforcement find the money in the freezer was redacted!
          • by mpe (36238)
            Although somebody getting caught with wads of cash in their freezer can make one reconsider that statement...

            They must have suspected the money was "hot" though :)
        • by loconet (415875)
          or are CEOs, which one can argue make laws as well...
        • by SeaFox (739806)
          I'm actually adding this to my collection of quotes and attributing it you (unless you have a different source).
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Cyberax (705495)
            This quote is mine.

            But it looks like that I'm not the one who thought about it first :) I've found this quote in Google: "The really successful criminals never break laws - they make them", but I can't find its attribution.

            And there's also Mark Twain: "There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress" :)
      • Smart crooks are not identified - you hear very little about them

        Smart people aren't crooks. It doesn't take too much intelligence to perceive that you have limited time and resources to commit a crime, law enforcement has all the time and resources in the world to investigate. The only way to remain uncaught, apart from pure luck, is being such a petty crook that nobody really cares.

        Remember you aren't alone in the world. There's always someone who may have seen you, who may remember. The homeless who was

        • by joto (134244)

          Smart people aren't crooks. It doesn't take too much intelligence to perceive that you have limited time and resources to commit a crime, law enforcement has all the time and resources in the world to investigate.

          On the other hand, you can spend decades planning the perfect crime. The police can only spend as much as the budget allows (which is frequently ridiculously low). What keeps people from doing crime, is that people are generally good people, and don't want to harm anyone else. If we had to rely

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172)
      "If they were smart, they wouldn't be crooks, they'd have real jobs."

      Yeah, that's a fairly common thing for people who aren't so smart to say.

      The idea of a "real job" is something the smart people invented to take advantage of people stupid enough to buy into it.

      KFG
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by jpardey (569633)
      As in pumping gas? Selling clothing? Washing dishes? Yeah, those take a lot more intelligence than breaking into a house, stealing stuff, and selling it, all the while not getting caught.
      • by mdielmann (514750)
        Yeah, those take a lot more intelligence than breaking into a house, stealing stuff, and selling it, all the while not getting caught.

        The problem is, many criminals have a lot of trouble with that last step, including these ones...and if they have the brains to pull that off, they can usually do better with less risk than in breaking the law.
    • by mikael (484)
      As one detective on TV put it: "Every dumb criminal is a failure of the education system".

      Funny in one sense, but sadly true in another - something like 40% of prison inmates are dsylexic and can't read.
      So placing large notices with large black and red and warning messages don't really have much effect, even when
      they aren't high on drugs.
  • This reminds me of the episode where Dell purchases "a satellite dish" :-)
    http://www.tv.com/only-fools-and-horses/the-skys-t he-limit/episode/52299/summary.html [tv.com]
  • There are no photos of the GPS devices, but I imagine they are rugged, ugly things with a greyscale LCD screen and maybe you could get them confused with a cell phone from 1996. Did they honestly think a phone that ugly would sell?

    I know thieves are stupid but wouldn't it be worthwhile knowing what you're stealing?
    • Googled a bit and found that it probably was cellphones with built in GPS tracking. "Babylon uses its GPS-enabled cellphones and supporting software every day to help make work like sweeping streets and filling potholes more efficient." [1]. Maybe they police and the town doesn't want to advertise that there are some 300 phones if to steal if you can get to them (and of course shut down the GPS in them!)

      [1] http://developer.sprint.com/site/global/home/p_ho m e.jsp [sprint.com]
    • by zakezuke (229119)
      There are no photos of the GPS devices, but I imagine they are rugged, ugly things with a greyscale LCD screen and maybe you could get them confused with a cell phone from 1996. Did they honestly think a phone that ugly would sell?

      I know thieves are stupid but wouldn't it be worthwhile knowing what you're stealing?


      If you attend flee markets, you'll notice quite a few people who simply don't know what they are selling. I remember back in like 1986 I wanted a cordless phone, which I bought one from such a fl
  • The township should place warning stickers on these devices to inform clueless criminals not to steal them. Now they can sue the township for causing them trouble.
    • by Detritus (11846)
      I'd rather see the township call up the Air Force and arrange for the delivery of a concrete-filled JDAM to the coordinates of the device.
  • smart thieving is not about not getting found. A smart theft is not even discovered. Like stealing one cent from a lot of people and nobody relizes he is missing a cent.
    • A smart theft is not even discovered. Like stealing one cent from a lot of people and nobody relizes he is missing a cent.

      Good plan, Richard Pryor. Just make sure Superman doesn't catch on to your brilliant scheme.

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