I present the saga of my stolen Nexus 7, a horrible little gadget that I often came near to dashing against a wall.
A couple of days ago, I sat at a computer in a public library, my backpack beside me on the floor. Open, and a little behind me. I was wearing foam earplugs, couldn't have heard someone rifling through it.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Agreed.
When I'm leaving, I notice that the tablet and the earphones (not very good ones, thankfully) wrapped around it are gone. A chat with library security reveals that no camera is on the specific area. Probably nothing can be done.
Later that day--much later--I remembered that you can check your Chrome history from any computer. I did so.
I didn't expect to see anything unusual. The tablet had required a security PIN to be awakened. I thought a kid had stolen it for kicks and had been frustrated to find the code was required. Surely he wasn't past the code yet.
Wrong. There was my usual morning browsing, then a big empty gap, then: two email accounts I'd never heard of were accessed. One Gmail, one Hotmail. The full addresses are shown in the history. Clicking on those items didn't allow me to access the accounts, though.
The thief then bought something, or attempted to buy something, at an online store that caters mostly to soundtrack lovers. Then he went to Google Accounts, and presumably changed the browser's account to his own--probably the account associated with the Gmail address I'd seen. This stopped me from seeing where he'd gone next. All of his recorded browsing had happened in an eight minute period, a fair amount of time before I'd realized the tablet was stolen.
I saw all this standing at a public computer in a different library that happened to be near where I was biking (to vent my frustration) at the moment. I probably couldn't have taken a screenshot. Unfortunately, I didn't even try. I also didn't change my Google password. That was a gamble that wouldn't pay off. I thought: no, I'll let him stay in, if he wants to stay in. Maybe he would leave more of a trail that way.
I Googled the two email addresses. One led to nothing, but the other led to a message board account. The board was for discussing orchestral soundtracks. The account's profile page described a man living in the town where the tablet had been stolen, and calling himself a "library advisor." This message board account had been used as recently as March. The email address was in a post.
At this point I should have put the two addresses into Facebook, but I never use Facebook, my account's been deactivated forever, and I didn't think about it.
I raced back to the library where the tablet had been stolen. A different security guard was on duty. I told him I had two email addresses presumably belonging to the person who'd stolen my tablet their earlier. He called the police.
In the meantime, he looked at the notes I'd written down as I'd been looking at my Chrome history. He searched the Gmail address in Facebook. Nothing came up. I thought he might have also have searched the Hotmail address when I simply wasn't looking, but it would turn out that he hadn't.
The police came, took down what I knew, and recorded the serial number and the value of the tablet (I'd been carrying the serial number and my receipt around because I thought the tablet was going to need warranty service soon--it was exhibiting the wonkiness than many Nexus 7's have been exhibiting lately). I decided to contact someone on the message board mentioned earlier, who'd sold something to my suspect. I explained my situation and asked him to please contact the local police with the person's identity. I gave him their phone number and my case number.
Then, the most worrying thing yet happened. I logged into Chrome to look at the history results again: gone. Not everything, just the items revealing the thief's browsing. Everything before and after--including my searches of his email addresses, so he knows I'm onto him--was still there. I hadn't noticed that beside each item in the history is a pale, tiny pull-down menu, and you can delete individual items. He had. I finally changed my Google password, as I should have done earlier.
So, my big question: Have I permanently lost my only evidence? Unless I can get Google to help, it certainly looks like it.
The next morning, I finally reactivated my Facebook account and searched the Hotmail address, in case the security guard hadn't. Up came a profile. No photo except of a landscape, but the account seems reasonably active. There are clear indications that it's him.
To abbreviate: I now know everything about the thief. Everything. His address, his roommate's name. His work history, which is nonexistent in recent years. Both he and the roommate are involved in classical music, but neither has paying work now as far as I can tell. They live in a rather crappy apartment, but in a very expensive neighborhood.
I went to the library to find out if this man really was a "library advisor" there. The library hadn't offered to see if the email addresses matched any of their accounts the night before. This time, a librarian not only checked to see if the man worked there--he didn't, and "library advisor" is apparently just an honorary title for people who really pester the staff--but also confirmed that all of my information about him matched with his patron account. They also checked to see if his account had been used to log into a computer there lately. It hadn't.
I went to the police station to share the name I had. A woman eventually came down to talk to me.
First of all, she bawled me out. The man I'd emailed the day before, from the message board, had emailed the police station. He was, apparently, IN TERROR. Of me. How had I known he'd sold something to this person?! (Um, Google? I had explained everything to him in great detail.) Etc. She told me to stop trying to figure things out and let the detectives do their job.
On the other hand, she told me this: no detective would typically be assigned to the case for a couple of days yet; they wouldn't bother to obtain any records from Google proving anything, because it's just a cheap tablet; etc. I'm not a priority. At all. "We're working a sexual assault case right now."
Someone will visit him, eventually, and ask him if he did it. If he says "no," that's apparently the end of it.
I'm curious if anyone has any suggestions. Can I get Google to provide some data showing what happened? I'm near Chicago, and I'm certainly willing to go and bug someone in person at their Chicago office.
The tablet itself was garbage, but unfortunately it had photos on it which were very important to a Better Business Bureau dispute I'm involved in now. A business owes me a refund of over a thousand dollars, and they're being both dishonest and stubborn about it. Without those photos--which I realize are almost certainly now lost, as I never uploaded them--my chances of prevailing in that dispute are weaker.
Just as concerning: on the tablet were scans of my social security card, my Passport, and similar items. In retrospect, yes, stupid. But I had always worried about losing all those things and having trouble proving my identity in that event.
The bypassing of the security PIN requirement and the eventual deletion of the history items tells me that this guy is not just a hapless klepto, but something of a pro. I'd love to harrass him via some legal threats, but I can't afford to hire an attorney.
Any ideas? I'd really like for this to end with my getting a fair amount of restitution for the tablet and its contents. Incidentally I just noticed, via Google: my thief sold a house several years ago, in one of the toniest neighborhoods in Illinois.