Science and Tech


Lookout Launches 'Theftie' Alerts To Catch Phone Thieves

Mobile security firm Lookout added a new "theftie" feature that sends email alerts and a picture of the culprit when the phone is tampered with.
Posted at 10:14 PM, May 29, 2014

You probably know what a "selfie" is, but have you heard of a "theftie?" (Via Flickr / Roel Wijnants)

It's certainly no secret smartphone theft is a growing problem, but mobile security firm Lookout is looking to help bring those stolen phones back to their rightful owners.

Lookout launched a new program Wednesday that sends out what are called "theftie" alerts: email alerts sent to subscribers when pretty much any suspicious activity goes down on their smartphone.

So, what triggers the alerts? Entering an incorrect password multiple times, attempting to uninstall the company's software, plus – get this – it secretly snaps a photo of the culprit in the act. Then it sends the snapshot to the user's email and even pinpoints the phone's exact location. Finally, the program also allows you to file a police report. (Via Lookout, The Wall Street Journal)

A statement on Lookout's website explains how "theftie" will thwart the evildoers. "Chances are, the sooner you discover your phone is missing, the higher likelihood you'll get it back. ... The golden hour after the theft occurs is key because, let's face it, thieves are sneaky!" 

Lookout's CTO is quoted in PC Magazine saying the very reason the company was created is to fight theft. "Today, the problem has grown so large that nearly 70 percent of phone theft victims never get their phone back. This is not right."

This new feature couldn't come at a better time, as smartphone thefts has seen quite the spike in recent years.

Consumer Reports says more than three million phones were stolen in 2013. That's twice as many as the previous year. And replacing all those lost or stolen phones adds up to a whopping $30 billion.

The Federal Communications Commission says "robberies involving cell phones" make up more than 30 percent of all robberies in some major cities.

Lookout also isn't the only company providing security. Both Apple and Samsung – the two biggest smartphone makers – have anti-theft software as well, though they certainly don't boast the cool mugshot Lookout provides.

But whether it's Lookout, Apple or Samsung, there appears to be a sizeable market for smartphone theft protection, as so-called "kill switch" mandates continue to gain traction at the state level.

A few weeks ago, Minnesota became the first state requiring smartphone manufacturers to install "kill switches" in devices – giving the user power to render it useless once its gone. Similar legislation is now also in the works in California. (Via The Washington Post, CNET)