For one year, strangers have been showing up at Christina Lee and Michael Saba’s Atlanta home looking for their lost phones.
Fusion Magazine reports that to the young couple’s surprise, smartphone tracking apps all over the city have been directing phone owners to their house. It all started when an angry family came knocking at their door last February, demanding that Lee and Saba return their stolen phone.
The bewildered couple had no idea what they were talking about. Then same thing happened two months later, this time with a group of friends looking for a lost phone.
Soon the problem got worse, with four such visitors showing up within the span of a month. People would call on them morning, noon, and night, all with the same, bizarre question – “where the heck is my phone?” Of course, Lee and Saba had no clue about the missing phones – some Android, some iPhones – with a variety of carriers. They even developed a standard response: “I’m sorry you came all this way. This happens a lot.”
The plot thickened last June, when pings from a missing teenage girl’s phone led the police to their home. The police treated Lee and Saba as suspects and made them sit outside for an hour while they considered issuing a warrant to search the house.
According to Saba, when he asked if he could go inside to use the bathroom, a policeman said: “Your house is a crime scene and you two are persons of interest.”
Needless to say, the couple are now worried sick that all these events might be part of a larger conspiracy, or lead to disastrous consequences.
“My biggest fear is that someone dangerous or violent is going to visit our house because of this,” Saba said, speaking to Fusion Magazine. “If or when that happens, I doubt our polite explanations are gonna go very far. It really drives home how unsafe and fallible some of this technological evidence is.”
A team from Fusion did attempt to contact phone companies and other experts in an attempt to solve the mystery, but they haven’t been able to crack it yet. Ken Westin, a Security Analyst, informed the magazine that there could be a flaw in the “cell tower triangulation”, in one of the three towers located near Saba and Lee’s home. So they tried reaching out to the nearest tower carrier, T-Mobile, but received no response.
Surprisingly, this isn’t the first phone-signal mixup in the world. A similar case was reported by Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2013, in which people kept showing up at a man named Wayne Dobson’s home looking for their lost phones. But that was solved when Sprint realised that the house was located right in the center of one of its service areas.
But the solution doesn’t seem to be as simple in the case of Lee and Saba, because phones with multiple carriers keep pointing to their home. Fusion also tried reaching out to Google and Apple’s app making services for answers, but they had none to offer. They contacted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency in charge of regulating wireless devices, but the problem didn’t fall under their jurisdiction.
Don Lekei of Help-My-Tech thought the phones were being located through WiFi or IP address mapping, so resetting the couple’s router might fix the problem. They tried it, but it didn’t work.
Jonathan Zdziarski, an iPhone forensic expert, joked that the couple’s neighbors could be running a stolen racket device. Later, he said WiFi mapping could the the issue, but he’d have to take a look at the phones to be sure. That, of course, is impossible because the phones are still missing.
Lee and Saba are undoubtedly frustrated about not having a definite answer or solution to their unusual problem. They now plan to file a complaint with the FCC and their senator. They’re also hoping for the story to get sufficient media coverage so that something will eventually be done about it. “Public pressure is how stuff like this changes,” Saba said. “It sucks that it happens to us, but I hope our experience will lead it to not happening to anyone else.”