So Your iPhone was Stolen in Milan

The Sculpture in front of the Milano Stock Exchange

This statue in front of the Milan stock exchange is the last photo taken before my phone was stolen 10 minutes later—foreshadowing?

It all happened pretty fast. Antonella and I were eating ice cream in a gelatteria not far from the Duomo in Milan when a woman came up to our table with an infant on her hip asking for money while laying an 8×11 map on the table. I should’ve known right then and there. My colleague Lauren Hanks related a similar scenario where someone in Madrid tried to take her phone after laying a map on the table, and grabbing the phone while lifting the map. Lauren was quicker and smarter than me, she caught on and saved her phone. I didn’t. I was too transfixed by the infant child and the discomfort of being on the receiving end of the ask. I also had no cash so callously tried to avoid eye contact, and bam, the mother, child, and my iphone were gone in an instant.

It took me about 10 minutes to realize my phone was gone, we had moved along to a nearby bookseller’s stand, and I reached for the phone to take a picture of one of the covers and I knew what had happened almost immediately. The map on the table, my recollection of the phone there as well, my avoidance of the discomfort by turning a blind eye, it all clicked and I knew it was gone. The immediate emptiness of being robbed hit me and I did a pro forma, half-hearted trek back to the gelatteria to confirm what I already knew. How stupid? I replayed the moment of her laying the map on the table and me avoiding her at all costs over and over in my mind. Further confirmation came after recalling the moment she removed the map and the shopkeeper offered her something to eat and drink—in striking contrast to my reluctance to help—which was met with a quick dart out of the store. “I should have know then too,” I lamented, “that was the telltale sign.” But in some ways I’m happy to have been oblivious because realizing at that moment and actually chasing and confronting her would probably have been far worse.

Antonella had her phone, and given we share a family iCloud account with tools to track our devices—surveillance tech #4life—I checked to see if could find it. It was reporting as being located back in Trento, which is about 200 miles away, so that’s not right. I soon after called my tech support, namely Tommaso, who suggested that they may have turned on AirPlay from the home screen as a tactic to report a different location and trick the Find My app. This is still unclear to me, and I need to confirm, but Antonella’s phone was definitely not tracking mine, so any hope of mounting a real-time sting operation was not in the cards—again probably for the best.

So, at this point the phone is long gone and I’m still pretty bummed at my stupidity, but I also saw this as an unfortunate opportunity to give iCloud’s lost phone and backup features a live test. First, remotely lock the phone and provide a number for anyone who “finds” it to call. I did this, but after thinking on it for a bit—like 5 minutes after confirming I had a full backup from the day before in iCloud—I decided to go nuclear and set the phone to delete all data as soon as it came back online given at this point there was no doubt in my mind it was stolen.

The other things pending were calling my cell provider to block the number via the SIM card as well as making a report to the police. I called TIM and blocked the SIM and that was quick and painless. I entertained going to the police station in Milan, but I know that would mean the day was a complete loss, and we had tickets to see the “Bosch and Another Renaissance” exhibit at the Palazzo Reale Milano, so I canned the police visit. The exhibit was underwhelming, and I’m not sure that’s because my phone was stolen, or that Bosch is kind of a mess of an artist. His stuff is weird, granted, but it is also kinda flat and un-compelling once the shock and awe effect wears off, much like a lot of David Lynch’s work. I think if they framed his art as a kind of b-movie, splatter/exploitation take on the Renaissance I would be a lot more interested. But what do I know, I am just a lowly blogger who lost his phone in Milan….those bastards!

After the exhibit we were shot and decided to head back to Trento, although we did catch an amazing show on the Radio Popolare station that turned us onto the Beta Band—I’ve been listening to them pretty regularly since. Anyway, once home I decided to check the Find My app on my computer and to my surprise the phone was located on the outskirts of Milan.

Find My map of Milan with image of my phone

Once I zoomed in I could pinpoint it near near the river Lambrato and one of those navigli (canals) that often make an appearance in the Milan polizieschi films of the 1970s I love so much. The seedy underbelly of the city playing out in the margins then and now.

Zoomed-in to Find My map of Milan with a near exact location of my phone

Then I checked in Google’s Streetview to see what I was looking at on the ground:

Streetview image of where my phone was located after being stolen earlier that day

Crazy, it was located near the canal, or even in the canal, which is what I was thinking. They must have realized I locked the phone and erased the data, so they tossed it in the canal. RIP phone.

Message via email the day after the my stolen phone was being deleted

But not so fast, early Monday morning I got the above email informing me the phone was being deleted. So it was not at the bottom of the canal after all. What’s more, according to Find My app the phone had moved to a new, close-by location. In fact, according to the Find My app it is still there as I write this, although at this point erased. A shell of its former self.

Find My app reporting my phone in a new location and deleted

As of Monday I had still not reported the phone lost, and it is recommended you do that within 48 hours. I was wondering if I needed to report it or not, but a few things happened that assured me I did. Antonella started receiving messages on her phone given that was the number I initially gave in the hopeful phase I still imagined it might be found and returned. They must have recorded the number, and started sending phishing messages telling us the phone’s been found. The first was in English from a New Orleans area code and that tricky URL that is begging for a click for more details:

Phishing Message in English trying to get us to click, but that URL is not right—also it is from a New Orleans area code, which is odd.

The next message was in Italian, and basically said the same thing, but with a different link:

Phishing message in Italian

At this point these people were starting to piss me off. So the next morning I went to the police station and filed a formal report, which was pretty easy, and for that I’m kinda glad I waited to do it in Trento. Small can be beautiful, or at least easier. The other  reason reporting the phone as lost with the police was important is that’s the only way to keep my old number. I had to take a copy of the police report to the local TIM store in order to re-activate the old number. So, that’s something to keep in mind—you can’t reclaim your number, at least in Italy, without a formal police report.

The next and final step at this point was restoring all my almost 40,000 images and videos and countless apps to a new phone. And, as the big middle finger that started this post suggests, every single file, image, video, app, note, contact, etc. were restored seamlessly to the new phone in minutes. That, my friends, was both awesome and a huge relief. I understand the closed, app-store ecosystem driving Apple has its definite issues, and their hardware is ridiculously expensive, but having everything restored almost immediately to a new phone and picking up where I left off after some deep angst around losing my memories certainly highlights one beautiful element of the Cloud, and while no means unique to Apple, this experience did not suck when it came to being able to pull up the image I took 10 minutes before my phone was stolen.

I was stupid. It was stolen. But all is well that ends well, at least for me, but I am still a bit haunted by the Find My map pointing to my lifeless phone on the outskirts of Milan on the banks of a series of interlocking canals that track another world where all may not always end so well.

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6 Responses to So Your iPhone was Stolen in Milan

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    This is kind of shocking news Jim. Thanks for sharing. I kind of assumed the Beta Band were as big abroad as they were at home, but apparently not. I’m reeling.
    If you’re enjoying them, also check our Steve Mason’s solo stuff and his collab with Martin Duffy from Primal Scream – Alien Stadium.

    Oh, sorry your phone got nicked too. What a pain in the butt. 😉

  2. Alan Levine says:

    Where is Jason Bourne when you need him? Nah, that was a valiant effort to track, and creepy that they tried to phish you. I must admit I would have easily been taken in my this sadly slickly effective con.

    Remind me of the time while visiting a park in Kentucky when I dropped my phone trying to capture a video of a train.

    SOMEBODY steals the Bava’s phone, SOMEBODY, but that does not stop him.

    • Jim Grooom says:

      Yeah, I even thought about what Lauren had told me while the woman laid the map on the table, but even with that knowledge I got taken. It sucks, but I immediately went into web hosting recovery mode and damage control, and I think 10 years of knowing the absolute gold that backups are prepared me a bit. That said, I never had to use the iCloud backup in a real0-live situation, so knowing that works as well as it does is a silver lining. For me the app data is no all that interesting, it is the photos, and unlike you I am not as good as keeping everything up-to-date on Flickr, so iCloud has become that safety net, glad it came through.

  3. Steven says:

    My sister had the same experience yesterday in Milan and we got exactly the same text word for word so it does seem they are going strong in their scam.

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