View Full Version : Tracing Mobile Phones & Planted Evidence

08-05-2012, 04:10 PM
I have a scenario in my novel set in current day Australia where my good guy is forced to hand over his phone to a bad guy. In return, he is given some kind of disposable phone. He is then set up for a crime (kidnapping, child found safe and well) and arrested. This means the phone he is arrested with is not one that's registered in his name (or actually, it might also be. But in any case, there's another phone out there that's registered in his name that isn't in his possession). While this is happening, I want my baddie to play with good guy's original phone and install some sort of gps tracking device in it - whether its a chip or some sort of mobile phone app - I'm thinking the latter will be less detectable. I know my two brothers have iPhones and use a Find My Friend app to track each other's location. I then want my baddie to go back and plant the phone as evidence at the scene, where the cops can find it. He obviously wants the cops to find it, but I don't want them to find it in the initial search, but one cop on his own a couple of days later. This leads to a number of questions:

1. Would the area be cut off to the public and for how long (will my baddie be able to go and plant the phone as evidence without being noticed)? It's at nighttime, secluded area of public park, I'm guessing cops would want to see how things look in the daylight.
2. I'm guessing the phone will need to be off until the bad guy plants it to prevent it being traced through mobile phone towers. I'm also guessing this wouldn't go unnoticed by police if they tried calling the number while it was off. Could the phone be turned on without the cops realising? For how long would they continue trying to call/trace the number? If they have the guy in custody and he is found with another phone, is there really any need for them to call/trace it in the first place? How likely is it to be missed in the search of the crime scene? I mean to say if someone is arrested, the child is safe, how thoroughly are they going to be looking at the scene? I figured I could hide it under some park bark, shadow of the trees, nighttime and have it easily go unnoticed, but not if they're going to be trying to call/trace it.

3. Phone is found. Would the police consider it evidence they missed in the search, or planted evidence? If they were calling it noticed it go on/off, I'm guessing they'd consider it planted, but if they didn't notice, would it be a matter of missed evidence?

4. Are there many popular phone apps that allow you to trace your friend's phones? Would there be a way of telling when an app was installed on the phone, or when a contact was added to the app? In police terms, how much of a threat do these pose, or could such a thing also go unnoticed for say 36-38 hours? Would it be less detectable than some kind of GPS tracking chip? I'm guessing they would probably be more interested in the message and call logs.. but depending on how long they take to sort through..

Thank you so much for your help! Sorry if that's in any way confusing - it probably is! :D But as soon as I started thinking about it, each question would lead to a new question... =P

08-05-2012, 05:00 PM
1. Yes. Length of time depends. When they're done combing the area for evidence it'll be reopened, but factors like weather and time can influence how long that'll be. If this is an active abduction when they find the scene, it'll be closed longer because they'll be searching HARD.

2. Most phones have GPS tracking. Even the stupid ones. The question is WHY he wants the GPS installed: so the police can find it? He doesn't need to do anything but turn the feature on. So the bad guy can track it? That'll mean an app, and there would be a record on when it was downloaded from wherever he got it. As for cell towers, I *think* they only register if the phone is being used. With smart phones, that's pretty much all the time so turning it off would be ideal. For a regular phone w/ no data plan, though, it would require a phone call to ping the tower. If the phone is just being planted as evidence, then just have it turned off. A police search should find it. Unless that's how you get them to the crime scene in the first place?

3. If they have the guy in custody and then find his phone at the crime scene, why would they think it's planted? Unless it's in an obvious spot they searched, like on a picnic table, I doubt it'd raise a major red flag. If the guy is trying to lead them to the crime scene through the phone, I wouldn't think they'd flag on planting either--if they find his phone, do you really think they'd buy his story that some random bad dude made him give it up and is setting him up? No, he'd become suspect numero uno. Especially if he gave them what sound like a BS story about how it got there.

4. See #2 for the app. As for the rest: who's tracing the phone? Sorry, I'm confused on that bit.

08-05-2012, 05:18 PM
This recent thread may contain relevant information - http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=250077

08-05-2012, 05:43 PM
Thanks Bufty, I'll take a look :)

Thanks amschilling :) To try and make things clearer... the bad guy wants to track where the phone is going, hence installing the app. However, if it's a standard app, it may have already been installed on the phone prior, and as such it's just a matter of the bad guy adding his number into the phone and into his phone (accept a request?) and I wonder if that sort of date would be recorded? The good guy who is arrested falsely confesses, and as such mentions nothing about his stolen phone. The police find the kidnapped child with the guy they arrest, and so there is no more missing child. The problem is I don't want the phone found in the initial police search of the scene, and I wonder how likely/unlikely that would be, and if it were to be found later whether it would be considered something planted or something they missed.

08-05-2012, 08:04 PM
Ok, got it. I guess what was missing is WHY the bad guy gives a crud about the phone. But that's for you to explain in the book. ;)

Pretty much everything tech-related leaves a trace. You'd be freaked out if you knew how much was floating around about everything you do. Even your car rats you out, if it's got something like onstar or bluetooth. The trick is accessing the information: providers are notoriously tight with customer data, even if a crime has been commited. It'll require a warrant and probably a bit of posturing on the carrier's part before the data is handed over. They can't get their customers in an uproar thinking they're going to rat them out for those porn sites they're viewing, after all...

Something to think about: if the phone is discovered at a crime scene, regardless of whether they think it's a plant or not it's going to end up in an evidence bag in the police station. It's not going to be turned back over to the good guy for a very long time (if ever). So tracking it will be pretty boring, lol.

Odds are good when the police find it, they'll think they missed it on the first pass unless it's in a completely obvious spot. That's why they look through a scene more than once sometimes. If there's something that already makes them suspicious that good guy isn't the perp, then they might tweak on it. But for the most part criminals are stupid (or act stupidly), and the assumption is going to be the simplest explanation: they missed it, and it's not the work of a criminal mastermind setting someone who confessed up.

08-06-2012, 04:48 AM
Thank you! :) Very helpful! I wasn't planning on returning the phone to the good guy, so that's okay =P I think I will leave the phone off, which makes things easier too. I guess then the last thing is how long it would take them to check the phone for call logs, messages etc, and how long it would take them to notice a seemingly harmless friend app (until of course they dig harder and find a time stamp on it made after the arrest)?

08-06-2012, 05:29 AM
It all depends on why they'd need to. If the good guy confesses, they'd have no real reason to turn it on unless they suspect an accomplice (or they're trying to shore up their case. They might check cell tower records to see if they can track his movement to make sure the timeline works). If they do suspect a second person, then they'd probably do it right away. They might cross-check calls and the friend app, to see if they can find someone he was tight with, but the friend app by itself might not get their interest. That said, if they did cross-check it with calls for a second perp, they'd likely see a time stamp--it's exactly the kind of thing they'd be looking for.

Chances are better that they'd dust it for prints. If there aren't any, because the bad guy touched it and wiped it, well.....THAT might peek their curiousity and make them look things over a little closer.

Mac H.
08-06-2012, 06:04 AM
Some quick thoughts:

1. If you want to put a GPS tracker unnoticed onto someone else's iPhone the best way is to jailbreak it first - that way you can have a fully hidden app that is 100% hidden to the user .. yet still logs all audio, GPS location etc.

2. The area doesn't have to be totally locked off between searches for the evidence to be accepted in an Australian court. There are plenty of examples where evidence was only uncovered at a later, more thorough, search. A recent highly publicised example is the stash of money found at one of the Ibrahim homes. Yes - the defence may argue that it was planted but that's something they can argue in court. The find is still submitted as part of the prosecution case.

3. If you want to see what kind of location information is used in Australian court cases from iPhones then checkout the Crown's evidence brief online for the Marcus Einfeld prosecution. (I used to have the PDF, but it was lost between computers)

They had his location information from cell-towers when his music player synchronised when it started a new track, for example. They couldn't use the continual log of his location from cell towers because that wasn't preserved .. but the logs from real IP connections were.

That gave his location at semi-regular intervals - which contradicted his story as to where he was.

It's also worth noting that in another recent case (http://www.news.com.au/national-old/gerard-baden-clay-conducting-ongoing-affair-at-time-of-wife-allisons-death-was-in-debt-and-had-inquired-about-her-life-insurance-police-affidavits-lodged-in-court-claim/story-e6frfkvr-1226406037780) (Gerard Baden-Clay) the police simply downloaded the iPhone's log and found that it was put on the charger at 1:48am ... when he claimed to be fast asleep in bed at the time.

(In his case, the fact that he googled 'Self incrimination' before calling the police to report her missing may not help his case either!)

Good luck!


08-06-2012, 06:16 AM
Aha! I didn't even consider the prints xD I don't think my bad guy is going to be too considered with wiping off the prints, but that means there's going to be two sets of prints on the phone. So if they're focusing on that, along with the calls, I daresay the app could go unnoticed..

Hi Mac - I will definitely look up those cases you mentioned as it sounds as though they could offer some helpful insight. A hidden app may also do the trick as you say. The area not being locked off also works to my advantage so he can actually go back and plant it.

Thanks so much guys :D