Now on Digg: http://digg.com/apple/Online_detective_work_helps_nab_bad_guy_with_stolen_MacBook
By Mike Cassidy
Mercury News Columnist
Article Launched: 06/10/2008 01:33:27 AM PDT
The guy who ended up with Kim Lingel's stolen MacBook and iPhone wasn't counting on Joey Carenza III.
"When he gets the scent of something and it really intrigues him, he's on it," says Lingel, 25, who counts Carenza as one of her best friends. "He's tenacious."
You don't want Carenza on your trail. He is a high-tech, crime-fighting superhero. The guy knows his way around Apple's operating system - so much so that he acts as tech support for his friends. To make his life easier, he subscribes to a $99.95-a-year Apple service that allows him to access their Macs remotely so he can help with their problems.
Problems like, in Lingel's case, having your MacBook and cell phone snatched from your pickup truck in Santa Cruz. She had parked in a church lot in late March when she visited her boyfriend. She didn't plan to stay long.
"I had gone on in to have, I thought, a 20-minute fight with my boyfriend, and it turned into, like, a six-hour discussion."
When she emerged, her stuff was gone.
"Joey was the first person I called when it happened," she says of the burglary. Days went by without a word from Carenza, 32, who was living in Los Angeles, where he is the tour manager for musician Leonard Cohen.
Not a word, but Carenza was on the case.
"One of the things about being a good tour manager," Carenza says, "is you have to be a bit obsessive about the details."
Yes, obsessive. Carenza turned to a feature called Back to My Mac,
which gave him the power to watch everything the man with Lingel's laptop did online.
"He was kind of bumbling around," Carenza says. "I could tell he wasn't a Mac user. He was trying to do a lot of Windows stuff that wasn't working."
Carenza watched and learned.
"He used the same birth date at several sites," Carenza says. "He used the same mother's maiden name. He applied to a local dating site and put in his information. It was like he was filling out a police report for me - height, weight, eye color."
The man tried to sign on to Lingel's eBay account. (Carenza remotely changed the eBay password, among others.) He visited porn sites and downloaded music from file-sharing sites.
"I knew he was kind of a novice," Carenza says. "No self-respecting nerd would use Limewire."
And one more thing. The MacBook is equipped with a camera, which Carenza activated.
"As soon as he saw it open, he just started taking pictures of himself," Carenza says. "So I started taking screen shots. I took hundreds of screen shots and actually got a picture so clear, I mean, you can read his tattoos." ("Hate Life" and the like.)
Carenza started a running narrative of his crime-fighting on Live Journal (you can find links on my blog), which brought a slew of suggestions, including the advice to put the string on private until the bad guy was caught.
Then Carenza called the Santa Cruz police to say he knew the suspect's date of birth, porn preferences, mother's maiden name and an IP address that, with Internet provider Comcast's help, could lead the cops to within 150 feet of their suspect.
It took some wrangling with Comcast, police say, and a tip from someone arrested in another case, but eventually detectives found a shed along a commercial strip where Sean Martin, 27 and on probation, was living and leaching off a home's unsecured wireless network.
"We found him with at least five laptops and desktops, four digital cameras, five iPods of various types, the iPhone, a police scanner," says Santa Cruz detective Mark Eveleth. "There was just a plethora of property."
Eveleth says Martin is probably not the guy who broke into Lingel's truck. Instead, Eveleth says, police believe he works in some sort of middleman role. Martin, who is in custody and charged with possession of stolen property, couldn't be reached for comment. He's pleaded not guilty.
Just over a week ago, Eveleth returned Lingel's stuff. The iPhone was beyond repair, but Lingel says Apple replaced it. (Warranty, you know.) And the laptop was a little worse for the wear.
"It definitely didn't look like it looked when she lost it," Eveleth says. "It had a lot of stickers. It was extremely personalized by the suspect."
"666 stickers and skull and crossbones, 'Support Your Local Creature,' " Lingel explains. "It's exactly what you'd expect."
Lingel says that although she is grateful to Carenza and the police, she isn't feeling the overwhelming joy of a lost article returned.
"Every time I look at it," she says, "it looks like something that got stolen."
So she might clean up the Mac, sell it on eBay and start over with a new machine.
Either way, Lingel still has the satisfaction that, this time, the bad guys didn't win.