GPS Myth Busting or Protect your Family Jewels

A good friend of mine read a story about thieves, Social Media sites and GPS.

It went something like this. Original story and names changed to protect the innocent and make for a good blog story.

Betty had a lot of jewelry when she died. Her husband, Fred wanted to get rid of it all.

He went thru the jewelry box and organized it all before taking it to a jeweler to be appraised. He was astounded to learn it all was worth about $250,000.

His kids did not want the jewelry and he really could use the cash. So he decided to sell it on Craigslist.

Fred knew that pictures were better than words, so he used his Iphone and took lots of really good pictures of the diamond rings, pearl necklaces, ruby earrings and emerald bracelets. Dozens of fabulous pieces. He put them all back in the case and then set out to post the items for sale.

Fred setup an account on Craigslist and posted individual ads for each of the pieces. He set the asking price for each piece a little less than the appraised value.

Fred also posted the pictures on Facebook with a link back to the Craigslist ads.

Within a few days he was getting lots of email messages and FB messages from interested parties, but most of the inquiries were to see if he would take less money.

Thru Craigslist messages, one guy named Tom, said he would buy it all, but he wanted to meet Fred first to make sure he was dealing with a real person. He asked Fred to meet him at a Starbucks first, without the jewelry, just to be sure.

Fred liked this idea. This way he could make sure the guy was equally real and up honest. So he agreed.

Fred got to the Starbucks as they agreed, but Tom was not there. Fortunately they shared cell phone numbers, so Fred called Tom. “I’m running a little late Fred. Can you wait another 15 minutes,” Tom asked. “Sure”, said Fred.

25 more minutes went by and still no Tom. Fred tried calling again, but this time no answer. Disappointed, Fred headed home. That was a waste of over an hour thought Fred.

As soon as Fred pulled onto his carport, he felt like something was wrong. He walked into the house and immediately saw that he had been robbed. The kitchen, living room, den and bedrooms had all been ransacked. The jewelry case in the bedroom was empty.

Fred knew that he had been taken. He called the police. They tracked the cell phone number for Tom and discovered it was now a dead disposal cell phone. Tom must have been the thief.

Fred had not posted his name or home address on Craigslist and he did not his address information with Tom thru the other messages. How did Tom find out where he lived?

Fred showed the postings and original pictures with the police. Someone assumed that the GPS information that was embedded in the IPhone pictures was the answer. Tom must have gotten this information from the Craigslist photos and as Fred was driving to Starbucks, Tom was likely heading to Fred’s house. He used the Starbucks meeting to get Fred out of the house.

So the story that my friend read warns us not to upload pictures with GPS info to public sites.

However this warning is unfounded, and I tested it myself to find out. The next few paragraphs are absolutely true.

I took a picture of a beer bottle with my IPhone. I used my Facebook and Craigslist accounts to post this picture. I offered to sell the never been opened beer bottle for $2500 on Craigslist.

I copied the picture from my Iphone to my PC and when I viewed the properties I could see the GPS data, which clearly shows my address & house when I mapped it.

I copied the pictures from Facebook using the download hi-res image option, and saved it to my PC as well. Viewing the properties of this image I could see some metadata, but most of the original data had been stripped out, including the GPS info.

I copied the picture from Craigslist and the same loss of metadata occurred. No GPS or camera info.

Tom obviously figured out where Fred lived thru some other method. Maybe he used a phone book or some other directory. But it was not via the GPS info that the IPhone attached to the original picture.

Moral of the story, protect your family jewels. Put them in a safe or safety deposit box when you are advertising to sell them and don’t blame technology for all of the bad things going on in life.