Photo: Google

By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE

Now that most cell phones have sophisticated global tracking devices, if lost, and especially if stolen, will you ever recover your phone?

I cannot speak for those in the United States, but in Mexico, chances are few to none that a recovery will me made.

Yes, you can lock the phone if it is lost, and in the case of an iPhone, you can track it and put a message about how to contact you, but that only applies if the person currently in possession of your phone wants to contact you.

Mine was stolen, and fortunately, I recovered it in 10 hours.

Here is what happened:

My cell phone either fell out of my pocket or was lifted out at a bar in a Mexican beach city. Nothing extraordinary.

I woke up the next morning, couldn’t find my phone and saw on my other devices that my phone was in a location in the outskirts of the city. Maybe some kind soul found it and will contact me, I thought, but the reality was more likely that it was stolen and in a chop shop.

Newer models of iPhones are next to impossible to open, so most are sold for parts for about $200 each.

What to do? Pretty much everyone told me, “Don’t go into that neighborhood, it’s dangerous. And if you do, don’t go alone.”

While the thought of buying another phone for $800 to$1,000 was daunting, even more daunting was the thought of getting everything in a new phone up to speed.

Even when everything has been backed up, a new phone requires hours of work to get everything back in place.

Of course, not being one to follow advice, I decided to go to the address listed for the phone’s location in a taxi. The original address had shifted to one about three blocks away, but in the same neighborhood.

The taxi driver had to use his phone to even find the address.

“Why are you going all the way out there to the middle of nowhere?” he asked.

“Any advice for me?” I asked.

“You better be careful if it’s a house where they sell drugs. They will open the door with guns. If not, likely no one will even open the door as you don’t look like you belong in this neighborhood.”

“I think I’ll wait for you so you have a ride back,” he suggested, to which I responded, “Good idea. If something happens to me, at least report why I was out here.”

On this empty street, I walked up to number 1221.

There was a car in the carport, without plates, dusty from lack of use. There were some signs of life, such as clothing drying and a cylinder gas tank, but the house was locked up tightly.

The car was blocking clear access to the door, but I went ahead and knocked.

I used my key to knock on the windows that faced the carport, as well as the window that faced the street.

Nothing.

Not even the sound of a dog barking, typical when someone is inside.

I sat on the garage wall and saw the taxi driver had backed up to half a block away.

After a few minutes, I repeated my knocking routine and sat on the garage wall for a few minutes more.

Nothing.

I headed back to the taxi, thinking that at least I had made an attempt, when a car came flying down the empty street, stopped and the driver gave me a what-the-f-are-you-doing-in-my-driveway look.

With my friendliest smile, I walked over and asked, “Is this by chance your house?”

His face gave me a I’m-just-driving-down-empty-streets-to-chat-with-strangers look, but he nodded to the affirmative.

I then went into my ramble about how my phone was lost, showed that it is inside this house and likely is worthless since it cannot be unblocked, but told him that I would be happy to pay to get it back.

“Yeah, I have your phone,” he said. “It’s blue. Someone brought it to me to unblock.”

“That’s fantastic. I really appreciate you being honest with me,” I said ironically.

“Well, I don’t know how much the person who brought it to me will want,” he responded, seemingly oblivious to my sarcasm. “How much are you willing to pay?”

Everything I had learned in seminars on negotiation left my brain, and the only thing I could think to say was “I have no idea what a cell phone for parts sells for in this area.”

He looked at me, waiting for a price and I stumble out, “Well, I really have no idea.”

After what seemed like a long pause, he said, “I’d have to see if the person who found it will let it go for $300.”

Still clueless, I responded, “I don’t do any transaction in dollars, but I’ll pay you $200,” thinking that is likely the price for parts.

“Well, I’ll have to see if the person who found it is willing at that price,” he said.

I walked to the taxi to tell him that “gangster man” had my phone, and the taxi driver told me not to get into his car.

I walked back, and the man informed me that $200 will close the deal.

“But I don’t have that much money on me,” I said.

Prior to my excursion into this no-man’s land I had gone to an ATM and taken out the equivalent of $100, thinking I might need to negotiate, but did not want to have too much cash in that neighborhood.

“Okay, I will meet you on the steps of the closest mall in 15 minutes.”

The taxi drove me there and wished me good luck.

I waited. I decided to have something to drink.

I waited some more time and thought to myself that the man was not coming.

But then the man walked up the steps to the restaurant where I was drinking lemonade and greeted my waitress.

“She is my brother-in-law’s wife,” he explained.

He told me that the ATM is inside.

“But I’m at my limit for ATM,” I told him, which was true since, without my phone, I didn’t know how much money was in my debit account.

Thinking he was going to be angry that I was asking for more time, his response was just the opposite.

“No problem,” he said, but in a much more friendly way, “I’ll take you to the next mall over where there is a full bank, and you can go to the window for a withdrawal.”

After extremely long lines in the bank and me running out to let him know that, I came out with the rest of the money.

I counted it in front of him, and he did not even take it but instead motioned down to a blue phone in the cup holder and said, “Is that yours?”

I checked if it had the “if-you-find-this-phone” message showing on the screen, and I nod that it is mine.

“Well, great,” he said. “Where do you want me to drop you off?”

After telling him where to leave me, a 15-minute ride away, we charged off, and I tell him that I write a weekly column for a newspaper.

I hand him the cash and take my phone.

“Now that this is over, would you mind if I ask you a few questions?” I said. “Feel free not to answer what you don’t want to.”

“Sure, no problem,” he said, as if I had known him for years.

He obviously does this type of phone ransom daily.

“So where are you from? How long have you been doing this? What was the lowest I could have paid?” I enquired.

“How long of a window would I have had before the phone really would have been sold for parts? What would he have done if after that long time in the bank I had appeared with a police officer?”

I will leave his responses for part two of this column.

I thanked him for the ride and told him no hard feelings.

I said I wanted a discount because my case was not on my phone .

He laughed and said, “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow for that.”

I exited his car and walked happily two blocks to my house, knowing how lucky I was to have gotten my phone back and have survived what could have been a nasty encounter.

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