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Tech Theft: How to Return Lost Devices, Without Police Help 

Wednesday, Jul 18 2012

High-tech San Francisco offers plenty of ways to reconnect lost gadgets with their owners, but sometimes old-fashioned is the way to go.

A 4-gigabyte iPod Nano — like one recently found on Mission near 17th Street — is worth a fair amount of money — and probably has sentimental value to the person who lost it. Take it to San Francisco Police Department's Mission Station, however, and the on-duty officers will say they have no way to return the diminutive jukebox to its owner. They'll put in storage and hope the right person claims it. Their suggestion: talk to Apple.

The folks at the Apple store aren't much help, either. They say they can find out who originally registered the Nano — if anyone had registered it, that is. But there's no guarantee the device hasn't changed hands since then.

Most people would give up at this point and claim ownership of the pint-sized music box, but not this reporter, who now had a burning question: What can you do with a fallen iPod? I discovered that most of the iPod's songs were registered to the same person, whose name and e-mail address were helpfully included. So I sent an e-mail: if the recipient could identify some songs, she could claim it.

A week passed with no reply. After a second e-mail went unreturned, I did some online sleuthing — and wondered exactly when "good deed" becomes "creepy stalker." Only one person with that name turned up in San Francisco. Another e-mail went out, this time to her work address. Still no dice. Craigslist didn't work out, either.

Exasperated, I made a typical San Francisco move: I shared my dilemma on Facebook. Some suggested posting a "found iPod" flyer. One friend suggested giving it to a needy youth, but another — who works in criminal defense — said a kid caught with a Nano registered to someone else could be taken for a thief. SFPD Sgt. Michael Andraychak says it's certainly possible; the police keep a database of stolen electronics and their serial numbers.

My first instinct was probably the right one, according to Andraychak: It's illegal to hang on to iPods, no matter how forsaken they look.

"It's not advisable to merely keep it or give it to someone else," he says. "If the property had been stolen and [was] later found, gifted away ... the possessor could potentially be exposed to criminal prosecution."

If the police keep serial numbers on file, why did Mission officers shoo me away? Andraychak wasn't sure. "I was not present, so I don't know what happened or what was discussed."

About The Author

Beth Winegarner


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