How Google Maps helped track a thief who stole a phone in two hours in Tamil Nadu

Raj Bhagat tracked the thief and caught him red-handed with the phone and many other things that the repeat offender had stolen.


Published Feb 05, 2024 | 12:58 PMUpdatedFeb 05, 2024 | 1:07 PM

Tamil Nadu mapping expert uses his expertise to track his father's lost phone in two hours. (iStock)

What are the odds of finding a phone that was stolen on a moving train, especially when the thief deboarded at the next station?

It seems in Raj Bhagat’s case, not only luck but technology too was on his side as he tracked the thief and caught him red-handed with the phone and many other things that the repeat offender had stolen during the course of the day.

All in a matter of two hours.

“When I could see him standing right in front of me with my dad’s handbag, I can’t tell you how good it felt. Of course, it helped that I could read maps and that I was in a small place like Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu that I knew quite well,” Bhagat told PTI over the phone.

Incidentally, Bhagat tracks data and maps professionally to aid government policymaking. In fact, his mapping expertise was used by filmmaker Mani Ratnam for his magnum opus, Ponnyin Selvan in which maps are used to show the core Chola territory and the areas that were conquered and subdued, he added.

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The incident

Bhagat said his father had lost the handbag containing his phone on the intervening night of 3 and 4 February, when he was probably busy looking for his seat in the Nagercoil-Kacheguda Express and settling himself in, at about 1.40 am.

When his father realised his bag was missing, almost two hours had already passed. After looking around, he called Bhagat from someone else’s phone with the news.

Luckily, said Bhagat, his family shares location with each other and he could see his father’s phone moving along the track near Melapalayam in Tirunelveli. “So, I deduced that the thief got off at Tirunelveli junction and was returning to Nagercoil in another train,” he said.

Bhagat decided to take a friend along and confront the thief. “We also stopped along the way and convinced a railway police cop to come along with us,” said Bhagat.

But when the Kanyakumari express, on which the thief was coming back, according to the map, pulled in, it was too crowded and Bhagat lost the thief in the crowd.

“But through the map movement, I could again deduce that he exited through the main gate and took a local bus that connects the railway station with Anna bus stand. So, we started chasing the bus on our bike,” said Bhagat.

Finally, the man got off at Anna bus stand, said Bhagat.

“Google Maps gave me a location that was accurate by two metres. I would see him there right in front of me and confirm that the bag that he was holding was my father’s. It was only after that we moved in, and with the help of people around, we cornered him,” added Bhagat.

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Repeat offender

Later, at the police station, the man was revealed to be a repeat offender and police found all the other items he had stolen that day — cell phone charger, Bluetooth earphones, lock and key, train chain, and ₹1,000 in cash.

“I understand technology like location tracking can be invasive to one’s privacy. But in this instance, something that all in my family do — tell each other where they are exactly at any point in time — so that my mother is not worried, helped us find the man in flat two hours. I think that is incredible,” said Bhagat.

Incidentally, location tracking and social media volunteers had recently helped a Mumbai-based Nikhil Jain find his AirPods that he lost in Kerala all the way to Goa. The man who took it surrendered at a police station near his home when his neighbour — who had come across Jain’s post on social media — told him about it.

The story’s outcome shared on social media and published in newspapers helped another, Kannada actress Shraddha Srinath, find hers too.

In her case, when she posted on social media seeking help, especially from Jain, because hers was tracked to Andhra Pradesh, the man who stole it, an acquaintance of her assistant apparently, decided to return it when he realised that she had managed to track the location and was looking to find him.

(Disclaimer: The headline, subheads, and intro of this report along with the photos may have been reworked by South First. The rest of the content is from a syndicated feed, and has been edited for style.)