iSWAT: Possible police impersonation in hunt for allegedly missing iPhone 5

Tina Nguyen Contributor
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With the iPhone 5 rumored to be released sometime this autumn, rumors about a prototype being lost at a San Francisco bar by sloshed Apple engineers are sure to grab anyone’s attention.

What’s made the case of the missing iPhone 5 prototype interesting, however, isn’t the fact that it’s an oddly ironic repetition of last year’s missing iPhone 4 prototype story. It’s the lengths that Apple has apparently gone in order to get the phone back — possibly including police impersonation.

Based on a single anonymous source, CNET first reported on August 31 that at some point in July, a drunk Apple employee had accidentally left a prototype iPhone 5 at Cava 22, a Mexican-themed lounge and bar in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Though Apple has yet to issue a press statement confirming or denying that an iPhone has gone missing, the tech giant presumably didn’t want to see its baby publicly disemboweled on a blog. Using satellite positioning software built into the device, they traced the phone to the house of 22-year-old Sergio Calderone, according to SFWeekly.

According to Calderon, who had been at Cava 22 the night the iPhone went missing, four men and two women with badges “of some kind” showed up at his house, stating that they were with the San Francisco Police Department.

Believing that they were police, Calderon allowed two men in the house to search for the phone and permitted them to inspect his car and computer, with Calderon firm that he never possessed a missing phone, much less known that one was missing. They offered him $300 if he returned the phone, no questions asked.

When that failed — or even before that, the record is unclear — they reportedly threatened his family. In an interview, Calderon, who is an American citizen, recounted that “One of the officers [asked], ‘Is everyone in this house an American citizen?’ They said we were all going to get into trouble.”

After a fruitless search, one of the men gave Calderon a phone number, asking him to get in touch if he learned anything new.

The only problem: that search was never on the books.

In the days after the story about the missing iPhone broke, two separate spokesmen from the SFPD said that there was no record of the alleged search, nor of any investigation into lost Apple property.

SFWeekly traced the phone number given to Calderon back to an Apple employee: Anthony Colon, a senior investigator at Apple, according to his LinkedIn page. “If [Calderon] is saying that the people said they were SFPD, that’s a big deal,” Lt. Troy Dangerfield said in a statement to SFWeekly’s The Snitch.

However, hours after that statement, the SFPD publicly backtracked.  They released a statement acknowledging that “about three or four” plainclothes officers had “assisted” Apple in their search, though they did not properly, nor officially, record the event as an actual police search.

Though they only referred to the object in question as a “lost item,” the press release was titled “iphone5.doc” — a strong hint that a shiny new unreleased iPhone is in the wild.

Calderon later confirmed to SFWeekly that only two of the six men entered his home and stated that had he known that the men were not actual on-duty police officers, he would have never let them search his home.

It remains unclear whether Apple’s act legally constitutes the impersonation of a police officer — a misdemeanor under California state law.

Prior to Friday’s announcement that police were indeed involved, it was unclear whether there even was a missing iPhone: tech bloggers speculated that the similarity of this event to last year’s Redwood City debacle hinted at a highly ironic PR stunt.

Nevertheless, Apple isn’t taking any more chances with their drunk engineers. They’re now searching for “New Product Security Managers,” according to PC Magazine. According to the job listing posted on September 1, the duties will center on “overseeing the protection of, and managing risks to, Apple’s unreleased products and related intellectual property.”

As PCMag’s David Murphy dryly put it, potential applicants must have a record of “regularly achiev[ing] their goals in a large business environment — goals that will transform into projects like, ‘Make sure nobody loses an iPhone 6,’ we surmise.”

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