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Sunday, March 28, 2010

I don't know what's worse...

... losing a cell phone and not having a clue where it is, or losing a cell phone and knowing exactly where it is... but not being able to get it back.

Here's the back-story:

Since I didn't need to make any calls the other evening after getting home from work, I didn't realize my cell phone was missing until the following morning when I was preparing to go out.  I could have sworn it was in that jacket pocket... but maybe I'd taken it out when I got home. 

I looked in the usual spots and even asked Yonah if he'd been playing with it.  Nada!

So I did what I always do when I can't find my cell phone; I called it from the house phone and listened for the ring.  Only this time when I called it, it was busy.  Hmmm.  I called a few more times and still it was busy.

Finally after about ten tries, it started ringing, and a man answered... in Arabic.

In an instant I realized I must have forgotten to zip up the jacket pocket where I put my cell phone, so somewhere along my ride home on the new scooter the phone had fallen out.

I asked who I was speaking to, and the man replied (in heavily accented Hebrew), "I'm the one who has your phone".  There was something about the way he spoke that made me certain he was smiling.  This was clearly the call he'd been expecting since finding the phone... and he greeted me like an old friend

Arab:  I've been waiting for you to call.

Me:  You could have called me, you know.  My home number is programmed into the phone.

Arab:  I know, I saw it.  But when doing business it is always best to wait until the customer enters your shop.

Me:  We're doing business?  How's that?  You found my phone and I want it back.  Where are you... I'll come and get it.

Arab:  But of course we are doing business.  I have something you want... something you need.  This means you have to pay for it.  I think 500 shekels [approx. $135] would be fair.

Me [stunned]:  What?!  That's my phone you have!  I'm not paying you for my own phone.  You can tell me where you are or I'll have Cellcom trace this call to wherever you are.  Once they do that and bring in the police, you won't even get the small reward I was planning on paying for the safe return of the phone.  You'll go to jail!

Arab [chuckling]:  Now you are being naive.  Do you really think the phone company and the police are going to come to a little Bedouin village in the desert... just to get back your cellular?  I think they will tell you to go pay the small insurance fee and pick up a replacement phone from Cellcom.  But we're not really talking about your phone are we?  If we were you would already have hung up and driven to the nearest Cellcom to get a new phone.  No, we're talking about the hundreds of phone numbers that you have programmed into your phone's memory... numbers that it will take you months to replace.  And some of them you will never find again. Surely that is worth something to you.

Me:  What makes you think I haven't made a copy of my phone memory?

Arab:  You haven't.  If you had you wouldn't still be talking to me.

Me:  Look, I'll give you 100 shekels for the phone... take it or leave it.  That's what it will cost me to replace it.  You can come to the gas station at the entrance to Kiryat Arba at 1:00 this afternoon.

Arab... I'll accept 500 shekels... today here in my village.  Tomorrow the price will have gone up.

I vaguely recall yelling some obscenities at him and hanging up the phone.  Then I called up Cellcom and reported the phone stolen.  They immediately shut off the phone and asked me where I'd lost it.  I explained about losing the phone along the road and having spoken to the extortionist who now had it.

The customer service rep made a tsk tsk sound on the other end of the phone and explained that I should not attempt to negotiate with the man.  She said it was fairly common in such circumstances to arrange to meet and make an exchange... only to get robbed of your money, valuables or even your car.

While we were speaking she did a quick check to see if there had been any outgoing calls made since the time I had lost it the previous evening.  Apparently the extortionist and his entire village had spent much of the night waking up friends and relatives in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  She assured me I wouldn't be charged for the calls, and told me where the nearest service center was so I could pick up a replacement phone.

It took less than 30 minutes in the store before I was walking out with a new phone.  But I was still fuming... precisely because it was new.  The ring tones were not mine.  The phone memory was empty.  The thoughtfully programmed preferences and painstakingly downloaded apps were nowhere to be found.  All of the stored messages were gone, gone gone.

For a moment I thought about how I might track down this Bedouin Arab, not really sure if it was to pay him his ransom or to exact sweet revenge.  But I dismissed these urges as quickly as they had come.  It was maddening to lose something that plays so pivotal a role in one's life.  But it would be madness to let an inconvenience transform me into a prisoner to - or for - an extortionist.

So the lesson we take from this, boys and girls, is to back up your phone's memory to your computer at least once a month. 

Oh, and needless to say, if your home, work or mobile numbers were on my lost phone, please send me an email or an SMS with your contact info.  In the mean time, please don't take offense if I haven't called to wish you a Chag Sameach (happy holiday).

Posted by David Bogner on March 28, 2010 | Permalink


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Why not agree to pay, call the police, and have them do a sting? This is clearly a serial thief.

Posted by: Seth Levy | Mar 28, 2010 6:32:22 PM

Something like this happened to me where I live in America- The guy on the other end said to meet him at a gas station. He proceeded to ask me for money and when I said no, he and his buddies started punching and I was left with a broken nose and no cell phone. The guy was arrested and spent a while in jail, but it was not worth it to chase after him.

Posted by: Mike | Mar 28, 2010 7:18:17 PM

Wow I've left my phone in shops a couple of times and several friends have misplaced theirs but I've never heard of anyone behaving like that.
Even when my coworker's phone was stolen they returned it, though the memory had been wiped.

My commiserations
Hag Sameach

Posted by: Esther | Mar 28, 2010 7:46:46 PM

This is tough.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Mar 28, 2010 8:11:37 PM

Tough break...

If your new phone is supported by iSync (see for the list of supported phones), you can set up your Mac to automatically sync with your phone. Just set it and forget it. My Mac and phone update each other, wirelessly, twice a day.

Email me if you want a detailed walk-through.

Chag Kasher veSame'ach

Posted by: wogo | Mar 28, 2010 10:03:13 PM

Whoops... The link didn't come through...

I'll try again:


Posted by: wogo | Mar 28, 2010 10:04:46 PM

Reminds me of a similar story I read over here.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 28, 2010 10:14:24 PM

Load this phone up (minus the sim card) with explosives and leave it in the same place?

Nah, that's probably a bit extreme. How about stink bombs? Or one of those annoying beeping things from thinkgeek?

Posted by: Tanya | Mar 28, 2010 10:37:25 PM

We had a similar story but with my inlaws' car. It was stolen from the parking lot of the supermarket, with their cellphone in it (they always forget it). My husband phoned up the cellphone and an Arab answered, and similarly offered the entire package, car and phone, for 10,000 shekels. Husband was outraged, and the Arab said, all innocent like, "What? Don't you have insurance?". My husband phoned the police who immediately called the cellphone, but there was already no answer. The police strongly recommended not going after the car or phone. Not only might he lose the car and phone, but his life too.

Nice people, eh?

Posted by: annie | Mar 28, 2010 11:03:27 PM

Here's a pretty cool story - http://happywaffle.livejournal.com/5890.html

For me, it would make my blood boil and I would want to exact revenge in the worst way possible. Of course, in real-life I would get over it pretty quickly.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 29, 2010 12:16:09 AM

I'm glad I'm not the only one who screams obscenities to the person who stole my cellphone.

I SO feel your pain.

Posted by: Jessica Gottlieb | Mar 29, 2010 1:01:36 AM

Some comments: Several years ago, I returned a lost cell phone,without even getting a Thank You. Last week I lost a $100 bill in a bank. A teller found the bill, I went to the bank to pick it up, thanked her, and gave her a $20 reward. You were really robbed of your cell phone,and the personal items associated with it will take much time to replace. But at least you didn`t give in to extortion.I gave in to such extortion several years ago, to protect a friend,and regret it to this day.

Posted by: Ed | Mar 29, 2010 2:19:32 AM

Hi David,

My sympathy for being ripped off like that. I had a similar humiliation, but not so critical when someone stole my boots from my gym locker and left me shoeless! Anyway, I have no idea how to back up the data in my low tech verizon phone.

Posted by: Karen Avrech | Mar 29, 2010 2:33:36 AM

I guess we have all had something we really wanted stolen from us.

I have become neurotic when going to the pool. My daughter had her sandals stolen, I had my thick fleece jacket stolen... (not to mention all the thing we forgot and were "gone" by the time we went back to look)

Posted by: RivkA | Mar 29, 2010 2:56:22 AM

I suppose if you really wanted revenge you could have kept the phone intact, and given the number to every telemarketer, roto-caller, and charity organization in the Western (or Eastern) Hemisphere. The guy would have paid YOU to take your phone back. (Think "The Ransom of Red Chief".)

Sorry - I don't mean to make light of your anguish. Had it been me, I would have been absolutely beyond livid.

May this be the worst confrontation you ever have with scum like that. And have a Chag Kasher V'Sameach.

Posted by: psachya | Mar 29, 2010 6:08:34 AM


I've not lost my phone "read: brain" like that before, but I have lost its contents on a couple of occasions, the quest to replace it all can be tedious and aggravating to the extreme. Enter in apps similar to what wogo suggested, and a previously replaced (old contract) phone you can sync all your contacts with.

That said, if there's any positive to be drawn, the quest to put it all back just so can re-introduce you some of the untravelled backwaters (ringtones, friends, and apps) that you hadn't noticed you'd forgotten until now.

Small comfort, I know.

My the time putting it all back together be well spent.

Posted by: Jethro | Mar 29, 2010 2:03:01 PM

I had a friend go through the same thing. He lost his phone at a bar in Jerusalem. Somehow, it made a journey to Ramallah. While we thought we were bad ass and could beat the guy up, we were smart enough not to go to Ramallah to give him 400 Shek for the phone. It was insured and much safer to just go back to Cellcom.

Posted by: Eric | Mar 29, 2010 7:57:37 PM

What a lowlife.

I returned someone's phone once. He was a Latino immigrant (maybe illegal?). He tried to pay me. The huge grin on his face was reward enough.

Posted by: Lisa | Mar 30, 2010 8:56:10 PM

Oy! I'm so sorry to hear that. I had my cellphone stolen off my office desk by a student at the IDC when I stepped out for literally 2 minutes back in November and I still haven't gotten all the numbers I lost replaced. It is a major pain. What a way for you to start the holiday :( I hope you and your family are having a wonderful Chag despite it!

Posted by: Yaeli | Apr 1, 2010 2:35:49 PM

Oy! I'm so sorry to hear that. I had my cellphone stolen off my office desk by a student at the IDC when I stepped out for literally 2 minutes back in November and I still haven't gotten all the numbers I lost replaced. It is a major pain. What a way for you to start the holiday :( I hope you and your family are having a wonderful Chag despite it!

Posted by: Yaeli | Apr 1, 2010 2:35:50 PM

sometimes it happens the other way around too... a friend of mine once found a phone and went to a bit of trouble to return it, only to be thanked by a few weeks of constant hate messages left on her answering machine by the psychotic original owner who was accusing her of making long-distance calls on it. it got so bad her husband actually called up my friend to apologize for his wife harassing her and ask that she not call the police and report her.

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 1, 2010 10:31:07 PM

Well Posted, David. I feel for your loss, but imagining the nameless blackmailer/extortionist talking the the Mickey Rourke voice of Whiplash in the new Iron Man movie made things more darkly humorous for me.

Try it! And if you are still in need of therapy in a month or so, see Iron Man 2 ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Apr 3, 2010 10:55:47 PM

Kappora, as annoying as it is, it's a phone.

Posted by: Batya from Shiloh | Apr 7, 2010 7:05:24 AM

So for once, things are better in chutz la'aretz. I lost my phone on a beach in north Wales and when I called it, the woman who answered said she had been talking to my father ( which tickled me quite a lot as he had already been dead for a few years then - it was my father in law) and had already arranged to post it back as we were both staying in opposite directions from the beach. My father in law was so impressed with human nature, that he paid the postage and wouldn't let me pay him back.

Of course this doesn't always happen and my husband lost a newish i-phone in Ikea and never saw it again.

sorry you had to deal with this pre-Pesach - what a low-life!

Posted by: Mrs Belogski | Apr 7, 2010 5:54:50 PM

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