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Police arrest MacBook thief caught on camera by victim

Joshua Kaufman

Screenshot of the man in possession of Joshua Kaufman's MacBook

When Joshua Kaufman's MacBook was stolen, he pursued the thief who took it by using the "Hidden" software he had installed on the laptop. It allowed him to check in and capture snapshots of the guy in possession of the computer, using the built-in iSight camera. Kaufman created a blog with pictures of the man in various states of undress and activity as he used the MacBook. It took more than two months, but Tuesday, the Oakland police finally arrested the suspected thief, a limo driver who they tricked into picking them up.

As Kaufman explains on Tumblr in "This Guy Has My MacBook," the laptop was taken March 21 from his Oakland apartment, while he was away from it. He reported it to the police, "but they couldn't help me due to lack of resources."

Not so the resourceful Kaufman, an "interactive designer" at ExactTarget, which provides on-demand email and one-to-one marketing. He had installed Hidden, an app that starts at $15 a year, which not only locates the missing device, but also collects photos on the other side using the computer's built-in camera, as well as screenshots of activity on Macs.

Kaufman joins the ranks of other victims who refused to let thieves make a clean getaway, who used the tracking software installed on the devices to lead them to justice. We've told you about Mark Bao, who posted a humiliating video of his violator (which Kaufman repeated, with stills), and Hugo Scheckter, who tracked down his iPad and offered a play-by-play through tweets.

He posted several pictures of the alleged thief, who seemed to spend his time in front of the computer sleeping (see photo above), in bed (shirtless), signing into his Gmail, deleting Kaufman's Mac account and "staring deliriously" (see photo below). The app even captured a picture of the thief driving away with Kaufman's computer.

Joshua Kaufman

Another image of the thief captured by the Hidden app

Kaufman created links for each of the photos, under which hundreds of comments have poured in, many from his thousands of Twitter followers.

Kaufman's Twitter account also carried updates, but didn't really have much about the theft until May 31, when he first posted the link to Tumblr.

Today he created a timeline that very handily explains the progression of events leading up to yesterday's outpouring of online attention — a cacophony of retweets and pickups in Gizmodo and Gawker — that finally spurred the police into action. This only happened after Kaufman tried to present police detectives with more evidence at the end of April gathered from Hidden, including network and location information.

Oakland Police Department's media relations officer, Holly Joshi, told us that it was "human error" that delayed Kaufman's case. She said that the theft investigations unit handles 2,400 reports a month amongst three investigators, and that somehow, Kaufman's report had been erroneously filed rather than put in the second priority category, which assigns investigators for follow up when evidence is present.

Joshi said that within hours of finding Kaufman's original report, about 5 p.m. yesterday, the case had been assigned to an investigator, who orchestrated an undercover operation which put the suspect behind bars. 

Muthanna Aldebashi, 27, is charged with possession of stolen merchandise and is in jail on a $20,000 bail.

Kaufman tweeted Tuesday: "ARRESTED! An Oakland police officer just called me to let me know that they arrested the guy in my photos! BOOYA!"

And today, Kaufman went to the police to be reunited with his MacBook.

As one commenter observed, "Moral of the story: if you want people to do their job, Tweet."

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