After a hotel worker allegedly stole her AirPods, woman helps Quebec police track them down
A Toronto woman says she used geo-tracking software on her smartphone to help Quebec police track down her Apple AirPods after an employee at the hotel she stayed at allegedly stole them during her stay.
Sahar Mohammadzadeh stayed at the Impéria Hôtel & Suites in Boucherville, a suburb on Montreal's South Shore, during the Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend last June. Just before checking out on June 20, she said she noticed her Louis Vuitton purse and some cash were missing after leaving the room. She said she then went to the front desk to report it, but claimed the staff were "incredibly unhelpful" and did not take responsibility for the theft.
"And at that point, I went back upstairs to my room and I kind of Googled, like, what do you do in a situation like this? Because again, I wasn't getting any help from the hotel. And the first thing that came up was to call and make a police report, which I did," the 28-year-old said in an interview.
After returning home to Ontario, she emailed the hotel on June 22 to explain what happened and how "my privacy was completely violated." She demanded the hotel pay her the estimated value of her belongings, approximately $1,500.
She claimed hotel staff initially responded to her email but later ignored her follow-up correspondence asking for action to be taken.
"If they responded to me and apologized and said, 'We're sorry that you had this experience,' I would have been a lot happier and cared less about the monetary value of these items. But it's the fact that they just did not even acknowledge that this happened. That's what really, really upset me because you can't just erase that this happened," she said.
AIRPODS TRACED BACK TO HOTEL, SOMEONE'S HOME
She realized her AirPods were also missing. When she opened the "Find my" app on her iPhone, she could track their location on a map.
She said she felt "completely vindicated" when she saw that the AirPods were still active at the same hotel she stayed at on Montarville Boulevard because she had suspected a worker had taken them. Then she noticed over the next few days, the device kept showing up at the same two locations on her screen: the hotel and at someone's home.
The Longueuil police officer who took on her case was able to compel the hotel through a court order to provide a list of employees within 30 days, according to emails provided to CTV.
In early November, the officer got a judge to authorize a search warrant at the same address that kept showing up on the map.
Mohammadzadeh even participated in a bit of detective work. Just before the officer showed up at the door to the person's home, Mohammadzadeh was sending him the individual's real-time location roughly every half hour using the "Find my" feature on her phone.
The mobile app comes with most iPhones and shows users the last known location of their Apple devices, including laptops, tablets and earbuds.
On Nov. 29, she got some good news. The officer emailed her to let her know the stolen AirPods had been recovered after executing the search warrant at the person's home.
It was music to her ears.
"I was like, 'Oh my God. Okay, well, I guess that worked,'" she said Tuesday. "So I filled out a bit of a form and then [the officer] said, 'I'm going to send this back to you, so you have it before Christmas.'"
In one of the emails provided to CTV, the investigator told Mohammadzadeh it was a hotel employee who was allegedly in possession of the AirPods, however, the whereabouts of the luxury handbag and cash are still unknown.
HOTEL TIGHT-LIPPED ON WOMAN'S COMPLAINT
On Dec. 16, she received her stolen earbuds in the mail along with a letter from the investigator confirming the release of the "seized evidence."
Reached by phone on Monday, CTV News asked the hotel how it dealt with the reported theft and whether the implicated hotel worker was still employed.
Nikolas Salouros, the hotel's operations and revenue director, declined to answer CTV's questions due to the police investigation.
CTV asked Longueuil police if the suspect has been arrested or charged, but a spokesperson declined to comment on the case because it is still under investigation.
Mohammadzadeh is now going public with her story as a warning to others about how the hotel handled her ordeal and to give people a bit of hope.
"I think the hotel has to be accountable or at least have some sort of consequence because even to this day, they have completely taken themselves out of the situation. And I don't think that's fair either," Mohammadzadeh said.
There are countless stories online of people tracking their lost electronic devices using simple-to-use geo-location mobile apps. Because it's so simple, some people are tempted to take matters into their own hands to get them back.
Mohammadzadeh felt the same urge to approach the suspect herself and said she probably would have had she lived in Montreal.
"But because I was in Toronto and it's not a very close trip and you don't know what you're walking into … I just thought, you know what, I'm gonna put my faith in the police that they're going to be able to do what they can with the information that's available to us, which I'm happy I did," she said.
"Material items are material items. I don't want to ever put myself or anyone else in danger to try to retrieve that. So I would leave it to the professionals. But, for sure, it crossed my mind a couple of times."
It's that kind of temptation that police recommend people avoid.
"We recommend at all times, in a situation where a person finds objects that have been declared stolen, to contact the police department involved," said a Longueuil police spokesperson in a brief email to CTV.
Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel reportedly had his AirPods stolen during the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona last May and later found them discarded in a shop display, seemingly left there after the thieves knew he was hunting them down.
Another woman, Juliette Fox, filmed herself confronting a supermarket worker she had accused of stealing her AirPods.
The tracking feature has even been reportedly used to track the location of Russian troops during the invasion of Ukraine. A man posted on his Instagram account that after his home near Kyiv was ransacked by Russian forces, he noticed his AirPods were showing up across the Russian border.
"Thanks to technology, I know where my AirPods is now. It was looted by russians orcs from my home in Gostomel," he wrote on Instagram.
Carmi Levy, a tech expert based in London, Ont., said the "Find My" feature can be useful but it might take some time for it to accurately locate a missing device.
"You have to track it over time to really get a sense of where it is. But it does give you, or in this case the police, a fairly broad, decent idea of where it could be, at least where to initiate the search," said Levy, who sometimes uses it when he misplaces his AirPods on walks with his dog.
In Mohammadzadeh's case, however, he said she made the right decision by going to police.
"Just because you see your AirPods on a map doesn't mean that it's safe to go out and retrieve it on your own. And the advice always is if you're not sure, then you should contact police and enlist their assistance in getting it back.
"Never go alone."