We often fail to fully appreciate the extraordinary links created by the vast network that is social media. We blog, we post, we comment – not realizing we are laying indelible prints of our private lives on the world’s cyber highways. Imprints that can be tracked as easily as distress flares on the ocean.
This incredible story of what happen to my mom and her husband Rupert on a tropical island in the Philippines is an example of the power of the internet to connect – proving itself a communicative tool par excellence.
My mom, (Erleen) and Rupert had been lucky enough to find a home on Siquijor, a small island in the Philippines which, untainted by the relentless march of global tourism, remains largely an unspoilt paradise. Siquijor is about the size of the Isle of Wight with a few small resorts dotted along the coast and a number of substantially-sized European retirement homes. Predominately though, the island has remained unchanged for centuries, with the local people still living in Nipa palm huts.
But I’ll let my mom tell you the story in her own words of how social media helped us catch a thief.
“For the last couple of years we have lived in a small, one bedroom native-style cottage with panoramic views over the South China Sea. Safe – you bet! Most of our friends here never even close their doors when they go out – never mind locking them. It is our usual evening habit to cook on a small barbeque shortly after sunset at 6pm – and then to sit and watch the lights of the fishing boats out to sea and the amazing panoply of stars. The island abounds with fireflies and the sight is spellbinding. Warm, sultry, peaceful – with an average evening temperature of around 28C.
One evening last month we went inside at 8pm and were shocked to find that someone had cut through the mosquito screen on our bedroom window, removed four glass panes from the Jalousie window, and crawled inside. Two laptop computers had been stolen, along with a new Kindle ebook reader, wifi aerial, charger and two backpacks. All this within 20 metres of where we were sitting – and we never heard a thing!
We immediately contacted the police in our local town of Larena (about 5 miles away), who appeared not to be busy at 8.15 pm on a Monday evening as they arrived within minutes; an army of officers, all smartly dressed in new uniforms and the shiniest shoes we have ever seen. They took our statements and viewed the crime scene – assuring us that this kind of forced entry was most unusual here. Most crimes, they said, were purely opportunistic where careless tourists had left things lying around on the beach.
They also informed us that although they would try their best, they had never been able to recover goods or arrest anyone in any of the previous crimes of this type. So all of our stuff had vanished into the night – and we were fairly resigned that we would never see it again…
It was near midnight when we used our mobile phone (thankfully not taken) to change all our passwords on our email and other accounts. We also informed friends and family that the theft had taken place, and should they get ‘strange’ emails requesting money, etc, it would not be from us.
Almost a week later our daughter, contacted us to say that the thief had contacted her on Skype, using our name and account. (we totally forgot about Skype as we rarely use it). The thief had begun with a Skype chat, saying “Hey,” which my daughter thought was rather odd on a Saturday evening. She responded with “what’s up” and then another strange response. It then dawned on her that this was possibly the thief and immediately changed computers to see if she could get as much information as she could. He then turned on his video and started showing her his penis and asking to see ‘her boobs’ (quote). She tried to string him string him along for as long as she could in the hopes of getting him to reveal his face or something in the background that can be used as a lead. After what felt like a long time, she managed to get a screenshot of his face and screenshots of his surroundings. Brilliant quick thinking! How many of us would think or know how to do this?
The next morning she emailed the pictures to us. What a coup! But how to find him? We started by showing the photograph to our landlord and number of locals who said they recognized the man and even gave us a name. Armed with this information we went to the police station. They became really excited and said that they would follow it up. In the meantime we searched the internet for the thief’s name that had been given to us. Nothing on Google, but on Facebook – lo and behold! There was our thief!
By going through his ‘friends’ and family on publicly available Facebook, we were eventually able to find photographs on a family member’s page, showing the same background furniture and the same room that he had used in his indecent exposure.
We discovered that our thief was living on another island, called Bohol, about 3 hours away by ferry boat. However his mother was living on the same island as we were – and only around the corner. Her son was living with family in Bohol and going to college there. He was only 15 years old!
by Rupert and Eve Crook
We gave all this information to the police who then called the boy’s mother in for questioning. The poor woman was quite distraught to think her son had done this. The police then sent her off to Bohol to fetch her son and try to recover the stolen goods. A few days later we got a text from the police to say some of our goods were at the police station. What a surprise. Now getting our stuff back from the police is another story – but the point here is that Facebook did it for us!”
Love or hate social media there is no denying it is a powerful tool – either in the right hands or the wrong ones! The amount of information we all share either knowingly or unwittingly is scary. We need to be aware of what we post online – but we also need to know that social media can be our friend – our protection even – when people may wish to do us harm.