LIHUE — A tech-savvy Michigan family took it upon its self to seek out the burglars who hit their Hanalei vacation rental — and wound up getting some of its valuables back.
The family had more than $10,000 worth of computers, camera equipment and a wallet stolen while out to dinner one night. About half of the items were returned and the family is upset that a faster response might have resulted in catching the culprits.
“We were not gone all that long,” said Rusty McBain, one of the victims. “I do feel that we were completely cased.”
McBain said there is more than enough information that leads to three suspects and has hired a private investigator.
According to a KPD statement, an 18-year-old male was arrested Sept. 14 on suspicion of second-degree theft, but was released shortly after pending further investigation. He has not been charged, police said.
McBain believes this is what happened: Three local residents were following his 17-year-old daughter on Instagram through vacation photos she posted. Their rental was broken into when someone removed a window screen shortly after the daughter was being followed on Instagram again.
KPD responded within 15 minutes to the 911 call and took the report as they dusted for fingerprints the evening of Sept. 13. Then the daughter’s phone “pinged” to show someone powered up her missing iPad mini while on Kuhio Highway.
McBain showed this to the police officers but said they wouldn’t follow through on a “ping” from a moving vehicle and that nothing more could be done. Around two hours later, the iPad pinged again from an address on Kamalu Road, but he said police again said that the “ping” did not mean the belongings were still there.
A KPD statement said that no details of the case can be released while it is under investigation, but in general said that not all electronic devices are equipped with location services and that “ping” services are not 100 percent reliable or pinpoint accurate.
The statement added that officers do follow any and all leads that aid in a criminal investigation, “‘pings’ included.”
After searching the Internet for the homeowner of the “pinged” residence, McBain said the vacation property manager helped them identify the owner of the property. The tenant was off-island, but McBain said he checked into the matter and was told by the tenant that the tenant’s stepson was involved in the theft.
Around 10 the following morning, McBain’s stolen MacBook Pro “pinged” and he locked the device to prevent the thieves from accessing data. He said he then called the investigators to say he was going to the home in an attempt to recover the stolen goods.
He said the police arrived around the time someone was leaving the residence. He approached the man and the police intervened and wound up recovering three items.
“Had we not pushed and done our own investigating, I don’t believe there would have been an arrest or any items recovered,” he said.
McBain was told to retrieve the items from the Kapaa precinct office at the Armory later in the day. The stolen laptop that “pinged” at the house was not among the items.
Other items still missing include a Apple iPad Mini, a digital camera, a 2500 millimeter lens for his Nikon camera and two Apple MacBook Pro computers.
There were two other individuals who had friended his daughter’s Instagram account and McBain said he believes they provided foreknowledge of when the family was going out to dinner to burglarize their vacation rental. Instagram is a application that allows users to share photos online. McBain said that after the thefts, they saw Instagram photos posted using the Apple software and the terms that her daughter uses with her pictures.
“That was a taunt,” McBain said. “I called the police after every one of them.”
McBain went to talk to the two men after they posted an Instagram photo that placed them at the Hanalei Pier. They did not admit to the crime and said he was later mocked online with photos posted that had been taken by the stolen computers.
The Kauai Police Department’s Investigative Services Bureau has a dedicated Cyber Crimes investigator.
The HICAC task force members are trained in various forms of Cyber crimes, including crimes involving social media, such as MySpace, Facebook and Instagram.
“KPD is not only concerned with the prosecution of Cyber crimes, but given the increasing popularity and ever-changing nature of the Internet, specifically social media, KPD is currently looking at ways to partner with the local schools and the community to educate the public on Internet-based crimes, in an effort to help prevent them before they occur,” said county spokeswoman Sarah Blane.
A KPD statement said no other individuals were arrested in connection with the case.
County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said everyone should be mindful of the information they broadcast via social media. He said the technology makes it easy to see who is where at any given time in this information era.
“Parents should have family conversations with their children about privacy settings for social media accounts and safe online behavior, and should model good social media behavior so as to give some guidance to their children,” Kollar said. “Social media is something that isn’t going away, and we cannot pretend it doesn’t affect our friends and families. As with most things, education and information are the key.”